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Company K is an unincorporated association of volunteer history buffs. We have a constitution with by-laws, elected officers and non-commissioned officers; proscribed standards for meetings, drills, events, membership and uniforms; and an elected court to monitor issues of safety, fun, and authenticity. We are a democratic group with each member having an equal say in the administration of the company. Active members may sit on or chair the various committees formed to handle specific activities such as fund-raising, preservation, and events.
In the field, we are an independent, historically accurate memorial military company with a chain of command. The highest ranking commissioned or non-commissioned officer present commands according to the revised Army Regulations of 1861 and period tactical manuals. All are accountable to the membership for their conduct and behavior.
There are always more events than one can possibly attend, so choosing is a must. We try to do one big event per month, two at the most. We'll also arrange demonstrations for schools, groups, etc., and participation is ALWAYS voluntary. We have no mandatory meetings or events. All we ask is that you drill with us before taking part in any battle scenario. This is for your safety as well as the other reenactors. We have drills, picnics and other social functions throughout the year, but again, participation is voluntary. In order to maintain active status with the group, members do need to attend three company functions a year. Those attending fewer are considered inactive and may not vote, hold rank or serve on committees. Of course, active status is immediately granted for those attending the required number of events as well as new members for their first year.
Many of our members are also lifetime members of the Iron Brigade Association which was formed by the survivors of the old brigade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1880. Some of our members shoot with the medal-winning Iron Brigade Guard North/South Skirmish Association Musket Team.
In the field, we are part of the 500 member Vincent Brigade under the command of Wayne Wolff. This is a mainstream brigade with three battalions consisting of companies of varying degrees of authenticity. We are also part of Wisconsin's 400 member Black Hat Battalion. This progressive battalion represents every regiment in the Iron Brigade, including Battery B, Fourth U.S. Artillery.
Because of our unique western impression, we maintain an independent spirit regardless of battalion or brigade affiliation, much like those pioneers we portray. Black Hats have a way of stealing the show and we are very popular with the public. Not so much with the rebels. We have served with many other battalions and brigades during our years of service. This only happens because of our commitment to authentic drill and authentic battlefield behavior. We even panic and run away sometimes! Many of us are also trained gunners as well and have actually captured, turned and fired a rebel gun during a battle scenario... much to the surprise of the other union troops and the rebs, too.
Most reenactments are within a four to six hour drive for us. We go to Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and have seen some interesting ones in New York. Our living history encampments usually take place in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. National events are generally near the original battlefields, so we visit these often. Again, you pick the events you wish to attend. We have been to Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Wilderness, North Anna, Sayler's Creek, Monmouth, Monroe, and Hershey Park, to name but a few.
While membership in Company K is limited to those portraying a soldier, we recognize the significant contribution of soldier's families during the Civil War. The appearance of period dressed civilians at events and in our camp helps us complete the story of the soldier's lives. Therefore, your family is encouraged to participate right along with you. Because the focus of our impression is military, however, we maintain a very light civilian footprint. Most civilian activities are organized and run by event hosts, so there is always something for them to enjoy.
Most units charge annual dues that cost anywhere from $20 to $50. Company K dues are only $10 per year, to cover the cost of the unit's newsletter called The Black Hat. Otherwise, members simply pay their own way and company spending is generally limited to administrative costs. Donations are accepted and kept in a company fund, administered by the captain and treasurer and dispersed with the approval of the company members. We engage in fund-raising activities only for specific purposes.
The gear is another story entirely. How much you spend depends on several factors. If you want 100% authentic hand-made gear, then expect to pay about $2000. Some compromise on authenticity at first in order to save a few dollars, but find that the best gear not only looks and feels right, but lasts longer, too. The rifle musket is the most expensive piece of equipment and runs about $500. Your uniform will cost about $400, while the field equipage is another $200. You'll always find something to spend your hard-earned greenbacks on, but starting out you should concentrate on the basics. The good news is that you don't have to have everything all at once in order to come out and join in the fun.
Events cost between $5 and $15 for registration to assure enough wood, water and sanitary facilities for the participants. Some events are free. Others pay us to attend.
Weekend events typically set up on Friday, but some reenactors arrive early Saturday morning. Friday night is very sociable as old friends and new meet and swap stories and lies! Reveille sounds early Saturday morning, followed quickly by roll call and the first drill of the day. This gets the blood pumping for a day of activity. After breakfast cooked over an open fire, cleaning up the camp is the next order of business. All modern items are hidden from view. Inspections, pay call, mail call, guard mount, card-playing and gambling take place as soldiers demonstrate period behavior. Officers come around to check on things and before you know, it's time for drill. This is where you'll practice what will happen during the battle scenario. Or you'll practice some basic maneuvers or tactics. Now you're learning what it was like for the Civil War soldier. And if you're not grumbling about too much drill, you aren't acting like a proper Civil War soldier!
There is a lull around noon as troops fill canteens, count out rounds and prepare for the afternoon battle. These battles usually last about an hour. Afterwards, once the rifles are cleaned, it's free time! You can visit friends in other units or the sutlers who sell all kinds of goodies. At night, after cooking our suppers over the fire, we sing songs and share in the camaraderie of the camp. For many reenactors, this is their favorite time of the weekend.
Sunday morning always comes too early. Another roll call, another drill, another breakfast. Another guard, fatigue detail and police call. Many attend church services while others write letters home or visit the sutlers. Now may be time for some bayonet practice! There is time to prepare lunch and get ready for the day's battle, which, again, lasts about an hour. Afterwards there is a general rush to break down camp and get on the road for home. Many times the group will arrange to meet somewhere on the road to eat dinner together in a final act of comradeship. This is truly a great way of life!