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Posted By: Walt Mathers on: 08/12/2006 15:10:16 EDT
Subject: RE: Signal Regulations Were Bendable

Message Detail:

I was re-reading Scott Southerland's post of 06/04/2003 01:05:53 EDT entitled: "Signal Regulations Were Bendable"
but especially the two statements that stuck out from his plaintiff remarks being:

1. "My own progress has been stymied (sp?) by my fellows in my unit. They really don't understand my role as a civilian male and don't quite follow my reluctance to march around with them on the field, as if that is the only thing men did at the time. My age and conditioning would actually prevent me from enlisted service in a regular line unit. At best, I would have been behind the lines in some service oriented manner or back home with the invalids." and,

2. "I've come to the conclusion that my spy role is quite different from the Signal Corps you all represent even though we deal with the same kinds of things in a fashion. We both code and decode messages, sometimes send them via telegraph, are indirect combatants on the field. We also contend with similar reenacting trials too. We are misunderstood by the standard CW crowd, often have to resort to our own devices to participate in an event, encounter reluctance, mistrust, fear, from the officers and men of units, have to struggle to be recognized as a legit part of the CW community, then and now. Let us keep up the struggle. Individualists Unite! (Oxymoron)"

This is when I thought of a past post RE: Recognizing Competence by SCARD's Louisiana State Representative Chuck Lee on 06/17/2002 15:08:09 CDT

It goes as follows:


Mr. Wagner [a telegraph re-enactor of Indiana] ... appears to be right on target in identifying the primary mission of SCARD, from what Walt [Mathers] has written me and discussed with me. In one e-wire to me, Walt commented that:

"The Signal Corps Association Re-enactors' Division or SCARD, a subset of the Signal Corps Association researchers group, is an organization which seeks to draw 1860s signal and telegraph portrayers together so that a unified working relationship might be attained when individuals or detachments join for service at re-created events or other presentations and demonstrations. This can be accomplished by maintaining and sharing the organization's ever evolving historical resource center, by attending regional or national symposia, and through the use of Internet-based E-traffic. The success of the web now offers SCARD a centralized yet broad-based forum by which the many 1860s field communication emulators can share the results of their current-day event challenges on one hand; and offer or receive words of wisdom on how current courses or direction might be altered to allow more involvement with event planning & ultimately improved implementation of functional period communication expertise - thus insuring better event results."

I know that Walt's been doing Signal Corps reenacting for a few weeks - somewhere around 20+ years' worth of weeks. He's worn a couple of fanny-fitting grooves in the CSO's "hot seat", no doubt, and has seen perhaps on a larger scale what I've observed on a smaller, more localized scale with artillery over ten or so years: that the quality of what has been re-created (field communications, in this case) has run up and down the proficiency scale with regularity. Mr. Wagner addressed my question regarding determining competence by commenting that he - and the rest who make this attempt at portrayal, rather than parody - has at times arrived on the reenacting field of operations only to "QUICKLY find out if... [the folks you are hoping to work with] are competent."

My problem here is my own pride. When these folks unknown to me show up, since I am an unknown quantity in whatever degree, and certainly new to most of the military leaders involved in my capacity as a Signalman and a Signal Corps detachment, my reputation is ALREADY hanging in the balance. It's not just with the already skeptical field commanders, though, but now almost inextricably linked with the "Hey, y'all! We jist got here! Ware y'all want us?!" unannounced signal captain and his two or three wannabe flagmen.

Seems to me there has to be a better way. I understand that you can never really know if someone knows their stuff until they have undergone a trial by fire, but I'm skittish about walking in blind with fellows I don't know and giving my imprimatur, my endorsement to them in the eyes of the host unit and event sponsors.

Your mileage undoubtedly varies from mine, Mr. Wagner, and I willingly admit that your experience in reference to this is unquestionably far greater than my own - far greater. But this is still a sticking point for me, and one that I'm wrestling with yet.

I wouldn't let cannoneers unknown to me just shuffle onto the field with my cannoneers, and I sure wouldn't serve on a gun with fellows whose skills, drills, and commitment to safety were unknown to me. We have close, close friends who are Infantrymen, fellows who know us well - but when we have our regular surpluses of cannoneers and send them off to play "Artillery support" (Infantry), that group that knows us so well won't let us insert our surplus of men into their ranks - because they are an unknown quantity, not having drilled with them, learned all their rules, and been supervised in a meaningful way by the Infantry group's officers.

Why then would we, who are so much an unknown factor to the vast majority of reenacting (or so I perceive) be so ready to risk our reputations on unknown quantities? Why would we be LESS stringent in our requirements that the fellows taking the field WITH US be competent? Why would we hold these strangers (those unknown to us) to a lower standard than other branches of the service do? I don't know why we would, and so I'm stuck still on this notion. Once having invited them to join us, and perhaps even having them swell our numbers conspicuously, how do we invite them OFF the field and out of the event if we learn that they could pass our little early Saturday or early Sunday morning drill, but we with our quiz plumbed the depths of their skill and knowledge - and now it's not enough? The answer may be that I'm not the man to wear rank, and I can accept that. But far better to know before inviting them to make a mess of all that we've worked so hard to accmplish, than to uinvite them to fall in with us, and then have them knock us down in the eyes of the event.

