Civil War Top 100

The Questions Recruits Ask Most

hen someone first considers enlisting in a Civil War reenactment unit, a number of questions naturally come to mind. Not surprisingly, most potential recruits wonder about many of the same things. So we have compiled this list of the questions they ask most, and the answers we give them.

Q: How do I join the 28th Massachusetts?

A: First, you need to pay a nominal recruit fee and annual dues, which help defray the unit's insurance, office supply, printing, postage, web site and annual meeting costs. Upon enlisting, you'll be given access to the 28thMass Yahoo! Group, your email address will be added to our e-newsletter distribution list, and you will be assigned a veteran "mentor" from the ranks of the 28th to help you prepare for taking the field as a Union infantryman.

Q: What happens next?

A: Once you have the basic uniform and equipment needed to portray a Union soldier, you can attend your first reenactment or living history event. You will need to undergo basic training in the manual of arms and evolutions of drill, as well as receive required safety instruction, before we will allow you to fire a musket in line. 

You will be considered a "recruit" for one full year of fielding with us; a year during which we will observe you to ensure that you are learning drill, observing military protocols, and perfoming safely. At the next annual meeting after that year is over, assuming no other member has an objection, you will become a full, voting member of the 28th Massachusetts.

Q: I have never reenacted before. How do I know that I'll like it?

A: You wouldn't buy a new car without test-driving it. Likewise, it is never a bad idea to become acquainted with a reenactment unit, its members and how they do things before making a commitment to join. If you have never seen us in the flesh, check out our campaign schedule and visit us in the field to find out what kind of unit we are. We might even be able to outfit you with a spare uniform for a day or weekend.

Q. Is reenacting strenuous? What kind of shape do I need to be in?

A. Civil War reenacting is a challenging hobby, both to the body and to the mind.  Since the whole point is to live for a few days at a time under the same conditions that soldiers of the period endured continuously throughout their service, it goes without saying that it can be a physically demanding and uncomfortable activity. Being in good condition makes it easier.

Hats and uniforms are made of wool and 19th century shoes can leave feet sore.  A musket, leather accoutrements, full canteen, haversack, knapsack and other gear can weigh up to 50 pounds. You may march long distances, sometimes across rough or hilly terrain. You will eat less than you normally do. You will sleep less, too; on the ground instead of a mattress.  And you will do these things in all sorts of weather.

Many people can readily adapt to the conditions described above, but occasionally a new recruit learns the hard way that he isn’t physically or mentally cut out for the life of a Civil War soldier, even for only a weekend. 

Before making the decision to enlist in the 28th Massachusetts or any other unit, you should take stock of your own ability to participate as a soldier.  We suggest asking yourself the following questions:

  • Would it be difficult for me to walk a mile or two under a hot sun, carrying 30 to 50 pounds of gear, after getting only four hours of sleep and having a meager breakfast? 
  • Do I have any health issues or physical conditions that might cause me trouble in a primitive or wilderness environment, without access to modern amenities or technology? 
  • Am I overweight by 25 pounds or more?  
Answering Yes to any of these questions doesn't necessarily preclude you from becoming a Civil War reenactor. But you know your body and mindset better than anyone else does, and need to be honest with yourself about whether you can handle the physical and emotional stresses of our hobby.

Q: What if
I want to join, but can't afford everything I need right away?

A: Not a problem. Visit the sutlers' Web sites, order their catalogs, and when holidays, birthdays and other special gift-giving occasions roll around, ask for the items you need (or better, gift certificates or cash) to begin acquiring your basic uniform and equipment. 

Our quartermaster has a limited supply of spare items that you can arrange to borrow for your first few events, so you can take the field as soon as possible. But it can be difficult to find brogans (shoes) and trousers that fit from what we have on hand, so we ask you to try and order at least these items right away. 

If you don't have the rest of your basic "kit" by the end of your first year in the regiment, you will remain in "recruit" status and more recent new enlistees will be given preference for borrowing the unit's scarce extra gear.

Q: Can I join the 28th even if I am not Irish by birth or heritage?

A: Yes. While we portray a regiment of the fabled Irish Brigade, you do not have to claim Irish ancestry to join or field with our unit. The original 28th Massachusetts was primarily Irish, but a number of its soldiers were immigrants from other countries, including Canada, England, Germany, Scotland and Sweden. There were also volunteers from most other states in the Union and even a handful from the Confederacy: Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Our current membership roster includes people from five of the six New England states, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and the Canadian province of Ontario.

Q: Does the 28th Massachusetts have monthly meetings?

A: With some 70 members scattered all over the Northeast, regular meetings in a central location simply wouldn't be practical. We see each other frequently at reenactments and living histories between March and October, so there are plenty of opportunities for impromptu meetings.

We do hold an annual meeting, usually in late January, before the reenacting season begins, to settle any questions about policy, elect board members and officers, and vote on a campaign schedule for the year ahead. Our board meets throughout the year and can call a special general meeting if one is necessary.

Q: Are members required to attend a minimum number of events?

A: No, for two reasons. First, reenacting is a hobby, and real-life concerns like family, home, health and work take precedence. Second, once most members are bitten by the reenacting bug and have invested in a musket, uniform and accoutrements, we don't need to cajole them into taking the field. They want to.

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