Marksmanship vs. Authenticity

by Mike Kendra on June 14, 2010

Is authenticity lacking at Civil War Skirmishes? How can we improve our impression? Photo by Mike Kendra, Oct. 2008.

I’m not sure what to think about this topic, but I really would like to comment on it… so here goes:

At the Spring Nationals, or any National Skirmish for that matter, you can walk down the firing line and see a wide variety of uniforms. As a sport, skirmishing draws on a multitude of personalities. Some of us are a bit nuts, okay I know I’m slightly nutty myself….

One focus on every skirmisher’s mind is how many targets you hit (or for some, how many you missed). We also focus on our scores, scoring a 10-X or breaking a target is everything to skirmishers, it is what we live for…

One thing lacking it seems is a focus on uniform authenticity. I’m pretty sure everyone will admit that some of the pants worn on the firing line are “farby” to use a reenactors term…. And it’s not just the pants, it’s the shoes, and the “flair” that everyone wears…

And I know I’m guilty of it too…

Don’t misunderstand, I think there are many teams who should be proud of their efforts to portray the soldiers of their chosen units, these men do themselves, and the N-SSA as a whole proud!

On the other hand, with all the ear protection, shooting glasses, modified firearms, shooting boxes and carts, the plastic charge tubes, the cars and RVs on the property, what part of what we do is authentic really?

And honestly, don’t ask me to avoid bathing for a week and to wipe my bottom with leaves just for “authenticity’s” sake.

I doubt we will ever see a hardcore authentic skirmish (although now that I think about it, it’s an interesting idea).

But still, I wonder if the N-SSA is falling short on uniform authenticity because we are lazy. I have to ask myself, how can we call ourselves American Civil War Skirmishers if we don’t look the part?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Harry Hoyd June 15, 2010 at 10:48 am

Interesting topic on several layers. My team was discussing this at the last shoot at Ft Ross. For the record, myself, I would prefer a more authentic look. Certainly not to the point of stich counting and such but a decent off the shelf or even homemade period uniform would fit the bill. Variations for fun would of course be strongly encouraged from the occasional rubber chicken hanging from a belt or the fake dead rat in the haversack are just plain fun stuff.

I was a bit concerned this year when I saw a pair of Levi’s jeans and Nikes on the line at Nationals. I comented to several that it was just over the top. Most agreed but a good number was for giving the offender a break … perhaps he is new, perhaps he forgot his uniform, maybe his dog ate it … etc.

As far as I know each unit must have a uniform spec. in their by-laws of which the parental N-SSA aproves while in probationary status. Any changes must be submitted and approved. Technically, all these “costume failures” are in violation of the rules of the sport. Why are we so ready to forgive these infractions but have a very active small arms committee inspecting any change in our firearms? Perhaps we are becoming a “shooting sport” and should just forgo the uniforms?

11′th NJ PVI

Mike Kendra June 15, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Thanks for leaving your comments Harry, and I agree this should be a fun sport.

However, I never even considered that we have firearms inspections but never Uniform inspections…. I guess safety could be cited as the primary difference between the two, but i still wonder in the scheme of things if the seeming lack of authenticity on the line is damaging to our organization in the long run.

Mike M. June 15, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Based on the people I’ve tried to recruit, I’d say that the uniforms HURT far more than they help.

And considering the amount of money most of us have invested in match-grade equipment, I would argue that we already are a shooting sport…and have been for the 33 years I’ve been a member.

Mike Kendra June 15, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I’m not going to disagree that having to purchase a uniform can be prohibitive for new members and team recruitment efforts. I should also mention that I’d be supportive of a new member “trial uniform” rule, the uniform would be blue jeans, an N-SSA t-shirt, and kepi or other team appropriate headgear, and could be worn for a trial period, maybe 1 year. After the trial period, I’d figure a member could assemble at least pants and a shirt, maybe a sack coat.

Mike, would you suggest that the uniform rule be dropped all together?

Mike M. June 15, 2010 at 9:48 pm

No, but I think we have gone slightly overboard…and give the appearance of having gone over the edge at times.

There’s been a lot of requirements creep. The letter of the Skirmish Rules state that a legal uniform is period-style trousers, outermost upper garment, headgear – and black or brown (for Confederates only) leather shoes. But if you were to try and and form a new unit…I suspect that your shooters would be told their kit wasn’t enough, and they must spend money on shell jackets, brogans, etc.

I also like the idea of a grace period. I’m told this used to be policy. I agree wholeheartedly that after a year, a Skirmisher ought to be able to come up with gear that meets the letter of the rules. And is likely to upgrade from there. I did.

Joseph Plakis June 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Well first I must say that I agree that Jeans have no place on the firing line. Our sport and heritage must come to an agreement between preservation and shooting. I will say that my uniform could be more authentic, I have pants that have been modified to look the part. It is an area that will have to be corrected.
However the only thing truly uniform about Civil War Uniforms was the un-uniformity! The Hampton Legion looked a lot different in Columbia in 1861 then it did at Appomattox in 65! That is why when I see a reenactment it is laughable to see everyone dressed and armed a hell of a lot better then the counterpart of the 1860′s!

Mike M. June 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm

That’s true. We’ve got a pic of four members of my unit taken in 1863…and they are all dressed completely differently.

Frank Hale, 0063V June 18, 2010 at 6:58 am

For my part ( I’ve been skirmishing since 1967) it’s about the shooting first. When I joined, I was told that the first teams to form the N-SSA did not copy original teams out of respect and deference to their sacrifices…there fore the first teams in the organization made up names that were similar, ie. First Richmond rifles, 003CV….was not a real unit during The War of Northern Aggression.

I agree with you about the use of a lot of modern equipment; in my first years there was a running argument in the old barn at each national about the shape of front sites being same as the originals….that was lost a long time ago and now we have everything imaginable that can squeak by as passing the rules for sites…..and all the pins and badges people wear indicate that we are more about the shooting than the uniforms.

I think it is a good idea to try to mimic original uniforms and current uniform sources are much more readily available than in the ’60′s when we had to make due with the best we could ( our team had jackets tailored locally and that would be pretty expensive today).

I think we need to realize that we are shooters and nowhere close to suffering what the soldiers did whom we try to commemorate….so, let’s just realize we are about the shooting and try to get the best uniforms we can.

Bruce Miller 10050V June 18, 2010 at 6:03 pm

One of the reasons I am in the unit I am now in is their lack of uniform authenticity. Postal blue pants, a grey shirt, black shoes a kepi and leathers and your in. I do not need to deal with or worry about a uniform and can concentrate my time and financial resources on the primary reason I’m there which is to shoot

George W June 21, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I’m fairly new to skirmishing and while I think that shooting is the main reason that that we all joined our home units. I also think that we should be fairly accurate in our uniforms. With the availability of reasonably priced uniforms you can have a decent looking one for a couple hundred dollars not counting brogans.

My preference is not to wear the blue postal pants because they aren’t period correct. Those uniform regs. were written at a time when decent uniforms weren’t available unless you were going to spend a lot.

I don’t think we should be thread counters, unless you want to be, but I think some of the uniform standards need revisited or at least policed to the requirements that were approved at the time of unit acceptance. We should all be held to at least the minimums.

We are a civil war themed, competitive shooting organization. Aren’t we?

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