I regard the technical ends of the Signal Corps as far more complex than the Artillery, and I'm an Artilleryman who IS competent to change a cannon carriage's wheel, roll rounds, make fixed ammunition, properly package fixed ammunition in crates and uncrate it, load ammunition in the limber chests, set (cut) a fuze, situate and sight a cannon with fixed and stadia sites and pendulum hausses and hit my marks with live rounds, use a Gunner's quadrant, level, train cannoneers, command a section, command a battery, and more - and I'm a Private. There's a TERRIFIC amount for a cannoneer - a real, truly competent cannoneer - to learn, and I don't think the range of knowledge involved is as great as that required of a Signalman.

More than that, we as Signalmen have the potential to affect - positively or negatively, depending on our level of performance, dictated in large part by our competence - far greater numbers of soldiers than a battery of Artillery. It also seems to me that, as Signalmen, we also have our rosy red rear ends hanging out further than any single company of Artillery, Cavalry, or Infantry does, too - for if we screw up the messages we're asked to send, we can very possibly ruin a scenario, create mass confusion on the field, and keep from being allowed to play with the other boys as we would like to.

I'll be the first to tell you that we believe in making every event a "School Of The Piece" - and that's not idle verbiage. We also have most of our cannoneers get together where they're able (of course, based on geographic location) in the off-seasons as well as during reenacting seasons so they can practice the drills, learn or freshen up on all positions on the piece (most of our fellows work one position most of the time, but we like to rotate them, too), and learn new skills. We try to have every one of our cannoneers come to be as competent as our most veteran cannoneers within two seasons, and to hold the range of knowledge held not only by the other cannoneers, but at least one full rank above his own, and preferably two.

Now, the fact is that we Artillerymen are going to camp together, drill together, and be with each other through an event. That's not the case with the Signal Corps, especially at major events such as the upcoming Perryville, Kentucky event; and I appreciate that complicating factor. How can you conduct a quality, "micro camp-of-instruction" when the Signal Corps detachments are supposed to be scattered among the various commands on campaign?

Walt had mentioned to me that a bugler on their web forum said somewhat despairingly, "Teach [the infantry] all of your calls, and in five minutes they've forgotten what you taught them." Sometimes that's the fault of the one being instructed: you can teach someone everything you know, but they alone are responsible for retention - unless you're just a poor teacher. It's certainly possible that the problem lies as much, if not more, with the bugler who is trying to instruct these fellows.

Let me give you an example - and this is from someone who is admittedly dumber than a sack of hammers when it comes to the Signal Corps and all that we MUST know. At a Signal website some time back, they displayed the plaintext wording in a few of their messages. The creator of the text failed to incorporate suffixes, even though those VERY suffixes are included in the system they had posted below their "Message Format Example". Explain it away however you will, the fact is that they knew the right way to do it, but couldn't even hold up a minimal standard of consistency on their own INSTRUCTION TO THE WORLD.

Even teachers go to college to learn how to teach. Our "trainers" should be taught to train others in ways that are historically documented and researchable, I would think. Really - why should we be any different from the rest of the reenacting world? We have fellows on this forum who reenact Artillery, Cavalry, and Infantry. Unless they're a bunch of Yahoos and Cowboys, they've learned to drill and do what's required of their branch from sources like Hardee's, Gilham's, and other Manuals. The Civil War iteration of the Signal Corps went to school to learn what they needed to know. Is what we do so radically reduced from what Civil War Signalmen knew that we "doan' need no steenkeeng badges"? I realize that we don't necessarily learn everything they did, but is our range of knowledge so deliberately truncated that we'd almost allow a fellow stroll onto the field with us from among the spectators, without any demonstration of competence?

Perhaps so. But not me, friends. I think too highly of what it is that we do, and what we CLAIM to be doing, to permit that to happen and be involved with it.

Maybe SCARD should publish a pamphlet titled: "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Signaling, But Were Afraid To Ask". It may need to go further than that scope of work, though. Many of us new to the Signal Corps don't ask because of fear - we just don't know enough to know what to ask in the first place.

Undoubtedly, some of you operate on a far different scale from the mini-scale that our fledgling Signal Corps detachment will - we're still trying to round up enough of the right bodies to make a go of it. I'm certainly not the man to lecture anyone on the right way to do Signal Corps - but I'm the right man to tell you of the standards we observe in the Artillery, and that I'm not willing to apply lesser standards to the Signal Corps.

