View Full Version : Under-represented male civilian impressions

08-17-2006, 11:17 AM
Ladies and Gents-
to double my reenacting pleasure, I'm kicking around the idea of adding a civilian impression to my bag of tricks; but of course not being satisfied with the everyday, I'm looking for something a bit different...anyone have any ideas?

08-17-2006, 11:30 AM
Its a little different with you northern gents but down here a civilian impression runs right along side a CS one.

08-17-2006, 12:14 PM
Ladies and Gents-
to double my reenacting pleasure, I'm kicking around the idea of adding a civilian impression to my bag of tricks; but of course not being satisfied with the everyday, I'm looking for something a bit different...anyone have any ideas?


08-17-2006, 12:41 PM
I don't think Carpetbaggers and Lunatics were actual professions during the period (Carpetbaggers is more or less a term for middle class). I would suggest that you do something that is similar to your modern job or other hobbies, that is a period profession. Here is a list of common professions, off the top of my head.

Brewer (yes for alcohol)
Shoe Maker
Book Keeper (Librarian)
Telegraph Operator
Shingle or Brick Layer
Judge, court officials, etc.
Pastor, Reverend
Saw Mill Operator
Saw Mill Owner
Factory Worker (equivalent of Laborer)
Corn mill operator
Corn mill owner
and many, many more

That's all I can think of right now... most of these are underrepresented because there seems to be a lack of civilian men. I would go something specific and learn about it through and through. This way you know about yourself before the war, what you did, what tools you used, etc.
I would definitely go with something that isn't commonly done at events, because there are always too many Farmers, Undertakers, and Blacksmiths. Then again, if you work with metal commonly in real life, then you may want to be a Blacksmith, same goes for the rest.
I usually portray a carpenter or cabinetmaker, because (although I am a student) carpentry is a hobby of mine (so is machining).

Good luck,

08-17-2006, 02:15 PM
The pickpocket/ thief would be an interesting one to see.

08-17-2006, 02:30 PM
i do a undertaker sometimes if i'm not needed on a gun or in ranks it's a change for me and my wife she can walk along with me.

Lee Ragan
08-17-2006, 03:34 PM
A Carpetbagger would be post war. But you could always pass yourself off as a "Used Carriage Salesman".

08-18-2006, 05:49 AM
The pickpocket/ thief would be an interesting one to see.
William L. Shifflett
4th Va Cav, Co D

I portrayed a thief at the Innat Peaks Mill event in Frankfort Kentucky. It was quite a challenge to rummage the guest's belongings looking for "money". I and the event organizer both agreed that only the period money would be "stolen", not actual possesions like jewelry and so on.

08-18-2006, 07:34 AM
How many of you remember this little nursery rhyme?

Rich Man
Poor Man

08-18-2006, 04:34 PM
Another vote for pickpocket/thief. :rolleyes: - so long as they return what they steal.

08-18-2006, 08:58 PM
At the Land Between the Lakes event this spring, I portrayed Benji the Idiot. Interacting with the Critters was one of the highlights of the event for me.


08-19-2006, 12:06 AM
Were I a gent looking for a civilian impression, I might be a photographer/ reporter. Period photography is something interesting and challenging to learn in its own right, and could take you literally anywhere. You would always be up on the latest. Everyone would want to know you.

Mint Julep
08-19-2006, 10:31 PM
I went to one of those SCA medieval things once and there was a guy there that would take your camera or purse and demand money to get it back. I was there one day and he got hit twice for his antics. I can't recommend the pickpocket thing. If you got caught, someone might not appreciate your portrayal and want to press charges. I know if I caught you, you'd want to the protection of the law to come between us.

Find something that doesn't require you to commit crimes, bring a lot of extra stuff (tools, etc.), or something so odd as to be outlandish. Maybe a crop speculator or something.


08-20-2006, 08:11 AM
...is the fact that you are at events 99% of the time where what you would do is not located at that site or you are not doing it because of distress.

