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One of the things I liked best about this year’s School of Instruction was the Petite Guerre demonstration that followed a discussion of those tactics by Dr Stoltz of the 5th NY.

Mr McC & the Young Mr share a tree; note British officer and Hessian

Demonstrating skirmishes instead of linear warfare makes sense, given the numbers of men who take the field at events, and the smaller engagements will reflect exchanges common between the sides during the war.

What I like in particular is that using ‘petite guerre’ tactics requires the commanders and soldiers to tailor their actions to a site (site specific immersive experience: you cannot go wrong) and as the action unfolds, soldiers at all ranks are forced not only to move but also to think. Any action where the interpreters have to think is likely to create a better experience for visitors—and no great surprise, that usually makes a better experience for interpreters. It also flatters the site managers and visitors, who will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to explore and understand their place, and its place in history.

While you don’t necessarily want to fight the Battle of the Comfort Station, skirmishing around a site with buildings provides an objective, while multiple buildings and some woods or undergrowth provide cover for the Light Infantry troops and opportunities for deceit.

Of course, depending on troop size, it may be that each man needs his own tree. On Sunday, the Young Mr kept close to Mr McC, demonstrating troop [leg] length.

It’s hard to be invisible when you’re tall.

But I do mean this seriously: scaling events to available resources allows for a better interpretation.

That’s common sense, and sound museum practice, and that’s pretty much the business living history practioners (aka reenactors), are in: interpreting the past to visitors. Best practices for professionals and hobbyists are grounded in the same principles:

  • Primary source research
  • Material culture research
  • Site, resource, and audience- appropriate delivery
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Direction provided by Mr C with spontoon.

Building an encampment and tactical demonstration on the first two principles grounds the event in in historical authenticity. Adding the third principle, and increasing the use of smaller group tactics, tailored to the participants and site, would be a subtle but strategic shift to build a more engaging experience that better educates visitors and might even attract new recruits.