Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Civil War re-enactment activity – leadership development through battle simulation!

By Mark Vogl, Rebel Mountain Enterprises

The "Civil War re-enactment" has certainly earned a place among annual events across America.  Thousands, even tens of thousands of men, women and children build their lives around the weekends they will commit to recreating American history.   Hours and hours of meetings, drill practices, and maintenance of equipment occur throughout the year.  For many, re-enacting is a family activity where children experience sleeping in tents and sitting around camp fires.  Families attend balls where their mothers adorn themselves in large round dresses that take more than one person to put on!

Re-enactments can be as small as a couple dozen participants, or as large as the battles like Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, Chickamauga where thousands, or hundreds of re-enactors gather.  Unfortunately, politics have divided the re-enactor community into groups, petty difference and a "desire to control" has significantly reduced the numbers who participate in the largest re-enactments.  Re-enactments are not always about real battles.  In Jefferson, Texas there is an annual "what - if" re-enactment battle.  This battle is built around the idea of what if the federal Red River campaign of 1864 was successful and made it into northeast Texas.

As far as military skills and leadership, re-enactments are best at teaching and developing individual and small unit skills.  Leadership is pretty much anchored at the NCO and junior officer level, though you will see more generals and colonels as re-enactors or dressed impersonators than there are in today's general - admiral heavy Pentagon.  But there is zero training or experience at commanding, real tactics commanding, at levels from regiment up!  All re-enactments have to be sketched out in advance for safety reasons.  Spontaneity and tactical decision making is extraordinarily rare.

But there is a way to experience the pressures, responsibilities and opportunities of senior military leadership.  Further, this new activity also provides an opportunity to learn and practice strategic analysis and planning.  And this activity's most important feature would be the real challenge to lead an army (and its subordinate units of divisions and brigades ) composed of real, breathing subordinates into battle.

This new activity is called battle simulation.

Battle simulation is used as an important training tool by the United States military, and by intelligence agencies.  Battle simulation helps an organization completely research and analyze an operation before it is conducted.  Simulation helps identify the operational variables and challenges.   It provides an opportunity to fight through alternative operational concepts.  Battle simulation provides an excellent opportunity to work through and rehearse the pre-battle tasks such as reconnaissance, battle order writing, organization of the command, etc.  It provides leader evaluators an opportunity to watch and evaluate students and participants.

Because battle simulation is competitive, time sensitive, and in motion, it can be extraordinarily enjoyable as an activity once the pre-battle tasks have been completed and the electricity of human communications begins in the chain of command.  There is a tension, an anticipation, a level of fear and sense of urgency that exacerbate the human characteristics of each of the participants.  And in a good simulation there is a "fog of war" which continues throughout the experience.

Where re-enactments are all pre-planned and stress the physical aspects of the manual work of soldiering, simulation replaces them with all the mental aspects of large scale military leadership.  Participants in a simulation can be as exhausted as re-enactors because of the continuous mental exertion of leading and fighting.  In a simulation many variables are at play, there does not have to be only one operational plan to accomplish the mission.  A cycle of analysis, decision making, communications and action runs through the battle feeding back on itself.  History can change.

And simulations require just as much, if not more, pre-event work at the participant level.  But the work is in learning the language of war, how to analyze a military operation and create an operational plan that can be communicated to a subordinate chain of command or three or four levels - from army to corps, from corps to division, etc.

Simulation is bi – gender friendly and age irrelevant event.  In simulations conducted at veteran's halls in New York, men, women, and children all came to participate.  For some, it was a family event.   But I conducted the very same battle simulation for ROTC detachments at two universities, Hofstra in New York and University of Texas at Arlington.  In both cases scores of cadets filled out the chain of the command of the two opposing armies.  The simulation helped cadets use/practice leadership, planning and organizational skills they had been taught in the classroom.

One other real market for battle simulation, or simulation in general could be in the high school and college humanities classrooms.  Participation in a simulation could excite the imagination of students, driving them to do as much research as possible on the subject matter to prepare for the simulation.

Creating a challenging, entertaining simulation is both an art and a science.  It requires different types of knowledge and experience.  And as a new event, not generally available to the general public, it has many dimensions to be worked through.  A failed attempt at this type of event could be costly, both in terms of money and personal and professional reputation.

Battle simulation has its own challenges, but has tremendous potential as an entertainment, recruiting and educational event.  Feel free to contact me at Rebel Mountain Enterprises to begin your venture into a new Civil War activity.  And if your interest in another period of history, no worries, we can develop any historical scenario for you, and market your idea.  Contact me at, or 903-725-3175.

This is an abbreviated version of an article published in The Civil War Courier, December, 2014 edition