Examples: Miss Jones is a milliner who makes beautiful bonnets and hats. However, Miss Jones lives in Charleston, South Carolina and you are going to be in a field for four days in a camp and far away from downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Why is Miss Jones making bonnets outside of a tent?

Mr. Slater is a slave trader but Union troops are quickly approaching his residence. Despite the fact they probably could care less about his ways of business, why is he going to be staying to trade slaves later in the afternoon?

The Young family are farmers in rural North Carolina but a battle breaks out on their property and there are numerous casualties. It is April, but why are they going to go hitch up the mules to plow when there are dying people in their residence?

In short: We rarely get to portray people in their craft. Undertakers, factory hands, carpenters, cabinetmakers, commission merchants, lawyers, etc. are great professions to know information about and particularly with these worker-bee ones it is great to actually know what they did to say "I am a carpenter" but you must recognize that at an event it is highly unlikely you will get to demonstrate your craft (everyone hopes in particular the embalmer won't be required). This is NOT to say A. that you shouldn't research your character and B. that no working impression can be done at an event.

At the Inn at Peak's Mill event in September 2005 we had several working impressions. Hank and Linda Trent and Noah Briggs portrayed the staff at the inn. They cleaned spittoons, prepared three delicious meals on Saturday and two on Sunday, supplied us with our demands for candles, supplied blankets, and ensured the most comfort as possible. Nicky Hughes portrayed the inn owner and regaled us with stories and conversations while lightly complaining about the amount of candles we were using (as any good frugal inn owner will do). I got the usual case of being able to portray an enslaved domestic servant for my friend Abby Walker portraying the wife of a wealthy Baltimore man. Others in the inn had their stories and occupations though my memory fails me now but still the more you can build about your character the more conversation you can have.

The only caution I urge is, cater your impression based on the event. If you are supposed to be rural farmers, don't try to me a city lawyer. Let the event guide "who" you are.

08-20-2006, 08:12 AM
I can't recommend the pickpocket thing. If you got caught, someone might not appreciate your portrayal and want to press charges. I know if I caught you, you'd want to the protection of the law to come between us.

I have to agree, at the average event. The event where Noah did the portrayal was a small invitation-only one, in a building with good security, so any theft would be obviously done by a fellow reenactor who wouldn't be skipping out before it was over. The period money, which he was limited to stealing, was supplied free by the event itself as a medium of exchange for meals, drinks, etc., so the event was only authorizing the stealing of what it had given out anyway. And the fact that nothing of real value was missing, but period money was, would tip off reenactors to the fact that the theft was just part of the event.

Find something that doesn't require you to commit crimes, bring a lot of extra stuff (tools, etc.), or something so odd as to be outlandish. Maybe a crop speculator or something.

And I'd also add, something that's as functional as possible during the event, even if it's not one's primary profession. For example, a sawmill operator couldn't run a sawmill, but could be searching for his son's body at one event, or sending his son off to war at another, depending on the historic situation. But to have something to do, I find you need to adapt closely to the event itself, to see what's historic and what's needed.

Hank Trent

08-20-2006, 08:19 AM
Find something that doesn't require you to commit crimes, bring a lot of extra stuff (tools, etc.), or something so odd as to be outlandish. Maybe a crop speculator or something.


As a pickpocket, one would work within specific parameters, much like the soldiers on the field, such as no hand to hand unless scripted, no flag stealing, etc. I would never suggest the pockets of spectators be picked, but a well-planned scenario with other reenactors and even the Provost could be quite entertaining for all involved.

08-21-2006, 05:46 AM
Please see response number eight. If you have questions on portraying a criminal at an event, ask the orgainzer first. Set limits on what is acceptable criminal behavior, and make sure all paticipants are warned beforehand. You can do that without giving away what's going on. All participants had been given the "caveat emptor" by the organizers to secure their stuff in a period manner before the event kicked off.

