Five Ways for 18th Century Reenactors to Improve their Camps
Following on the heels of my post about how 18th century reenactors can eat more authentically, I got a request for a post about how to improve the look and feel of 18th century camps. Admittedly, this is not a subject I know as much about, but I got great input from other reenactors, and this is what we all came up with:
Drastically reduce the amount of “baggage” you carry.
One of my favorite policies we have in the Queen’s Own is that we generally only bring what we can carry from the car in one trip (two, max). Here are some things you should maybe consider leaving at home: tables, chairs, dining flies, lanterns (especially lantern stands), wooden chests, large amounts of iron cookware, etc. In the setting that most reenactments take place in – i.e. an army on the move, not garrisoned in a fort – soldiers would not have even a third of the stuff you see in a typical reenactor camp these days. Save yourself money at the sutler’s and put your pocketbook away, or if you have too much stuff already, consider selling some of it.
Get rid of farby haybales.
The modern square haybales that we have today didn’t exist back then, not even close. I know that sites provide the hay in that format because it’s the easiest thing to do, but you don’t have to keep them as bales! When you get to camp, immediately break up as many bales as you need to bed down your tents or shelters, and then give the rest back. The ground is perfectly fine for sitting on.
Keep your camp activities period-appropriate and follow military protocol.
Instead of sitting around the campfire endlessly jaw-jacking about the latest TV show, why not keep your camp period-correct? Have some of the men on fatigue duty. Set a schedule and assign a watch. For those who are off-duty, consider period-appropriate activities such as mending your clothes, cleaning your firelock, or playing a period game. There’s so much cool stuff that you can do around camp that’s period-correct, so save the modern discussions for your own living room. As for following military protocol, have the men stand up and salute when an officer enters the camp. Do some drill every once in awhile. Not only does it make your camp/unit look better, it also helps to maintain a sense of unit camaraderie and cohesion.
Put thought into organizing your camp.
If you can, find out what the regulation width for regimental “streets” was, how far apart the tents are supposed to be, etc, and then stick to it. Before people start putting up their tents willy-nilly, figure out where everyone should go, where the camp kitchen will be, where any other fires will be, how and where arms will be stored, etc. Putting just ten minutes’ thought into how your camp is going to be organized will go a long, long way toward making your presence at an event look more professional.
Switch from cotton canvas tents to linen tents, or consider using a brush shelter.
I know that tents made from Sunforger canvas are both cheap and easily available, but they’re also not really all that authentic. Consider pooling unit resources to buy enough linen to make even just a few linen tents and your camp will immediately go from average to awesome. While you’re at it, house the proper amount of men per tent. If your unit is small and/or is an atypical unit such as militia, rangers, etc, consider making do with a simple brush shelter instead of a tent. They’re accurate as all get out, can be quite warm, are not difficult to build, and really help to break up the endless lines of white tents. A hatchet and some twine is all you need to build one and they can shelter a large number of people.
If you have other advice or would simply like to chip in and say “hear hear!”, please do leave a comment using the form below. Comments on Facebook are all well and good, but they don’t reach the general public, which is what this blog is for!