American Civil War reenactment

American Civil War reenactment

Overview

American Civil War reenactment is an effort to recreate the appearance of a particular battle
Battle
Generally, a battle is a conceptual component in the hierarchy of combat in warfare between two or more armed forces, or combatants. In a battle, each combatant will seek to defeat the others, with defeat determined by the conditions of a military campaign...

 or other event associated with the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 by hobby
Hobby
A hobby is a regular activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure, typically done during one's leisure time.- Etymology :A hobby horse is a wooden or wickerwork toy made to be ridden just like a real horse...

ists known (in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

) as Civil War reenactors or Civil War recreationists. Although most common in the United States, there are also American Civil War reenactors in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, and Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

.

Reenacting the American Civil War began even before the real fighting had ended.
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Encyclopedia

American Civil War reenactment is an effort to recreate the appearance of a particular battle
Battle
Generally, a battle is a conceptual component in the hierarchy of combat in warfare between two or more armed forces, or combatants. In a battle, each combatant will seek to defeat the others, with defeat determined by the conditions of a military campaign...

 or other event associated with the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 by hobby
Hobby
A hobby is a regular activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure, typically done during one's leisure time.- Etymology :A hobby horse is a wooden or wickerwork toy made to be ridden just like a real horse...

ists known (in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

) as Civil War reenactors or Civil War recreationists. Although most common in the United States, there are also American Civil War reenactors in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, and Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

.

History


Reenacting the American Civil War began even before the real fighting had ended. Civil War veteran
Veteran
A veteran is a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field; " A veteran of ..."...

s recreated battles as a way to remember their fallen comrades and to teach others what the war was all about. The Great Reunion of 1913
Great Reunion of 1913
The 1913 Gettysburg reunion was a Gettysburg Battlefield encampment of American Civil War veterans for the Battle of Gettysburg's 50th anniversary...

, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

, was attended by more than 50,000 Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 and Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 veterans, and included reenactments of elements of the battle, including Pickett's Charge
Pickett's Charge
Pickett's Charge was an infantry assault ordered by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Union positions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Its futility was predicted by the charge's commander,...

.
Modern reenacting is thought to have begun during the 1961–1965 Civil War Centennial
American Civil War Centennial
The American Civil War Centennial was the official United States commemoration of the American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States...

 commemorations. Reenacting grew in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s, due in large part to the success of the 125th Anniversary reenactment near the original Manassas battlefield, which was attended by more than 6,000 reenactors. That year, Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine estimated that there were more than 50,000 reenactors in the U.S.

In 1998, the 135th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

 took place near the original battlefield. There have been several estimates on the number of participants, but it is widely agreed that it was the largest re-enactment ever held anywhere in the world, with between 30,000 and 41,000 re-enactors participating. This event was watched by about 50,000 spectators.

Participation



American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 reenactments have drawn a fairly sizable following of enthusiastic participants, young and old, willing to brave the elements and expend money and resources in their efforts to duplicate the events down to the smallest recorded detail. Participants may even attend classes put on by event sponsors where they learn how to dress, cook, eat, and even "die" just as real Civil War soldiers would have. Most reenactments have anywhere from 100 to 1,000 participants, portraying either Union or Confederate infantry, artillery, or cavalry forces. Some people, though uncommon, may portray Engineers or Marines. The 135th anniversary Gettysburg reenactment (1998) is generally believed to be the most-attended reenactment, with attendance estimates ranging from 15,000 to over 20,000 reenactors.

Reasons given for participating in such activities vary. Some participants are interested in getting a historical
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 perspective on the turbulent times that gripped the nation, particularly if they can trace their ancestry back to those who fought in the war. In some cases, if there are not enough reenactors present on one side, reenactors from the other side are asked to change sides, or "galvanize", for the day/event.

Although many periods are reenacted around the world, Civil War reenactment is, by far, the most popular activity in the US. In 2000, the number of Civil War reenactors was estimated at 50,000, though the number of participants declined sharply through the ensuing decade, to around 30,000 in 2011. Possible reasons for the decline include the cost of participating and the variety of other entertainment options.

Although women and children commonly participate in reenactments as civilians (portraying, for example, members of a soldiers' aid society), some women also take part in military portrayals. This is controversial within the reenactment community; while there were a small handful of women who may have fought in the conflict, almost all of them did so disguised as men. Attitudes on this topic seem to vary widely.

Categories of reenactors


Reenactors are commonly divided (or self-divide) into three categories, based on the level of concern for authenticity
Authenticity (reenactment)
In historical reenactment, authenticity is a measure of how close an item, prop, action, weapon, or custom is, to what would actually have been used or done in the time period being depicted....

.

