About the Unit
"Young gentlemen of Mathematical genius, who are acquainted with the principles of Geometry, and who have a taste for drawing, would be the most proper assistants for a Geographer. Such, in a few days practice, may be made expert surveyors."
-Robert Erskine, F.R.S., Geographer to the Army of the United States
The purpose of the Department of the Geographer is to accurately portray a working interpretation of the Department during the period from 1777 to 1783 with the express goal of portraying the world of the Continental Army staff officer better than has been achieved to date.
The Department of the Geographer is different in appearance and attitude than much of the Revolutionary War living history community. This is for a purpose. Other units make certain concessions to authenticity or may define themselves as “family organizations,” wherein membership quantity is paramount to quality. We do not. We define ourselves as a military organization in that we represent a staff department of Washington’s headquarters and we do our best to act like officers and soldiers on duty. During duty hours, we follow proper military protocols and soldiers are expected to live a soldier's life. Our clothing is typically hand-finished and the materials all linen and wool, like what the men of the Continental Army would have worn. Our camp is functional, but not over-furnished. The purpose is present a faithful representation of what life in the Continental Army was like to those who hope to learn from the events we attend, but also that we may have a deeper appreciation for the lives of the men we say we represent.
This sort of living history is not for everyone. There are high expectations on all members, but they are quite attainable, and for those who do, very rewarding. You will have the satisfaction knowing that you are at the peak of the living history experience, not only educating the general public, but yourself as well. There is a gratifying feeling knowing that you know what you are doing, you are doing right, and you will soon find that you will be eager to continue to push the envelope. Along with this, you will find camaraderie among those around you. To those willing to take up the challenge, we welcome you. (Adapted from the 2d Virginia Regiment Manual)
The Progressive Philosophy: The Geographer’s Department sees itself as a progressive unit, meaning that its members will strive to achieve the greatest accuracy possible in all aspects of its impression, including clothing, camp equipage, instruments and tools, knowledge of the science of surveying and cartography in the 18th century, and knowledge of the War for American Independence (both on a tactical and strategic level). All Active Members must ascribe (in word and deed) to the principles set forth in the “Progressive Manifesto,” which appears in this document.
The Living History Interpretation
The recreated unit will follow the precedent found in Revolutionary War reenacting that frowns on the portrayal of historical characters at events. This practice is more common in Civil War reenacting, but in our time period, individuals portraying characters are specifically invited by the historic site or event coordinators. Thus, we will not portray the characters of individuals associated with the department like Robert Erskine, Thomas Hutchins, and Simeon DeWitt unless specifically requested to do so by the event host. Members of the unit will portray “anonymous” Assistant Geographers, Civilian Surveyors, and enlisted Chain Bearers, acting as if Erskine, Hutchins, DeWitt, etc. just “stepped out” of the office or camp.
The unit may portray the Geographer’s office attached to headquarters or a field survey party, depending on the portrayal’s appropriateness for any given event. This portrayal may include several Assistant Geographers, between four and six chain and instrument bearers, and a few civilians. Some of the enlisted chain bearers will be recruited on a temporary basis from the troops at each event. Those who are permanently attached to the Geographers will also serve as a guard when necessary. These guards will not participate in battle reenactments unless they gain permission to attach themselves to another unit for the duration of the battle (the Geographers Department liability insurance policy does not include firing of firearms).
Whenever possible, the unit’s work area will be housed in a dwelling or other suitable structure at an event site, as was done by the original unit. When in the field, the unit will use tentage adequate to house the instruments and work space. It is the desire of the unit to actually conduct surveys and mapmaking activities at events.
We do not want to be a “pretty group of officers” sitting around in camp all day. Public education is key, and this can be done in camp as well as in the field.
Continuing research, training, and education will be the hallmark of the Department of the Geographer. In order for us to adequately portray these men, we must become experts in 18th century surveying and mapmaking. As much as they apply to a unit of this type, the philosophy of the progressive reenactor will be followed by the Department of the Geographer, Army of the United States.
From time to time, individuals or the entire unit may be asked to portray civilian surveyors at historic sites or living history events. This is encouraged. Each officer in the historical Geographer’s Department had their own civilian background in surveying, engineering, or mathematics before the war. Likewise, it is completely appropriate that reenactors in the recreated unit have, as an alternate, a civilian impression which is based on their region of origin or interest.
The recreated unit is led by a Commander (Captain or Lieutenant), Deputy Commander (Captain or Lieutenant), and an Adjutant. These individuals may also serve as Survey Party Chiefs or Deputy Party Chiefs. A Distaff Coordinator may also be appointed to provide support for women within the unit, and to serve as a liaison between the Civilian Class Member (CCM) coordinators the Brigade of the American Revolution and its departments.
To help facilitate authenticity development, communication, and event participation, the unit is divided into three regional survey parties (similar to companies of larger infantry reenacting units). These survey parties are:
While these regional parties generally represent the states of residence of our members, it is more important to think of them as the areas in which the Department attends events. For example, if you live in Delaware, but would prefer to attend more events in PA, NJ, and NY, then it would be appropriate to associate yourself with DeWitt’s Party, rather than Hutchins’ Party. That said, any member of the Department may attend any other party’s event.
A Party Chief may appoint as many deputies (with the rank of lieutenant) as needed. Party Chiefs and Deputy Party Chiefs should have ready and reliable access to the basic items that are needed to conduct a self-contained surveying demonstration (compass, chain, plotting instruments, table, and shelter at minimum).
Each Survey Party should have one Survey Party Foreman who serves as the head chain-bearer for the party. This individual should have the rank of sergeant, and should be prepared to train unit members or volunteers from other units on how to run a survey. The sergeant is also to carry out the functions assigned to the non-commissioned officer of a company in the “Roll Call” section of Steuben’s Manual. The Foreman should possess his own Gunter’s chain (half or full), chaining pins, and range poles.
Each Survey Party should have one corporal or sergeant who is responsible for the guard of the camp and surveying crew. This individual is competent in the Steuben manual of arms, and is responsible for teaching others. When called for, he is to conduct the “inspections of the men” section of the Steuben Manual, and is also to be well versed in mounting guards. The Corporal or Sergeant of the Guard should possess his own operational musket (Charleville or Brown Bess), bayonet and scabbard, cartridge box, whisk and pick, musket tool, and worm.
Additionally, each survey party should have at least one enlisted man or civilian who will serve as a waiter for the officers’ mess. This role may be filled by one of the above-named enlisted men, as long as he can fulfill the duties of both positions.
It is strongly recommended that chain bearers and guards (except for those positions described above) be drawn from the troops at living history events and reenactments whenever possible. This is the method used by the original, unit, and has many benefits for the recreated unit. Namely, the majority of the enlisted men leave the Geographer’s camp or office at the end of their duty and retire to their respective camps. Thus, matters of camp life, including most meal preparation, sleeping arrangements, exercise of the manual of arms, interaction with families, etc. will be relegated to the camp area of their home unit. In support of this, as a general rule, additional men wishing to portray enlisted men will not be permitted to join unless one of the above positions is available within the applicant’s survey party.