Your character can also have a criminal past, even if s/he is not actively doing anything particular at the event in question. If anything it will add layers to your first-person. How many people would ask a former horse thief to watch their horse for a few moments while they went somewhere? What if they already "knew" he was a horse thief? How would the horse thief feel about it? Is he truly innocent, or is he struggling with his own compulsions? It depends, of course, on the character. We had arranged previously that my character was going to be a thief, and we agreed that the currency would be the only legitimate thing to "steal".

My character was a pithy wannabee who had worked/thieved his way from Wisconsin to New Orleans. He was too cowardly to join the Army, so any tales of Mexico he told in the taproom were lies based on the stories he picked up from returning veterans. Ditto any stories of Frisco and Gold Rush derring do. He wanted odds he could control - and there were too many risks and life-threatening variables in California for his tastes. Consequently herked the casinos and gambling dens, and that is where he picked up his gambling habit. He thieved to support the habit, hence him targeting wealthy travellers such as Abby and Trish's characters. They were a challenge - they had lots of bags and a servant who was everywhere at once (Emmanuel in his Oscar-winning role as Tarleton), and I had little time between duties to filtch. For a small seedy roadside inn in Somewhere, Kentucky, this was perfectly acceptable.

We never really got too many spectators anyway, and I never tried to snaffle them. It never occured to me, though if they stayed longer I may have hit them up for a game of twenty-one.

08-21-2006, 06:38 AM
These impressions are easy and you don't need to do a lot of research...

Village idiot

In short... just be yourself! ;)

08-21-2006, 07:23 AM
I disagree.

At McDowell 2005 I portrayed an actual person who was listed on the census as an "idiot". His name was Christian Eagle. Myself and the group I was with (who were researching and portraying actual citizens of McDowell)decided to portray him as someone with a mild case of autism - Asperger's Syndrome, to be specific. I worked with two mentors and did a lot of research on contemporary autistic behavior, and even found (with some assistance) a few period references to autistic behavior.

I created an elaborate, detailed biography for others to read and decide how their characters would react to him.

As some background for the Davis Run refugees, I researched and worked on a character named James Eagle. He was a relative to Christian Eagle, and Christian was literally referred to on the 1860 census as the village idiot of McDowell. We found out Christian died in Feb. 1862, so we went with James. James was 31, a farm hand and unmarried at the time of the 1860 census, that seems unusual for a fellow that old. So we decided at that point to portray James as having what is today know as Aspergers Syndrome, which is a mild form of autism.



For your perusal so you understand what I was researching.

Apparently portraying sommething like this caused something of a rift in the civilian reenactors. On the one side you had folks who felt that a healthy person portraying someone who has a neurological disorder was mean, and that he would be played up for laughs or used to reinforce the (postwar) construct of the inbred hick.

On the other side you had folks who felt that careful research of the disorder plus careful coaching by those who had autistic children for real would help bring to life a side of Americans not normally explored. Not everyone was in perfect health back then and the disorders existed, even if they did not have the same names we have for them now.

The two sides eventually agreed to disagree and I suspect there will be those who read this and get offended. Before you do, read on, try to understand and if you have questions or whatever, PM me and I will be happy to discuss it with you.

I understood where both sides were coming from in their arguments. When done in a sloppy manner it can indeed appear to make a mockery of autism. I chose to take the plunge and do it with careful research and guidance. My full character biography is available if you are interested. Please PM me with your email address and I will send it to you.

Thus the highlight of my weekend- myself and Mr. Probst [Hank Trent, one of my many mentors on this hobby ]trudging down to the Bullpasture River to try our hand at some fly fishing. It felt like a true "magic moment" - right out of all those pictures and prints you see of the manly man with his manly hunting dog, his manly hunting piece, his manly fishing rod. The 21st century was gone. Just two fellows down on the rocks, fishing and shooting the breeze.

Gone were the lengthy discussion forums on how to carry your extras. We carried a lump of cheese and some bread in a cloth in the creel, a water bottle in my pocket and away we went. Just two fellows looking to fill out their dinner with fresh trout straight from the river.

(For the newbies among us the term "dinner" is "lunch" to us today and "supper" is the evening meal.)