That's why I don't hesitate to tout the Signal Corps forum that we enjoy together here, I've told three different mailing lists about it, and invited them to come see what I've been so excited to see: fellows who are serious about this aspect of the hobby, or this part of the war, who are knowledgeable and more than willing to share their vast stores of information with those of us like me, who know almost nothing. That's how I've viewed SCARD, too - a resource to be shared with everyone who will listen. It's not a place where information is hoarded and hidden, but openly shared. It's a place where I hope to be able to come to have my questions answered, and to know what was normative for the Signal Corps on so many levels.

That's the beauty of having guidelines - so that we're not like the Israelites of old, descending into ignorance and sin because "very man did what was right in his own eyes". We don't HAVE to "wing it, thanks to SCARD and any guidelines that are developed for any object of SCARD's attention. A newbie shouldn't have to become as knowledgeable, well read, and intelligent as Dave Gaddy in order to know what to do in starting out. He shouldn't need to own the tremendous bank of skills of a Dave Harbin in order to outfit himself properly. He shouldn't have to have the particular field skills of a Walt Mathers, developed from experience, in order to feel as if he could take the field and not foul up everything.

I'm not saying that anyone can or will be able to come to the SCARD website and become an instant expert, desirable as that may be. But we shouldn't be doomed to making the same 437 mistakes that everyone else on this forum has had to make because we had nowhere to turn, nowhere to go for swift resolution of our quandaries and problems. That's the value in training the trainers; in developing usable, useful training materials; in "getting the word out" to as many folks as we can in Civil War reenacting to come here to find what they're looking for; and to establish consistent Signal Corps practices and guidelines or standards that will work wherever we go.

Walt wrote me that

"If there was any group of reenactors who should be in agreement and striving to attain and maintain the highest quality of proficiency and cooperation on the reenacting field it ought to be the field communicators. We, and the reenacting community, have everything to gain by our working together. Conversely, we have everything to lose by not doing so.

"When you look at the original boys of '61, they trained, took to the campaign and then, at the first indication of a lull in hostilities, consolidated back into camps of instruction. Reenactors don't have that luxury.... We don't eat this grub 24-7. No way can we hope to emulate this process, but SCARD can help supplement it somewhat by offering Internet instruction.

"Ted Wagner has developed an excellent training aide which I have utilized many times with first time signallists. It's up at SCARD's web site right now under signal education. Does this take care of our 'Hi, what's your name?' challenges? No, and it won't either. But Ted's offering has now become one of our mainstay cyber-tools. You [Chuck Lee now - cl] want to see videos on VHS and DVDs and CDs. Our production can include some of our best emulators around, and maybe we can add animation to show how a flagman gets his flag to almost kiss the ground on either side and get those tight little turns in his nearly invisible figure eights. We can go over establishing a station and positioning a party on the field, and I think we'll get there soon."

I've been the beneficiary of the training SCARD has held out to reenactors - and I, too, cite Ted Wagner's work as a source that, from a newbie's perspective, is quite helpful.

Again, pointing back to the benefit derived from SCARD and this forum I look at the consistency possible and desirable for Signal Corps reenacting. We have an opportunity that those in other branches of the service don't: by working off - literally - the "same page", we can have consistency of operation, rank, function, and pretty darn near performance among ALL the Signal Corps groups.

When our Artillery unit ventures into territory governed by a Brigade or Battalion or Army different from the Brigade under which we normally function, we often have some things to learn differently from our normative practices. Why? Because we learned our drill, as did our historic counterparts, out of Gilham's *Manual*. We didn't use Andrews' or Hardee's or anyone else's - we used Gilham's. But we don't have to do that with the Signal Corps.

That means, then that we can walk away from the old "We do things differently in this detachment" nonsense - the reenacting equivalent of the business world's unconsidered, un-investigated rejection of what may have been extremely good ideas for them simply because they were NOH - "Not Originated Here".

Even baseball has a set of guidelines - be they Doubleday's, or the New York Rules, or the Boston Rules, or even today's Major League baseball.

What do we have?

Chuck Lee
I agree with your questions Chuck...

"Why then would we, who are so much an unknown factor to the vast majority of reenacting (or so I perceive) be so ready to risk our reputations on unknown quantities? Why would we be LESS stringent in our requirements that the fellows taking the field WITH US be competent? Why would we hold these strangers (those unknown to us) to a lower standard than other branches of the service do?"
What has happened over the years to make castle walls go up? Why the feifdoms? Can we all blame one or two fellows for the kind of hummm signal service we are seeing on to-day's re-created field? If this is so I must ask then... why the constant use of radios during scenarios? Have we gone one step too far by risking our reputations on unknown and untried quantities? Is it on account of one or two inpassioned fellows who haunt this forum and of late seldom ever go to mainstream events? Lingering memories perhaps? I don't think so but such do make for a very interesting and protracted excuses.

Walt Mathers

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