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Blue and Gray: The Campaigner: Caleb Benefield

Civil War Reenactors: Even among the very precise, agreement isn’t always universal

Blue and Gray: The Campaigner: Caleb Benefield
 

Caleb Benefield, reenacting a Union sergeant, as shot in period style and methodology by well-known reenactor photographer Wendell Decker, during a reenactment of the Battle of Bridgeport, Ala. Benefield, now a lieutenant, and his wife, Jennifer, who reenacts civilian women, plan to be at a major anniversary reenactment of the Battle of First Manassas in late July 2011.


Even among the very precise, agreement isn’t always universal

“There’s reenactors and then there’s reenactors,” says banker Caleb Benefield, who is a “campaigner” and doesn’t settle for “farby.”

Benefield is a diehard. From the age of 14 to 22, for him “family vacation” meant a trip to Gettysburg. His father loved to take the family on annual tours of the pivotal battlefield, and his son developed a deep interest in the historical period.

A serious interest. Today Benefield belongs to the 48th Alabama Infantry Reenactors, which also appears as a Union unit, the 23rd Kentucky, when needed in blue to enable actions to take place. (Confederate grays need Union blues to fight, after all.)

Talk to enough Civil War reenactors and you begin to get a hang for the lingo they use, not just about the war and its portrayal, but about themselves and their degree of respect for historical accuracy in look and outfit.
 
 
“Campaigners” and “Farbys”
“Campaigner” is among the terms used to describe someone who cares quite seriously about not only the look of a weapon, or even something as pedestrian (to the uninitiated) as the stitching on a garment or a piece of canvas or leather equipment. Campaigners even argue over the appropriate period technique of fighting.

Take what might seem a little detail of clothing: shirts. Barring some exigency, a properly attired soldier of the Civil War period wouldn’t be walking around simply in shirtsleeves, insists Benefield.

“You always wore a vest or a coat or something over the shirt,” he explains. “A normal shirt worn by itself was considered as if you were wearing just underwear today.”

Caleb Benefield, 30, credits his being a campaigner to one of his earliest reenactor comrades, who himself was one. He instilled the same spirit in the young recruit.


     
  http://www.ababj.com/images/constantcontact/Briefing_71411_FirstPerson_Badge.jpg  
  This is one of four profiles of banker-reenactors.  
   
“Everything I portray, in blue or in gray, is 100% documented,” he says. Benefield is a loan officer handling various types of personal loans and some small business loans for BBVA Compass, in Alabama, in real life. In reenacting, he is currently a lieutenant, in both blue and gray.

Speaking of blue and gray, Benefield can also tell you that the vast majority of regulation Union pants came from only two sources. The light blue pants seen on many Federal troops are officially referred to as “Schuylkill Arsenal Trousers.”

By contrast to the “campaigner” is the realm of the “farby.” Farby refers to poorly researched uniforms, incorrect details, or even such egregious shortcuts as spray painting sneakers with black paint to produce “boots” on the cheap.

“Farby” derives from, “far be it for me to criticize, but…” some say.  Another version holds that it is a truncation of “Fast and Researchless Buying.” “Farby” reenactors are derided by some as “polyester soldiers” for showing up in gear that’s a far cry from what the Union and Confederate troops wore.

The purist wears wool. Year ‘round. Hot, scratchy, smelly wool.

Indeed, hardcore reenactors like Benefield work over even their replica weapons to “de-farb” them as much as possible. The banker has a replica Enfield rifle that has been “defarbed” of all of its modern markings, to get it as close as possible to the real item.

It costs roughly $1,100 to equip yourself with the basics worn and carried by an infantryman of either side, according to Benefield. (Weapons make up roughly half the cost.) In addition to both Union and Confederate outfits, Benefield also has an authentic civilian reenacting rig. He makes it to 12 to 15 reenactors’ events annually.
 
 
Behavior in character
Benefield’s immediate unit, within the 48th Alabama, is a small group known as the “Possum Skinners Mess.” A mess was a group that ate together in the field, each man carrying part of the cooking equipment and other necessities. It happens that Benefield and his messmates are all campaigners, no matter which side they are playing any given day.

“We don’t have an authentic Confederate and then let our Union go,” Benefield says with obvious pride.

Yet even among campaigners, hard core as they are about reenacting, there is not universal agreement about what is authentic dress or behavior.

Some who reenact southern soldiers do so barefoot, either in the belief that some of the poorer soldiers of the Confederacy wore no shoes in peacetime, either, or because they feel the Confederacy was so devoid of supplies and ordnance later in the war that the troops were fighting in worn-out clothing or worse.

“I don’t think that the South was as undersupplied as some people think,” says Benefield. “Both sides had gear, though it was more of a hodgepodge in the South.” Benefield is inclined to think that weapons were more of a problem than clothing, with the Union blockade of Southern ports often preventing foreign weapons from being shipped in.

“I don’t go barefoot, personally,” adds Benefield.
 
 
Turning back the clock
But while he prefers to fight and reenact while decently shod, part of what Benefield likes best about reenacting, he says, is “the simplicity.”

Benefield recalls an event in 2009 where he wanted to know the time. He stopped every reenactor he crossed paths with and not one had a watch on. He couldn’t find out what time it was.

There was something neat about that.


Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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