Hot! Ask A Reenactor: Taking Hits

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After a solid year and a half of hiatus from the feature, Ask A Reenactor is back!  Not only that, but the question today is one that most reenactors are quite familiar with:

“I’ve always wondered, how is it determined who “dies” at these events? Is it sometimes predetermined before the battle or is it generally up to the individual when they take a fall?”

This is a question I received recently, and one that most reenactors get asked over and over again (along with “is that fire real?”).  To us, it seems like a question with an obvious answer, but it really isn’t, especially to the vast majority of the public, who have never participated in any kind of war game, much less a reenactment.  The answer is actually quite complicated, as there are a multitude of different situations and variables, and even personal preferences, which come into play when determining when to “take a hit” (i.e. die).  Here are a few:

  1. 20140309-235346.jpgYou run out of ammunition or powder.  If you’re out of ammo, that’s generally a good time to take a hit.  You can’t really contribute to the battle anymore, so you might as well take a rest.
  2. Your weapon malfunctions.  This happens quite often, especially in earlier eras where the firearms were less reliable.  That said, I once had my rifle malfunction while fighting in fairly close combat at a WWII reenactment, and instead of taking a hit, I made a big show of giving up on my rifle and turned it around to use the butt as a club, before taking a hit from the three people who shot me simultaneously.
  3. You’re bored.  Yes, battles can actually get boring.
  4. You’re tired/hot/feeling ill.  You see a lot more casualties at battles that are in hot weather.  This is no coincidence.  A lot of people avoid heat exhaustion by taking a hit.  On the flip side, laying in the hot sun in a wool coat isn’t great either.
  5. A situation, such as being “dead to rights”, where it’s obvious you would have been hit.  If your attacker shot directly at you at close range and you feel it’s highly likely you would have been hit, then it’s generally good form to do so.  In WWII, this goes doubly for those being raked by machine gun fire.
  6. If you’re recreating a specific scenario and you know where a lot of casualties fell in the original battle, your officers may tell you ahead of time to take your hits there.

So, as you can see, determining who “dies” really is a complicated thing, and actually is generally determined by the individual doing the “dying” the vast majority of the time.  The other thing I should mention is that people do notice when certain individuals or units have a tendency to remain alive most of the time and rarely take hits.  These folks generally get the nickname “kevlar soldiers” and earn a bad reputation.  If they become infamous enough for their behavior, they risk becoming disinvited from attending events.

Since I like to avoid having this blog coming off as strictly my own view and experience of the hobby, here are some answers, some humorous and some serious, from other reenacting friends I polled:

  • 20140309-235356.jpg“When a person looks around and realizes that no one else is dying, he chooses to die because he has some integrity and respect for history.”
  • “I found a nice shady tree? I decided it was nap time?”
  • “I’ve always been a fan of marked cartridges for black powder eras, pre-marked in red ink by officers and surreptitiously distributed in the men’s cartridge pouches in greater or lesser numbers depending on the desired amount of casualties sustained.”
  • “…found a spot that isn’t covered in feces…”
  • “For style points when you notice the Russian Judge is looking straight at you?”
  • “if your gun miss fires multiple times in a row…..”
  • “When I get tired…..”
  • “I just like when an NCO says “on the next volley…someone go down” and everyone dies at once.  Of course sometimes it’s “take a few hits the next time someone fires” one guy fires….4 go down ‘facepalm'”
  • “…because nobody else will?”
  • “Depends on the event and the imagination and commitment of the reenactors. At one Fredericskburg reenactment, we calculated the number of casualties based on the percentage of casualties at the original battle. Then we counted off that many volunteer casualties. As they advanced, the “Colonel” called out the numbers of the men who would take a hit so that they also feel approximately where the original men fell.”
  • “Because you are deep enough into the battle/battle field and it’s time to sneak some great photos with camera disguised as a haversack!!!”
  • “Well, there was that guy at Crown Point a couple years ago who died at the edge of the lake so the water would wash over him…. it’s a solution on a hot day…..”
  • “Being on a naval boat crew – when you’re in the shallows during a troop landing and it’s 90*F outside is a great time to take a hit and let your corpse float in the cool lovely water. (Hey, the gun’s gotta get washed anyways…)”

I hope this answers your question sufficiently!

7 Comments

  1. The following are often uttered about me:

    “He once took a ‘hit,’ just to see what it was like.”
    “Veterans and armies worldwide strive for HIS level of authenticity.”
    “The UN has declared his collection a World Heritage Site.”
    He is: The Most Interesting Reenactor in the World.

  2. As one of those guys who feels drawn to the whole mystique of “elite units”, I get hit A LOT. Probably 4 or 5 times more than I can confirm hitting anyone myself. Elite units weren’t elite because they were bulletproof, it’s precisely their ability to sustain casualties and continue the mission that made them what they are. Many whose education in this whole scene consists of popular films and television neglect this.

    I Hollywood crumple/dive with every hit, and have destroyed kit doing so. I want the other guy to have a good moment. Plus, I don’t act as though every hit causes instant death, so I scream for a medic, mom, etc a lot. Wish more would do that.

  3. A good buddy of mine took a hit next to a pond and made a glorious Nestea Plunge. Crowed loved it

  4. Be careful of behaving wounded or people may think you are really hurt and call a halt to the battle while the send for the EMTs.

    What I would like to see more of, at least for RevWar militia, is units breaking and running away. It happened often enough in reality. Imagine this scenario: The Town of X Minutemen march proudly onto the field in the middle of the line with their elderly commander. HRH regulars let loose a good volley and the Town of X commander goes down! The minutemen flee leaving a hole in the line and regulars rush through the hole. But the spry young Sargent of the Minutemen rallys the troops, the line units close the gap and now the regulars are surrounded! Wouldn’t that be a whole lot more fun than standing in two lines blowing powder at each other?

  5. Tim Van den Langenbergh

    As a napoleonic reenactor I represend the 5 th light dragoons of the belgian/dutch army i usually take a hit during scirmages or sabrefights then you can fall down lovely and play death or wounded

  6. Just a comment on photos from the field….
    One guy I know would take pictures out on the field hiding his camera “behind his hat”. The next year some tourists came back to the event with their previous years pics, with his Kodak clearly visible in a number of shots. In fact they commented how nice it would be to display them in antique – except those!
    If you want to take pics, do it from the bushes. Remember that we are here for the public, and should present ourselves as authentic as possible. We’re not just talking the number of stitches per inch, but an item clearly out of sync with our time period. If photos are more important, make that your hobby.
    One other comment – I always appreciate a man who dies well and loud. Thanks for taking one for the team.

  7. Morgan Gardner

    As a reenactor Chaplain I move from casualty to casualty with an old prayer book and a spare canteen to check each one to make sure they’re just “dead” and not down with a real injury or true medical emergency. I also make sure they have water. I coordinate with the medical personnel so we’re aware of each other and can effectively “triage” the field quickly. I also take a hit myself forward the end of the battle as a way of honoring the sacrifices of the Chaplains who served humbly and bravely in the war.

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