And no surprise, when you see a man fishing it brings out the sportsman instinct in all the Y chromosomes in the surrounding counties. We saw lots of Yankees standing there like badly-trained Secret Service trying to intimidate us like we were spies or something. But we knew the real story- how often do you see a period-correct fishing rod? I'll bet they had a few magic moments themselves. The standard greeting to us was not "Pass, please", but "Dija git anything?"

I only wish we had stayed around longer, either for more interaction with the Yankee garrison or modern spectators who would have been fascinated by the sight. I know Hank was down there specifically to show off the reconstructed fishing gear and the like.

Thanks to Michael Schaffner for some interesting first-person questioning me about being near the camp. He had no idea how close James was to having a fit.

And now the down side-

Scrotum-shrinking cold at night. Well, that's not the organizer's fault. (-: I thought perhaps that James felt somewhat useless in the daytime and would stay on fire watch for most of the night in an attempt to redeem himself. It's a task he knows is important and it's a task he can do. Wore me out like ****, though.

It seems we were not supposed to interact with soldiers whatsoever during the event. The road was up Stiltington Hill and it was the only way up to the original battlefield, so troops marching past us was unavoidable. Here is a solution-

Make it clear on the military and civilian listservs multiple times and let the Federal CO know, and Michael Schaffner. Schaffner is the chief clerk for the majority of the reconstructed Federal battalions in the Eastern Theatre. He is working on streamlining the HQ communications to make sure orders and the like are going out to the companies and so on. Have him distribute orders to the battalion explaining what we are doing and no conversations, no cat calls, nothing. Make sure the message gets down to the platoon level if necessary.

In spite of our best intentions we had that last interaction where James finally went berserk. I should note here that due to fatigue and a case of the last-minute confidence crisis I toned down the autistic quirks a bit. I expect, for example, James would have been telling the young ladies to "inflect and enunciate" when reading the Shakespeare. Instead I did minor corrections on pronunciation.

Originally James was able to recite Shakespeare in huge blocks, but the recent death of his mother caused him to go into a depressed state. Instead, I relied on the almanac to discuss stars, constellations and when we would have sunrise.

I hoped the fact it seemed toned down ratcheted up the tension. When next will he throw a fit? We are under enough stress as it is.

Anyway, the final blowup. I had emptied my box of all its contents because I could not find my pouch with my modern car key. I got panicky for real. Then Yankees close in from all directions so I just blew up at them. good improv, though I'd have to hear the review from Nicolette on whether or not I did it properly.

It is unique to look at the world from a nineteenth century perspective. More so when you have (or portray) a neurological disorder nobody understands, even today. I am grateful for the opportunity to try this out. I feel as though new ground has been plowed in the immersionist field. It's not always a pleasnat side but it's an eye-opener for anyone.

We shall miss you, mama.

Your ever-loving and adoring son,


I did get some grief pre-event for doing this. If it is done for laughs or without much research it can be taken as insensitive and downright cruel, as it gives the impression that you are making fun of handicapped people. Done right, though, it can provide a window of opportunity for education and enlightenment - or to make Yankee troops nervous, depending on which side of the road you are on.

E-mail me privately for more information.

08-21-2006, 07:54 AM
Agreeing with Noah, all characters require research. As many of us attempt to strive to the highest level of authenticity possible, now some 140+ years distant from the war-era, we should encourage research.

We should be careful in laziness to not have 5 deaf people, 5 dumb people, 2 thieves, and 10 drunk people in a town that had farmers, lawyers, doctors, widows, mothers, and dressmakers.

Researching your character and the area in which a single event is to take place is aboure 75% of the fun for me. Doing the event is less interesting for me at this time, but I can only speak for me.

08-21-2006, 08:49 AM
While I do see the tongue-in-cheek nature of the Drunkards and Idiots--Be Yourself post above, I agree with Misters Briggs and Dabney (why does that sound like a lawfirm name??): Any role requires research, and the roles that may seem easiest at first often require the greatest research!

