The Watchdog and Leveraging Donations
Craig L. Barry
(July 2009 Civil War News - Preservation Column)

The Watchdog was founded in 1993 by Nicky Hughes as a 10-12 page quarterly “magazine” intended to be something like Consumer Reports except dedicated to product reviews of reproduction Civil War material culture.

It was non-profit and all proceeds went to battlefield preservation.

In 1998, the magazine changed editors, Bill Christen followed Nicky Hughes as editor and publisher, followed at last by myself as co-editor, and Bill as editor and publisher.

In addition, the staff of assistant editors changed over the years, but included a virtual who’s who of subject matter experts on different areas of Civil War-era material culture, civilian and military, Union and Confederate.

The Watchdog evolved its mission to include historical research articles on almost every imaginable subject of material culture in the 1860s. The Watchdog also segued into book and pamphlet publishing beginning in 2004.

Now published as a column in Civil War News, one thing that has not changed at The Watchdog, and will not change, is that as a non-profit 501(c)3, the ability to provide battlefield preservation donations continues to be the main reason for publishing.

Having established the mission, but with mailing and publishing costs on the rise and a seemingly endless number of worthy recipients for donations, the challenge became to get more out of the dollars we donated.

One way that we approached this was to donate quality reproductions of material culture which could in turn be raffled to double or triple the total donation.

For example, in 2008 The Watchdog was able to acquire an unfired reproduction U.S. 1841 Percussion Rifle, better known as the “Mississippi Rifle,” made about 30 years ago by Antonio Zoli of Brescia, Italy.

The “Zolis,” as they became known, were exceptionally high- quality reproductions with superior attention to detail.

The editor made a few historical feature modifications (de-farbed it) and donated the rifle to the Cedar Creek Battlefield Fund. They in turn held a raffle publicized on their Web site with the winner selected during their annual reenactment in mid-October.

The result was after the raffle, the donation to CCBF ended up being quadruple the cost of the rifle, meaning The Watchdog leveraged our annual donation by a factor of four.

We began this program approximately five years ago, and during that time raffled off an excellent E.J. Thomas Mercantile cartridge box, three de-farbed Enfields, a U.S. 1863 rifle musket donated by James River Armory and, finally, in 2008 the Mississippi Rifle. In toto, the various raffles raised over $10,000 for battlefield preservation.

The point here is that monetary, as well as non-monetary donations, can help preserve quickly diminishing battlefield land. In fact, sometimes they can do much more.

Craig L. Barry is former co-editor of The Watchdog Civil War magazine and author of The Civil War Musket: A Handbook for Historical Accuracy.