The Living History of Civil War Reenactments
There are many ways to enjoy and study American history. While most people associate appreciating history with academic study, such an opinion is limited in scope. After all, museums and historical tourist attractions are more routed in entertainment than they are in academia. And, of course, there are other ways in which one can enjoy and explore American history in an entertaining manner. One such method involves Civil War reenactments.
What are Civil War reenactments? Based on the wording, they involve recreating particular events and battles that took place during the American Civil War. These reenactments are part theater, part performance art, part role playing, and part visual interpretation. These various elements all eventually come together to provide both spectators and participants with a gateway into America’s past by bringing the ground shaping events to life.
That is probably the greatest benefit of Civil War reenactments. They allow people to actually see what had happened in a visual manner. Reading about such events in textbooks provides much needed information, but it is not an alive method of transferring the information. Prose renditions of events are often dry and informational as opposed to emotional and exciting. This is why many historical fiction books are popular. They add further emotional dimensions to the material. With Civil War reenactments, the emotional and entertainment value of the event is expanded.
A common Civil War reenactment can involve picking a particular battle or event. For example, the infamous battle at Gettysburg could be reenacted by a team of interested players. They would congregate in a particular area and act out the actual battle. The action could be improved or it could be completely scripted. Actually, it could also involve a little bit of both. Ultimately, these things will play themselves out based on how the organizers wish to do so. The main point is that they are historically accurate and capture the feel for the event as it actually occurred. Again, the goal is a reenactment. Altering history in the presentation would turn it into a “what if” scenario which is a different presentation altogether. Now, there is nothing wrong with such an approach, but it would not be an actual reenactment.
Contrary to poplar belief, Civil War reenactments are nothing new. The first one occurred in 1913 and it was called The Great Reunion of 1913. The reason that it was called The Great Reunion was because the participants were actual veterans of the Civil War. These individuals had come together to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Gettysburg battle and it drew a crowd of well over 50,000 individuals.
There was a lull in reenactments after this event mainly because it was a difficult experience. The veterans of the Civil War new full well that the war cost 500,000 lives. Since they lived the event it was not history to them and the reenactment surely brought painful memories to the forefront. However, by 1961, enough distance had been gained that reenactments could resume under the centennial commemoration of the Civil War. These events were popular and drew significant crowds. The popularity of these events slowly waned but interest was renewed in the 1980’s and it continues strongly to this day.
But, who are the people that act out these events? Are they professional actors? Are they hobbyists? Are they funded by any organizations? Honestly, the people that reenact Civil War battles are simply rabid enthusiasts for American history that wish to preserve its legacy and enjoy a unique fun event. Such events need to be organized and they are done so by hobbyists wishing to engage in the hobby. The events are non-exclusionary and anyone from all walks of life is encouraged to participate.
Probably the most stunning aspect of these events is the incredibly authentic costuming and weaponry. Yes, you will see the actual blue and gray uniforms as well as rifles, cannons, swords, and pistols. No, these are not real weapons their props and like the uniforms they will be custom made. Since it would cost a fortune to purchase such items, many of them are custom made by fellow enthusiasts or donated from private institutions. Simply from looking at the props required to make these events possible, it is clear that a great deal of planning and participation is involved in order to make the events possible.
Course, the inclusion of weaponry raises questions as to the safety of the events. Keep in mind the fact that any prop gun that fires blanks can be extremely dangerous. That means they should be handled with adequate and proper care. However, if such care is taken many potential hazards are reduced.
The location of these events will vary. Really, they can be held in any outdoor environment willing to hold them. While it is not always possible to hold the events at the actual historical site, this does occur on occasion. As long as you have a safe open field and the proper permits, you can reenact a Civil War battle. As most would rightly assume, many of these events are held in the north and south of the United States. But, of course, since these are reenactments they can be held anywhere in the United States and frequently are. So, even if you live in California, it may be possible to take part in a Civil War recreation. However, the frequency of these recreations will occur mostly in regions where the actual battles occurred since these regions will have a much stronger historical legacy.
Considering the fact that the tradition of these events has been occurring since 1913, a safe to assume that they will continue to occur for many more years to come. In many ways, the popularity of these events display the depth of America’s desire to retain its cultural heritage. So, look for these events to become more popular as the internet allows for easier fund raising and organizing.