What Every Soldier Needs
Ron Videau, IInd SC Regiment
We who have been involved in the hobby for many years seem to take so many things for granted and forget that once we knew next to nothing. We tend to ignore the new soldier in the ranks and the ton of questions that he throws at us. At times this can be a pain, but then I remember how I was when I started out and how I wished I had an experienced person to turn to for answers. I also remember that 26 years ago when I started out there were few sutlers out there selling the items you needed. Now the choices for gear are plenty and a new person to the hobby can easily make the wrong choice in equipment and clothing when he goes shopping at an event or on line. I know that he needs a helping hand in his first and very critical months within the hobby so I try and make the time for him. If he is allowed to go off to sutler row by himself, he will always return to camp proudly showing off his new-found treasures, many of which can be totally incorrect for the period and his unit. It is only then that we wish we had gone off with the well-meaning newbie. We then will be forced over the next few events to try to find ways to let him know without hurting his feelings that he has thrown away a great deal of his hard-earned money on a pack full of farb.
Now I am not pointing a finger at anyone person nor unit when I say these things. I'm just stating the facts. I know that some of us try our best to look out for the new soldier but we cannot always be with him. In an effort to try and head the farb off at the pass, I have come up with this simple-to-remember list. Just about every unit has its own special items in the way of buttons and clothing that are particular to the unit. However, when it comes to a soldier's personal kit, most items are the same no matter which side of the line he belongs to. Think about it, just what are the basic (practical) items that a soldier from the period needs to be correct? Easy answer - he'll need something to drink out of, to eat out of, and to eat with.
Let's look at these one at a time, my friend, and save you a few bucks while we're at it. Your cup can be your best friend and an all-purpose friend while at an event if you just let it. Yes, a mug made of pewter or crockery may look good at first, but a simple tin cup is really the way to go. Why? The pewter mug tends to be heavy. Carrying a crockery or pewter mug with you onto the field along with all the other accoutrements will help you understand this. Also if you want to do it right, you'll find out after doing a little research that most soldiers never were issued pewter. Therefore you'll end up leaving your heavy lead-colored friend at home. Crockery mugs, like pewter, look cool, but they too are heavy and tend to break easily. The simple tin mug is the way to go. Why? First of all they are cheaper than the other two types. Secondly, unlike the other two types, you can also cook a meal or your coffee/tea in your tin cup. Tin cups come in many sizes and styles. The photo below shows the most popular and period correct sizes.
Now when it comes to what to put your food into, don't bother with a plate of any kind unless you're an officer wanting to show off. If you're a simple everyday soldier the best thing you can do is pick up a simple wooden bowl ranging in size from six to eight inches in diameter. Why? Well, a plate is good but some of the meals you may get will be soup, and soup and plates don't mix well. A wooden bowl on the other hand will serve you whether you're eating grits, potato soup, and stew or freshly slaughtered and fried up chicken. A wooden bowl will also be much lighter and less likely to break than a pewter or crockery plate. And the all-purpose bowl will also leave more greenbacks in your pocket.
When it comes to what eating utensil to pick up for your mess kit all you will need is the vestal spoon made of wood or even better horn. I hear you! What will I cut my meat with? How can I stab a large piece of meat with a spoon? Well, after you have been in the hobby for a while you'll find out that you will rarely if ever run into a large piece of meat in your mess, and if you do, you have fingers to deal with it. With that said, I don't even need to tell you that you'll never need a knife to cut up your food. From time to time you will find that you will have need of a knife to cut a piece of leather or some other item and in that case just pick up a period pocket knife. Your pocket knife need only be a couple of inches long and you'll find that a large belt knife will be rarely needed. However, if you want to get a belt knife for your militia impression, for God's sake, don't pick up a Bowie knife. And remember, before you pick up a belt knife, ask someone in the unit which knife is correct for the period. Don't forget, there are people out there who will sell you anything to make a buck. Your best bet is to not fail to ask someone in your unit to take a walk with you down Sutler Row or send them an image of what you're thinking about purchasing to make sure that it is right for the time period, as well as your unit.
I'll see you on the battlefield, mess kit at the ready!
Copyright © 2006 Ron Videau. All rights reserved.