Yes Chris we've all seen scenarios properly designed and executed at your events. But we have also seen problems that illustrate the challenges every organizer faces.
Originally Posted by Anders
Saturday afternoon at “Down the Valley” had a 14 page, hand-written scenario that no one seems to have quite followed, the complexity compounded by one Federal regiment having no officers available for the Friday walk-through and another deciding in the heat of action that his men had taken enough fire that they should all die rather than continue the fight according to plan.
To make matters worse, someone had decided that all the Confederates should “campaign” and wear heavy marching order during the first warm event of the year, which meant that attempts to correct the comedy of errors by radio fell short when calls for EMTs overwhelmed queries as to what page we were supposed to be on.
More recently, at “Maryland, My Maryland,” scenarios sprawled over as many as 30 pages and showed maneuver units not drawn to scale. Later, for my AAR, I tried to figure out what my regiment had done in Saturday afternoon's fight and quickly realized that we had drifted pretty far from the plan from the beginning. In the Cornfield scenario battalions overlapped and portions of the attack resembled a footrace as some commands attempted to get ahead of others so they could fully deploy. In addition, some first wave units failed to fall back when they should have, adding to the confusion. It felt real enough, as far as the chaos of battle, but it wasn't according to plan.
I don't consider these events unsuccessful, but they provide good examples of what can go wrong, as well as a caution against unwarranted complacency.
We had a few similar issues at last December's “Fire on the Rappahannock.” The respective commanders did a good job of keeping scenarios simple and to scale. Nonetheless, one of our three regiments had no field or staff officer for most of the day Friday, and when one finally showed up he somehow managed to miss the walk-through. Perhaps as a result, in the next morning's fight a unit of that regiment charged into a private garden after some Rebel sharpshooters, not realizing that while the Rebels were supposed to be there, we were not. We also made a last minute change during the walk-through which resulted in a very clumsy ending for the last phase of the morning battle.
Fortunately, I don't think these glitches affected the overall success of the event, which ended in that striking vision of Marye's Heights as the smoked-wreathed portals of He\\. Still, even successes provide lessons we can ill afford to ignore.
As for communications, radios help, although no amount of chatter can overcome needlessly complex scenarios or problems of scale. Perhaps they're best used for simple corrections between commanders and medical emergencies.
Bugles strike me as the best all round tool. Using preludes and a limited vocabulary of essential calls (advance, halt, open fire, cease fire, right, left) one could give most of the cues needed to run a well drawn scenario and even correct some errors. But there are always problems with acoustic shadows, shortages of buglers, and the unacceptable ignorance of basic calls by most reenactors.
Wig-wags can have value for the simplest highest level communications. Couriers are essential.
But I think Bill Watson has the best suggestion for improvements. I can see giving every registered participant a copy of all the scenarios a couple months in advance leaving a brief comment period, then nailing the scenarios down a few weeks before the event (with a big “FINAL” on each page). Most of us have computers, and even if we don't have Powerpoint, there are free programs out there like Open Office.
Let everyone know what everyone is supposed to do. Do not rely entirely on chains of command to distribute information, because some simply don't function as they should. If individuals want to enjoy the “fog of war” they have the option not to look at the plan.
But the more people who know what's supposed to happen, the less likely a commander can “improvise” or go off the reservation with their own version of history. And if they do, we'll all know who the guilty party is and we can all decide whether this is someone we want to work with or serve under in the future.
As for BGA Gettysburg, I'm still working on my AAR, but I have no hesitation in saying now that it worked far better than I expected and that every aspect – from the logistics to the battlefield experience – showed the result of years of experience on the part of the organizers as well as their obvious devotion to history and their comrades in the hobby.
M. A. Schaffner
Midstream Regressive Complainer