While anyone who spends any length of time talking to me knows my enthusiasm for that period in American history from 1860-1861, one of the things a lot of folks don’t know about me is that I’m also a civil war reenactor…yes, one of those folks who puts on multi-layers of authentic thick wool and run around on a battlefield shooting authentic replicas. And man is it fun!
I blame it all on my friend Dr. Kevin Gray. I met Dr. Gray shortly after we moved to Florence, Ala in 1998. I attended a Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting with him and he learned I could also play a little on the drums. I’d been to a couple of smaller reenactments and had an interest in it, but I’d never known anyone before who was a reenactor. Within weeks, he had me marching barefooted in a cemetery for a dedication of a fallen black Confederate. In a little more than a year, I was fully equipped with all my own equipment, including a uniform, much of which was hand-sewn (in order to be authentic) by my Mom!
I attended several smaller event throughout 1999, but what really got me was the event in September of that year at Chickamauga. It hadn’t rained for months and a severe drought was in the area. Thus, afterwards, the event earned itself the nickname “Dustamauga,” because of all the dust created by twelve thousand reenactors.
That’s right. You read correct. 12,000. 12k. While there were a bunch of civilian reenactors there (doctors, families, etc. all period), there were roughly 5,000 Yanks and 5,000 Rebs. On Saturday morning we marched for about three miles up and down hills. After some time, and while still in column marching, we began to hear cannons and gunfire. Finally, we topped a hill and spread out in the valley before us was a line of solid blue, stretching from one end to the other.
Many reenactors live for that moment—that one moment when the excitement of the activity causes their mind to “time travel” back for just a second. Hard to describe unless you’ve been there.
One of the most frustrating things about reenacting, however, is when the “other side” doesn’t play fair. Most of the battle engagements are scripted and the commanders know when they’re supposed to do what and about how many men should die. The problem comes when the other side doesn’t die. I’ve seen battles where a line of about 200 men fire into another line across the way…and not a single enemy falls out. It’s things like that that cause the reenactments to lose their reality, not just for the reenactor, but for the spectator—who’s usually paid money—as well.
What most onlookers don’t realize is the amount of time, energy, research and effort put in by most reenactors to get an authentic look. We’re talking even the type of stitching used in clothing is studied!
While I haven’t had the opportunity to get on the battlefield in some time, I’m itching to do so. Not only is it great fun, it’s great for families and it’s a history lesson to boot!