Recently I interviewed Norm Gibson about his Win in the Miller Award competition.This is a prestigious award given to competitors who meet the highest standards in authentic uniform and impression.
This award is one of the most difficult to achieve, it is only awarded once per year, and if judges decide that no competitor is worthy, no award is given in that year.
I sent Norm my questions and here is what we discussed:
SkirmishNotes: When did you first start skirmishing?
Norm: I mustered in with the 1st South Carolina Vol. Inf., Gregg’s Brigade when they joined the N-SSA at the spring nationals in 1970. I am the last active member from that group.
SkirmishNotes: What made you interested in participating in the Miller Award Competition?
Norm: Two other members of the 1st SC, Jim Loba and Chris Hubbard, had won the Miller Award, and I liked what they had done. Chris was my main inspiration. I also was seeing some very authentically uniformed units such as Hardaway’s Battery and the 34th Virginia Calvary, the 14th Tennessee, and my own unit had been upgrading their uniforms over the last several years. This was my 3rd or 4th uniform upgrade over the last 40 years.
SkirmishNotes: Have you ever competed in Miller Award Competition before 2009?
Norm: I had competed in 2008, and won the Jack Rawls Best Confederate Uniform.
SkirmishNotes: Who helped you prepare for this competition?
Norm: Chris Hubbard provided me with quite few reference books, advice, and encouragement. Jim Loba provided sketches of an Enfield cartridge box that he had made from an original. Bill Adams, John Holland, and Joe Toth provided information also.
SkirmishNotes: Who made your uniform, and how long did it take you to put it together?
Norm: Parts of it were bought and parts I made. In this competition it is more important to know about your uniform. You need to know construction details, material used, who would have made it, where would the soldier that you are portraying have gotten it, and how long would it have lasted. I worked on putting together my impression for a year leading up to my first competition. From what I learned from that I replaced some of my items, added some new ones, and did more research during the following year. Besides knowing about your uniform you have to know what the soldier you are portraying was doing. In my case I had to know what the mission was for the sharpshooters, and what did they do. There is a lot to learn and remember. This process was very interesting to me and I learned a lot from it.
I hand stitched my shirt and drawers. I made my Enfield cartridge box, Enfield cartridges, side knife, and sheath. I also made the following haversack items: lye soap, candle, letter from home with adversity cover, bone dice, substitute coffee, various small Sanitary Commission bags, canteen strap, and hand carved pipe. All these items together were worth only a few points, but they were more interesting to me than the major uniform parts. The small items tell you a lot about how the soldier lived from day to day.
SkirmishNotes: Please describe your entire uniform.
Norm: I portrayed a late war, fall & winter of 1865, 1st SC sharpshooter in the Petersburg campaign. My uniform consists the following: jean cloth kepi with cloth visor, Peter Tait shell jacket, jean cloth trousers, cotton drawers, heavy cotton Acadia style shirt, cotton socks, sewn brogans, Enfield rifle and cartridge box, cap box, belt with frame buckle, side knife, haversack with personal items and cooking gear, soft knapsack, woolen blanket, drum canteen, and poncho. On the lower left sleeve of my jacket I have a red star and stripe indicating that I am a 1st SC sharpshooter.
SkirmishNotes: What comments did the judges make after reviewing your uniform?
Norm: They debriefed me on my knowledge of items that they thought I could improve on. I was asked why I didn’t use an Enfield cap box to go with the rest of the Enfield equipment. I said I considered it but could get my finger into the one example that I had seen and therefore opted for a more open one on my belt because I thought that is what a soldier would do.
SkirmishNotes: What secrets would you share with aspiring Miller Award competitors?
Norm: Pick the brains of previous award winners. They will point you in the right direction. Keep a notebook with all the information you come across in it. Take the most important information in that notebook out and put it into a second notebook. Then study it, talk about it with anyone who will listen, and give a presentation to a local group to help rehearse your material.
I want to thank Norm for giving me this interview, especially in the light of everything that has happened recently. I’d like to wish him lots of luck, and I hope I can one day meet Norm and perhaps we can get on the line and break some clays together!
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