Some Advice for Private Soldiers.

BY Mark Tully

IF I HAD A NICKEL for every time I heard someone complain about one of our battle demonstrations...I'd have a whole lot of nickels! Let's face it folks, most of our battle demonstrations are not very pretty. I have been a participant in quite a few over the years, and I have "sat out" to watch some and take photos now and again. I've also viewed several video tapes of the NWTA in action--most notably the tape of the 1994 Grand Encampment at Cantigny. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that most of our battle demonstrations--perhaps three out of every four--are not very interesting (nor convincing), and a few have been outright embarrassing. For many of us, the battle demonstrations are the high point of the re-enacting weekend--so how come they so often turn ugly?

We've been down this road before. All sorts of tips and ideas for improving our battle scenarios were outlined in past issues of The Courier--most recently in the March, July, August, September, and October, 1997 editions. With all of the post-battle complaining that goes on, I can't believe we are content to let things continue on as they have been. So let's do something about it. Each and every one of us has it in our power to make a difference. Most of you, myself included, portray private soldiers and comprise the bulk of the military side of the NWTA membership. Following are just a few things that YOU can do that will substantially enhance the performance of the NWTA as a whole. If each of us took just a little more care in these areas we would present a much sharper, more professional image to the viewing public (and to ourselves).

  • WATCH YOUR DRESS. Forget about what is going on down field or who is maneuvering to outflank you--it is the field commander's job to watch for that stuff. Your job is to do exactly what the man to your right is doing. The far right-hand man SHOULD be an NCO (who theoretically knows what he is doing), so if everyone stays dressed and does everything that the man to their immediate right does (including matching the angle of the musket when presenting), the whole line will look like they really have their act together! Keeping the ranks straight and true is especially important when charging or advancing--it's very easy to focus on your objective and get ahead of or behind the rest of the line. If each of us (including you) would concentrate on keeping abreast of the man to your right the result will be very impressive.

  • MAINTAIN YOUR FIRELOCK. Make sure your weapon has a good, tight, sharp, serviceable flint in it BEFORE you take the field. If your musket "klatches", don't immediately re-cock and try to fire again--it throws off the firing sequence for the rest of the line and everyone else ends up waiting for YOU to catch up. Use the time while everyone else is reloading to check your prime and your flint, and try again when the next command is given and everyone else fires. If the problem persists I suggest you try it one more time and, if you still mis-fire, secure your musket and "die" on the next volley--it's the polite thing to do. Oh, and work on your musket when you get back to camp!

  • LISTEN FOR ORDERS. Know who your wing commander and NCOs are and listen for their voices over the noise. A certain amount of good-natured chatter in the ranks is to be expected--this is supposed to be FUN after all. But a continual, play-by-play banter interferes with you and your nearby comrades hearing your commands. If you have comments or opinions about how the scenario should or shouldn't be done, make a mental note of it and bring it up with the field commander later. I personally think that anyone in the ranks who "critiques" or whines about the progress of the battle should immediately be placed in charge for the next scenario to see how they fare. Watch out! Your NCO is reading this too and you might get yourself drafted into commanding the line!

  • BE COURTEOUS TO YOUR FIELD COMMANDER AND DO WHAT THEY ASK. On a related note, there are very few people in our organization who are willing to step forward to act as field commanders. This could be the result of modesty, lack of confidence, lack of knowledge, or a combination of all three. Or it could be that, like everyone else, the field commander candidate is at the event primarily to have fun--and being field commander is rarely fun. From my own few experiences in the role I found that a LOT of the weekend is spent going around to the various camps trying to appease everyone, listening to their complaints and trying to come up with ways of making everyone happy. In addition to "playing politics," the field commander has to attempt to plan, organize and direct a believable scenario, and watch out for the safety of his troops during its execution. It's a big job that takes a lot of time and effort and carries a lot of responsibility; no wonder so few people are willing to volunteer! Note that it should NOT be the field commander's job to maneuver the troops and give all of the correct commands--he has far too many other things to worry about. The field commander should be able to point to you and say, "serjeant, form your men over there" and expect it to be done (even if you're really a lieutenant). The NCOs and wing commanders should NOT be firing with their troops, but have their eyes glued to the field commander waiting for his next command. (You can't pay attention to the field commander and your firing at the same time--several period treatises point this out and it is the only way to conduct a successful and safe scenario. If you are an NCO but like to shoot, consider turning in your epaulet).

  • A LITTLE PATIENCE on the part of the rank and file towards the various commanders would go a long way towards improving our scenarios--they're doing their best. The field commanders rarely have the opportunity to practice with a large body of troops and often have no idea if the troops know how to do what is asked or how quickly they can complete the assigned maneuvers (likewise, being an officer or NCO does NOT give you free license to be rude to your troops. Take the time to explain what it is you want and you will accomplish a lot more).

  • PRACTICE. There is nothing wrong with practicing our marching and maneuvers in front of the public. They absolutely LOVE it and it is educational--even when we mess up. All you need are a few of your friends, an open area and the ambition go work through a few things. Heck, why not invite some folks from another unit to join in--you might teach each other something! I admit that much of these may seem like common sense, but sometimes all we need to do is exercise a little common sense to make things better. If you want the battle scenarios to improve and be more fun and realistic, then it's all up to YOU to start doing your part.