A Brief History of the National Regiment, Eastern Battalion Inc.
In the first two decades from its beginnings in the late 1950’s, the hobby of Civil War reenacting had undergone a slow process of growth. It began with a few men in a mixture of original Civil War gear, any kind of weaponry, Sears’ work shirts and desert boots, who had little or no idea of period drill or tactics. It passed through the first appearance of wool uniforms and people taking the effort to authenticate the equipment they were using, to entire organizations working at the platoon and even company level to learn about and authentically portray the soldier and the period of the American Civil War.
By the early 1980’s two organizations, the “Mudsills”, founded by George Derenburger and now commanded by Chris Craft, were based in Ohio but had membership throughout the Midwest; and ”Warren’s Brigade”, commanded by Terry Daley and based in the Mid-Atlantic states, had emerged as the two largest “authentic” (as it was then styled) Federal organizations in the hobby.
In late 1984 these two organizations, as well as other “authentic” units, were invited to participate in Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural parade, to be held January 20, 1985 in Washington D.C. This was perceived as a great honor as no one portraying Civil War soldiers had marched, under arms, down Pennsylvania Ave. since the end of the Civil War itself nearly 120 years before. Accordingly, many pains were taken to have all gear and weaponry in tip-top shape. Sadly, the honor was fated not to happen for when the reenactors got to Washington, the weather had turned Arctic in its temperament. In fact, due to sub-zero wind chill factors and near blizzard conditions, the entire Inaugural parade was canceled. The 400 or so Civil War reenactors housed in a gymnasium at Ft. Meyer, VA were determined though not to let the opportunity of parading such a large body of troops slip by, so bundling themselves up in their warmest gear and ignoring the frigid conditions, the soldiers marched from Ft. Meyer to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.
With the 125th Anniversary of the Civil War looming on the horizon, and using the spirit shown at this march, the idea was conceived of a national, generic infantry regiment, made up of both Eastern and Western contingents, to work together under common leadership and to fall in together for, at least, one Eastern and one Western event per year, to portray a regiment of federal infantry in camp and field with historical accuracy.
It was agreed that the “Mudsills” under Chris Craft would form the core of the Western Battalion and the ”Warren’s Brigade” under Terry Daley would do the same for the Eastern Battalion. It was further agreed that representatives of these two organizations, along with any other interested parties, would meet in Gettysburg, PA during the Remembrance Day weekend of 1984 to work out the final details of the alliance.
During the ensuing months, the units within the Eastern Battalion agreed that at any National Regiment event they attended they would follow the NR command structure and abide by the NR authenticity standards, uniform policies, military structure and other policies. Further, they would make every effort to have their unit(s) support and attend NR events. It was also decided that, in the Eastern Battalion, at least, the make up of the membership would be at a unit level rather than an individual level. Persons wanting to belong to the Eastern Battalion would need to join a member unit for admission.
For the first two years or so of the 12Sth Anniversary events (1986-1990), the melding of the East and West worked well. When the Eastern Battalion went West they would fall in under the command structure of the Western Battalion and vice-versa. However, over time, the strain of trying to keep so many diverse elements, with wide geographical and philosophical differences, which portrayed different theaters of the war, and which had different approaches as to the appearance and attitude of the soldier, began to take its toll. Gradually, but without acrimony or ill-will, the Western Battalion began to take on a more autonomous role for itself. Finally, in mid-1988 the Western Battalion of the National Regiment styled itself the “Western Brigade of the National Division” and made it known that in the future it would serve alongside of, but not necessarily under, the Eastern Battalion. It was at this time the leadership of the Eastern Battalion decided to incorporate as its own organization. The legal wheels turned slowly, but in July of 1989, “The National Regiment, Inc. Eastern Battalion” was incorporated. The structure of “The National Regiment” as it is universally known, consists of a Board of Directors who are elected by representatives of the member units at the Corporation’s annual business meeting. The Board then appoints the Colonel of the Regiment. With the exception of the Colonel, all other officers, regardless of their rank in their home units, are 2nd Lieutenants within the NR. The Colonel of the Regiment appoints all Regimental officers on an “as needed” basis, events are chosen at the annual meeting by a majority consensus of the member units.
One of the unique aspects of the National Regiment is, while at NR events, the member units are asked to give up their individual unit designations, and to some degree even their own command structure to aid in the regimental organization at the event, the rest of the time the member units are free to:
1. Organize and run their own units
2. Set their own schedule of events outside of and in addition to NR events.
3. Combine with other NR units at non-NR events to form a battalion of NR units under NR officers, if they so choose.
4. Join with other umbrella organizations (USV, Vincent’s Brigade, Mifflin Guard, etc.) at non-NR events.
5. Engage either separately or in combination with other NR or non-NR units for historical preservation, fund raising, or supporting historical sites types of activities.
In fact, it is an original policy of the NR that it is forbidden to interfere with the internal make-up or workings of any of its member units. Since its inception, the NR has been recognized as being the leading element for change and authenticity at the Federal battalion level in the hobby. Some of the areas on the Union side where the NR has either led the way, or is still the only organization involved at a regimental level are:
1. First regimental-sized organization in the hobby where all its members study and train from the same drill manuals;
2. First organization to conduct an NCO/Officer’s Training School on a regular basis where all participants spend an entire weekend studying drill, tactics, regulations, and other aspects of the Union infantry soldier of the Civil War period;
3. First organization to conduct a regimental level bayonet drill on a regular basis;
4. First regimental-sized organization in the East to use primarily a “campaign” style camp set up using only dog tents or no tents, in the company areas;
5. First regimental-sized organization in the East to implement the philosophy, “if you can’t carry it, you don’t need it”; and,
6. First organization to carry out a 24 hour “Grand Guard” scenario with proper out posts, pickets and reliefs.
Over the years the NR has had several units or groups “spin- off” and form their own organizations. Some of these are the Mifflin Guard and the Signal Corps. In addition, the NR created from within its’ own membership the Headquarters and Staff Company. This organization was initially formed to give the NR a formal command staff at events. By the early 1990’s, however, the reputation of the skill level of this company had grown to such proportions that it was approached, and consented, to provide the command staff structure for many of the 135th Anniversary events. At the same time, junior level officers in the NR would step up to fill the positions opened up by the advancement of the HQ & S company. This arrangement reached its apogee at the 135th Gettysburg in 1998 when individuals from the NR provided enough personnel to staff:
1. A Division level staff
2. A Brigade level staff, and
3. 2 Regimental level staffs
a tribute to the skill, training and depth of command contained within the National Regiment.
In addition, due to the reputation for professionalism and expertise the NR had developed over the years all or portions of the NR, or individuals belonging to the NR, have been instrumental in nearly every phase of many productions having a Civil War theme, on the theatrical, television and video levels, including but not limited to, such productions as “Glory”, “Gettysburg”, “Gods and Generals”, “Somersby”, Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln”, several episodes of Civil War Journal, as well as many, many other works. As the reenacting hobby enters its 7th decade, The National Regiment will continue to stand at the forefront, leading by example and urging it’s members to continue to research, study, practice and excel in their portrayal of the Union Soldier of the American Civil War.
“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and
pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of
souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and
that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered
and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and Lo! the
shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them In its bosom, and the power of the vision
pass into their souls. ” – Joshua L. Chamberlain
Thanks to Terry L. Daley, William Hutchison, Chris Craft and others for their help in compiling this history.
Colonel T. M. F. Downes – Retired