Love reading about history? Have a burning desire to live in another time? Were you in all of your high school plays and crave the theater – even historical theater? Or perhaps you and your family enjoy camping and are not averse to leaving the laptop, cell phone, and tablet far behind!
If you said yes to one, some, or all of the above, battle reenacting (and we’re not talking about those pesky dinnertime battles over pizza vs. Chinese!) is a hobby that’s as fun as it is educational. As 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, re-enactors from Maine to Louisiana, Oregon, and points in between will have the opportunity to recreate history, many at Gettysburg itself. In fact, dedicated reenactors claim they were hooked on the excitement from their very first battle, either staying close to home for local events or traveling hundreds of miles to participate in pivotal battles recreated from the Civil and Revolutionary Wars (and a few others). How about you?
For Raleigh, North Carolina resident Kris Shelton and husband Terry, long time participants who actually met 10 years ago at the 140th Gettysburg reenactment, battle reenacting is a family affair with their two young children happily in tow. With Terry an 18-year captain of the First Kentucky Infantry–a 60-to-70-member unit that’s part of the 600-member Longstreet’s Corps (James Longstreet was an eminent Confederate general)–all under the auspices of the 18,000-strong Blue Gray Alliance–the Sheltons often travel four, five or six hours to reenact a battle. This month they will drive approximately 800 miles round trip to participate in the four-day 150th Gettysburg (www.bluegraygettysburg.com).
“Gettysburg means a lot to us,” Kris Shelton said. “In addition to its own history, we have a history there.”
According to Shelton, reenactments are a great place to meet people with similar interests and values. Because they typically involve a weekend or longer camping out in period costume, cooking and living the way people would generations ago, reenactments tend to attract individuals and families who are drawn to canning, gardening, being close to the earth, building and making things by hand, etc. “It’s an old fashioned value system we share,” she said, adding the “troops” and their families are made up of teachers, ex-military personnel, lawyers, government workers, police officers, and many others.
According to sources, reenacting the Civil War began long before the fighting had even ended. Veterans recreated battles as a way to pay homage to fellow soldiers and educate others about the war. The “Great Reunion of 1913,” which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, was reportedly attended by more than 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans and included reenactments of Pickett’s Charge, among other battles. Modern reenacting is thought to have burgeoned during the 1961-65 Civil War Centennial. Garnering even more popularity during the 1980s and ‘90s, the 125th Anniversary reenactment near Manassas, Virginia, was attended by 6,000 re-enactors.
Reenacting as Lifestyle
“A lot of us sew and make our own clothes and have a lifestyle that includes living off the land,” Shelton said. At a weekend event, it’s all about campfire cooking and socializing, wearing period clothing without using anything modern even in inclement weather, using candles–just living with a lack of modern conveniences. At the upcoming 150th Gettysburg, June 27-30, the expanded event will provide a deeper immersion into Civil War-era life. “And it’s always important that you enjoy yourself,” Shelton affirmed.
Generally, events consist of a few reenacted battles with camps outside the battle zones. Spectators can attend and watch from designated viewing areas, and period vendors known as sutlers sell clothing, weapon reproductions, etc. as mementos or to those interested in pursuing reenacting for themselves (these items can also be ordered from online sites). Musicians perform period music, and there is sometimes a ball at night with group dances from the period. Depending on the length and scope of the event, there may be a speakers’ tent for lectures and educational demonstrations.
Sign Me Up
When someone decides to become a reenactor, they usually join a unit, according to Shelton, wherein the unit–comprised of Confederate and Federal (Union) infantry, cavalry, and artillery–does anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen events per year from March through November. The first is spring drill where participants learn various battleground maneuvers, how to carry a rifle, different commands, and how to move from a column of two’s into a battle line. Reenactments themselves often involve a morning parade and drill, followed by a planned scenario with choreographed moves similar to those on a football field. Commanders direct the troops on horseback, which can number in the hundreds or thousands.
Though not all units allow women and children in the camps, Shelton said many like Longstreet Corps do allow families to set up camp in military style. Fetching firewood and water, cooking, washing, etc., are key activities in which historical women engaged in support roles. In fact during the Civil War, it was not uncommon for a woman to follow her husband who was “on campaign,” or a refugee, displaced by the war. For modern reenactors, males age 16 and older can carry a weapon though younger boys are not necessarily relegated to the camps and may serve as battleground runners or in other roles.
Wars by Any Other Name
With Civil War reenacting perhaps the most popular, Revolutionary War reenactments are not all that uncommon. French and Indian War events also exist and may include more frontier-type reenacting including hunting and trapping activities, Shelton explained. Battle reenactments take place throughout the U.S. in dozens of states from Oregon to California, Nevada, Florida, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona, New Mexico, the Eastern seaboard and more. In fact Texas was the far Western theatre of the Civil War. Its Red River Campaign battles will be commemorated on their 150th anniversary in 2014.
“It’s a culture and a lifestyle,” Shelton said. “People who do this are very passionate about it.”
For information on battle reenacting for you and your family, contact Blue Gray Alliance at: email@example.com