Reenactors should consider the fine example set by the soldiers they claim to represent, the next time they pack their gear for a two-day reenactment. The first resolution to make in lightening your reenactors load is to use no more than what you can comfortably carry in a single trip, and never bring your car into an encampment site. If a soldier could go eight days without issuing rations from wagon trains, then surely a hearty living historian can survive a two-day reenactment without having to use a motor vehicle for anything other than transportation to the event’s participant parking lot.
Once you arrive at the participants’ parking lot, don your traps and knapsack, shoulder your musket, and march into camp. Not only will you be more authentic, but you will also avoid the hazards and traffic problems associated with bringing your vehicle into and out of a campsite. The second (and final) resolution is to pack so that your knapsack and haversack contain only the essentials, and only items that a soldier of 1861-1865 would have had on campaign.
What each man packs is up to the individual, but remember, your pack should be light enough for you to comfortably wear into each battle scenario during a weekend-long event. If the pack is too heavy to wear to all the battles, then start lightening the load by casting off the non-essentials. Below is a packing checklist in preparation for a living history event. Your "essentials" may vary.
- Knapsack: 1 Blanket: One good 5 lb, 100 percent wool blanket is all any reenactor needs, even in cold weather. Make sure the blanket is good-sized; Gum Blanket: Essential for use as a ground cloth, raincoat, or shelter.
- Shelter Half: A proper shelter half should weigh only 1.5 lbs., A shelter half is essential for protection from the elements. Individual soldiers should not carry full tents (i.e. two shelter halves) and evidence that triangular end-pieces for dog tents were ever available to the average soldier is exceedingly scant.
- Journal Book and Pencils: A non-essential personal item which comes in handy for a soldier on campaign to record his thoughts, write letters home, use as a fire-starter, or to use as "paper" in "an emergency".
- Extra Pair of Wool Socks: Perhaps the real soldiers did not always have extra socks, but it is recommended that all reenactors carry a second pair for warmth at night and for health-purposes. Further, one extra pair of socks is a small, light addition to your pack.
- Extra Drawers: A non-essential item that was not available to most soldiers on campaign. Extra Shirt:
Completely non-essential in the warmer months, an extra shirt is a necessity for colder-weather reenacting.
- Vest: Non-essential, and used mainly for colder-weather reenacting. The idea that every soldier in the field
had a vest is a "reenactor myth", so take your choice on whether you want to carry one.
- Small Towel: Not the modern-day terrycloth variety, a period-correct towel, such as "Huckabuck" towels sold at Wal-Mart (unbleached, off-white, plain cotton towels usually sold in a pack of five for $5.00, in the dishtowel department), or the excellent NPS reproductions, is useful in washing up your person and/or your gear.
- Carry a bar of lye soap (or, better yet, part of one) with the towel.
- Extra Ammunition: Pack ammunition correctly in paper packages of ten rounds plus one paper tube with twelve percussion caps. This approach is authentic and takes up the least space in your knapsack. Roll of Twine (String): About 20-30 feet of twine or hemp is the campaigner’s essential companion for rigging up shelter. Make sure the twine has no modern fibers.
- Extra Food: Food for a two or three day reenactment should fit in the haversack but, in the event you pack heavy, or are bringing more than three days of food, put the extra into the knapsack.
- Hygiene Items: "Haversack Stuffers": Minimize your haversack stuffers and, to increase room in the haversack (which is primarily for rations), place your "stuffers" into the knapsack. Authentic "stuffers" a soldier might well have carried include a tintype of his family, razor, religious items (rosary, scapulas, etc.), sewing kit, a few pieces of dry kindling, pipe and tobacco, and other personal items. Evaluate all your stuffers and determine if they are "essential" for a soldier on campaign. Chances are, after some soul-searching, you will decide that most of your stuffers especially "necessary" flasks are useless trash that take up important room in your pack.
- Haversack Rations: Limiting campaign-rations primarily to salt pork, hardtack, and coffee not only makes
one more authentic, but these items take up less room and weigh less than the rations consumed by most reenactors. Forget about canned food!
- Tin Plate: A good tin plate is essential as a serving dish, frying pan and, if necessary, digging implement (for fire pits or fortifications). Assuming it fits inside, a plate adds rigidity to your haversack. A canteen half will serve the same purpose as a plate.
- Eating Utensils: A knife, fork, and spoon are essential, and living historians may want to consider wrapping them in a rag or in a small canvas sack. Also, a pocketknife in your pants pocket or haversack is essential.
- Tin Can: A period-correct tin can with a wire bail attached is excellent for use as a coffee cooler and as supplemental mess gear.
- Candle: One beeswax candle is essential. A candleholder is not required but, if you do opt for one, make it as small as possible and carry it in the knapsack. As a less-bulky, more authentic alternative, an upside-down mess cup makes an excellent candleholder.
- Matches and Matchsafe: It is a good idea for each reenactor to carry one box of matches in a matchsafe (i.e. a small box that protects the box of matches from being crushed). Matches can also be carried in a jacket pocket. Reproduction matchsafes are generally not very correct but, with some careful shopping at an antique store or relic vendor, one can find a fairly inexpensive period matchsafe.
- Rags: Carry one or two period-correct rags (not the modern blue or red bandannas sold by the
"sutlers"). These will come in handy as potholders, clean-up wipes, etc.