I feel too many reenactors focus too narrowly on either soldier impressions or generic civilian impressions. It's easy to get lost studying accurate uniforms, perfect drill, and even correct dresses and all their accoutrements. This can leave an impression unfortunately two dimensional and leaves out much of the impression's back story. There was a broad common knowledge about tools, cooking, making, cleaning, working, and all sorts of everyday life that is easily lost with a narrow soldier impression. Enlistment papers are a wealth of information about soldier careers that not enough people dive into. In Co. D, we had dozens of different professions like blacksmith, scholar, pharmacist, lumbermen, farmer, laborer, and many more. Each year, more of us are pushing ourselves into learning the careers and common knowledge our soldiers had. Knowledge can be regional as well. Company D had soldiers from several port cities in Maine where maritime culture would have been well known of if not directly participated in. So, our knowledge of ropes, rigging, ships, fishing, and cooking with seafood would have been common knowledge. A familiarity with the lumber and lime trade would also have been well known. This is why we push ourselves to learn specific and regional cultural knowledge. We encourage you to do the same to add depth and immersion to your impression. Ask yourself where your unit came from, what industries were common, what sort of unique cultural knowledge, practices, and slang were common to that region and build from there.
For these reasons, I've picked up rope work this year. I don't plan on becoming an encyclopedia of knots, but I've pushed myself to learn useful knots that likely would have been well known, as well as some maritime related rope craft. This year, I've also started carrying a marlinespike pocket knife which I've found accurate for my impression and exceptionally useful around camp. I've taught myself the very useful midshipmen's knot for tightening and securing tent ropes without a slip and several more I've committed to memory. In this picture, you see my first handmade fids. Fids are usually used for stretching rope for splicing but are useful in many of the same ways as a marlinespike. I made these out of oak on my lathe in about ten minutes each. I got the idea from watching the videos of legendary rope craftsman, Miko Snellman on YouTube. I used these fids (one is for Pvt. Soderling) to make the rope brushes.
This, off season, I encourage you to learn more about the trades and cultural knowledge of the unit you portray. If you portray a lumberman, can you cut down a tree traditionally or be conversationally proficient explaining it? If you were a tobacco farmer, do you grow a tobacco plant or two and know how to pick it, stick it, and cure it? If your unit was famous (or infamous) for gambling, how many popular CW card games can you play? Be curious and best of luck of your research journey!