For example: a drunkard occupies a unique role in the area's society. One would have to research heavily to figure out where he gets his drink, how he pays for it, why he's come to this, if he's a functional drunk, or a homeless one, how the townspeople respond... there are so many variables that all play into how the role is presented. Portraying any infirmity requires skill, knowledge, and tact.

I know the desire is to be unique as a citizen's portrayal... but really, we've not exactly reached the overload on "regular guys" just yet! For every photographer, there were hundreds or thousands of small farm workers. For every doctor in the city, there might be 50 accounting clerks. There's nothing wrong or boring about researching the regular joes, too! If you take just farmers, you won't find a block-like entity: you'll find those who use paid labor, those who use enslaved labor, those who rely on family labor, those who succeed, those who struggle and fail, those who subscribe to older "organic" farming practices with a mixed-use land operation (animals provide manure for the fields/crops, plus food products), those who are convinced that chemical fertilizers are the way to go, those who dream of moving West for fresh land, those who long for the past on their current land, those who want to get out of farming altogether and go be an accounting clerk in the city. You'll find farmers who can't read easily, and those who recite Shakespeare behind the plow. Those who rely on the most basic mechanical knowledge, and those who tinker and invent new mechanical devices to assist their labors. You'll find farmers who don't much care what they grow so long as they get cash, and those who border on zealotry for their crop. Those who stay abreast of every advancement and notice in the farm papers, and those who don't give a rat's patoot about anything beyond their next harvest.

The possibilities of being a Unique Joe whilst undertaking what might seem a "basic" impression at first are nearly unlimited. Researching to figure out what's the most common range of professions in the event area and timeline really helps pinpoint things, and should be a first step, in my opinion.

Georgia Parson
08-21-2006, 09:32 AM
Miss Clark,

Very well spoken, ma'am. Your statements inspire me to continue indepth research concerning historic interpretation.

Frank Hendrix

08-21-2006, 09:40 AM
Yet another anecdote from the Mixed Up Files of Noah Briggs.

At New Market this spring I looked and acted like a farmhand at the Bushong house. In between unplugging the tacky Civil War Country Western "Music" on the PA system, AGSAS was mowing hay, stacking wood, planting bulbs, tending the bake oven, and generally doing a lot of farm chores and other scut work AGSAS agreed to do as volunteers for the park. The park gave us the tools to use, and we used them, so we could say we were doing things in context, and we could demonstrate how they were used.

After the battle, though, I treated wounded as a physician. I was still wearing farm hand clothes - cap, overalls, "low-class farm" impression, but I handled my instruments and medicines like a pro. (My character was a Mex War veteran).

In other words, most of the weekend I was not treating patients- no battle, no need to treat anyone, and no farm accidents, real or simulated. After the battle, out come the instruments and I am a physican, because there are casualties and the physician is needed. The impression is adapted as needed to fit the scenario at hand, rather than just having me wander around the reenactment area witn my doctor's bag, hoping someone will stop me to strike up a conversation about my bag or something.

At Peaks Mill, the subject of medicine never came up at all, because there was no need for it come up. Nobody was a physician, and nobody was sick or injured during the course of the event. If it happened, I could not offer treatments because my character was not a physician, and in fact hated physicians after a painful bout with pneumonia in his early years.

08-21-2006, 12:20 PM


For your perusal so you understand what I was researching...

E-mail me privately for more information.
Noah, the second link didn't work for me. Also, sending you a PM.

08-21-2006, 12:32 PM
Man, me and "link rot" . . . first my blog, now this. :oops:

Sorry, that was cut and pasted from another post. I'll have to go back and search for the whole thing.

Noah Briggs
Who cannot type today:rolleyes:

08-28-2006, 03:19 PM
One event several years ago I did a handbill passer (19th century telemarketer) at "ten cents a hundred". I had printed up a big stack of period handbills that were just ordinary stuff (copied from actual period handbills) but for added fun I had also printed up some inflammatory seditious ones and cut them the same size so they fit right in the stack.
What was fun about this was I could interact with every period person I passed by passing them a bill, and saying some inanity. But to some likely looking folks I would deal from the middle of the deck and pass one of the seditious ones. Soon it was known that these were getting out and the army was after me--I was arrested no less than four times...but I was only an honest handbill passer "ten cents a hundred". My bills were checked but by daft maneuvering (I had practiced) I was able to hide the nasty ones each time--they couldn't pin a thing on me...but they KNEW--and I was watched (it got more and more challenging).

It was a lot of fun all around. A handbill passer is a neat alternate impression that I don't believe I have ever seen anyone else do; yet a common sight back then in the days before mass media (although one still occasionally gets them tucked under your windshield wiper at the mall).

Spence Waldron~

08-28-2006, 03:27 PM
A handbill passer is a neat alternate impression that I don't believe I have ever seen anyone else do; yet a common sight back then in the days before mass media (although one still occasionally gets them tucked under your windshield wiper at the mall).

Spence Waldron~

Ever walk the streets of NYC or Philly? They are still around.
Your impression sounds like great fun!
Elizabeth Topping

08-28-2006, 03:43 PM
Why thank you ma'am. I have often thought of resurrecting that one as it was indeed lots of fun--I even got ridden down by a bunch of cavalry and had a sabre pointed at my chest (arrest number two or three I don't remember which). But even without the sedition it was fun as I got to speak with lots of civilian folks and they got an authentic reprint of an auction notice or some such truck from me.
Better than the chimney sweep.

Spence Waldron~

08-28-2006, 07:30 PM
Has anyone including the all-important, all-annoying loafer?

Trish Hasenmueller
08-29-2006, 04:34 PM
I thought of this thread when I found this book. Enjoy.

The Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses is an outstanding example of popular culture from 1857. It's funny, tongue in cheek, like reading the repertoire of a stand-up comic, 1857 style. Any of you fellas looking for a civilian 'type' will find a variety of caricatures here. I'm still in the process of reading the book but it is a fascinating look at language and attitudes.

Here's the citation page:
Author: Thomas Butler Gunn
Title: The physiology of New York boarding-houses
Publisher: Mason Brothers Publication Date: 1857
City: New York Pages: 302 page images
Subjects: New York (City) -- Lodging houses.

Go To: First Page
Table of Contents
Title Page
A note on viewing the plain text of this volume
Bookmarkable URL
for this book: http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=ANY6384

Here's the direct link to the book:

Oh, yes! The illustrations are hilaraious! Alfred Waud is one of the three who made the original woodcuts.

09-01-2006, 04:12 PM
There's one I had thought to try--a Constable. I have not one, but two, original pre-war handbooks for small town constables on how to do everything. Lot of stuff in there, but with a bit of study one could pull it off as well as probably most original small town constables did.
Every little town had one. But I doubt our small community would put up with one. However, it would be a neat impression, and there is certainly as much documentation and information there as one would likely need.

Spence Waldron~

Trish Hasenmueller
09-05-2006, 06:07 PM
OK, I'll try to entice you fellows to my new favorite book. This is a quote from page 121 of Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses. It's just one description of many of the sorts of people you might find in NY in 1857...and this quote only scratches the surface on the story of this one character!

“He was a downcast Yankee, had traveled over three fourths of the globe, and tried an infinite variety of avocations, including practice of the law, driving an omnibus, peddling stoves, editing a newspaper, selling patent medicines, officiating as a clerk in a dry-goods store, as Mormon preacher and Daguerreian artist, with much more than we can remember or chronicle. He had just returned from California with some money…”

Mint Julep
09-05-2006, 09:22 PM

I'd be interested in your constable information. I've often thought that if I took the plunge into the civilian side I would take the occupation of Process-Server. That's the fellow that delivers subpoenas. In many cases, it was the small town constable that filled this role.

a "Unique Joe"

09-07-2006, 03:16 PM
I'd have to dig into the book but I'm sure it has in great detail just how to go about doing it. Yes, it would be an interesting 'profession'. But would our 'villages' have need of such?