Farbs


Some, called "Farb
Farb (reenactment)
Farb is a derogatory term used in the hobby of historical reenacting in reference to participants who exhibit indifference to historical authenticity, either from a material-cultural standpoint or in action...

s" or "polyester soldiers" are reenactors who spend relatively little of their time or money maintaining authenticity with regard to uniforms, accessories, or even period behavior. The 'Good Enough' attitude is pervasive among farbs, although even casual observers may be able to point out flaws. Blue jeans, tennis shoes, polyester (and other man-made fabrics), zippers, velcro
Velcro
Velcro is the brand name of the first commercially marketed fabric hook-and-loop fastener, invented in 1948 by the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral...

, snoods
Snood (headgear)
A snood is historically a type of European female headgear, or in modern times a tubular neck scarf. In the most common form the headgear resembles a close-fitting hood worn over the back of the head...

, and modern cigarettes are common issues.

The origin of the word "farb" (and the derivative adjective "farby") is unknown, though it appears to date to early centennial reenactments in 1960 or 1961. An alternative definition is "Far Be it for me to question/criticise", or "Fast And Researchless Buying". Some early reenactors assert the word derives from German Farbe, color, because inauthentic reenactors were over-colorful compared with the dull blues, greys or browns of the real Civil War uniforms that were the principal concern of American reenactors at the time the word was coined,. According to Mr. Burton K. Kummerow, a member of "The Black Hats, CSA" reenactment group in the early 1960s, he first heard it used as a form of fake German to describe a fellow reenactor. The term was picked up by George Gorman of the 2nd North Carolina at the Centennial Manassas Reenactment in 1961, and has been used by reenactors ever since.

Mainstream


Another group of reenactors often is called "Mainstream." These reenactors are somewhere between farb
Farb (reenactment)
Farb is a derogatory term used in the hobby of historical reenacting in reference to participants who exhibit indifference to historical authenticity, either from a material-cultural standpoint or in action...

 and authentic. They are more common than either farb
Farb (reenactment)
Farb is a derogatory term used in the hobby of historical reenacting in reference to participants who exhibit indifference to historical authenticity, either from a material-cultural standpoint or in action...

s or authentics.

Most mainstream reenactors make an effort at appearing authentic, but may come out of character in the absence of an audience. Visible stitches are likely to be sewn in a period-correct manner, but hidden stitches and undergarments may not be period-appropriate. Food consumed before an audience is likely to be generally appropriate to the early 1860s, but it may not be seasonally and locally appropriate. Modern items are sometimes used "after hours" or in a hidden fashion. The common attitude is to put on a good show, but that accuracy need only go as far as others can see.

Progressive


At the other extreme from farbs are "hard-core authentics" or "progressives", as they prefer to be called. Sometimes derisively called "stitch counters" many people have misconceptions about hardcore reenactors.

Hard-cores generally seek an "immersive" reenacting experience, trying to live, as much as possible, as someone of the 1860s might have. This includes eating seasonally and regionally appropriate food, sewing inside seams and undergarments in a period-appropriate manner, and staying in character throughout an event. The desire for an immersive experience often leads hard-core reenactors to smaller events, and to setting up separate camps at larger events, which often other reenactors often perceive as elitism.

Character reenactors


Some reenactors portray a specific officer or person such as General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

, U. S. Grant, President Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Finis Davis , also known as Jeff Davis, was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President for its entire history. He was born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane Davis...

 or Abraham Lincoln, or a less well known officer such as Col. Abram Fulkerson
Abram Fulkerson
Abram Fulkerson was a Confederate officer during the American Civil War, and a Virginia lawyer and politician. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives....

. Character reenactors may also portray a civilian man, woman, or child of significance. These reenactors often do not participate in the actual combat portion of the reenactment and serve as narrators to the audience during the battle. Often, character reenactors have extensively researched the person they portray and present a first-person narrative of his story.

Civilian reenactors


In addition to military reenactment, a significant part of Civil War reenactment includes the portrayal of civilians, including men, women, and children from infants to young adults. This can include portrayals as diverse as soldiers' aid societies, sutler
Sutler
A sutler or victualer is a civilian merchant who sells provisions to an army in the field, in camp or in quarters. The sutler sold wares from the back of a wagon or a temporary tent, allowing them to travel along with an army or to remote military outposts...

s, saloon proprietors, musicians, and insurance salesmen.

Public events


A typical Civil War Reenactment takes place over a weekend with the reenactors arriving on Friday and camping on site while spectators view the event on Saturday and Sunday. Usually each reenactment is centered around a Saturday battle and Sunday battle (often, but not always, intended to recreate an actual battle from the Civil War) in addition to many of the activities listed below. Essentially, a traditional public reenactment is a three day long affair that incorporates elements from each of the following categories.

Living histories


Living histories are meant entirely for education of the public. Such events do not necessarily have a mock battle but instead are aimed at portraying the life, and more importantly the lifestyle, of the average Civil War soldier. This does include civilian reenacting, a growing trend. Occasionally, a spy trial is recreated,and a medic too. More common are weapons and cooking demonstrations, song and leisure activities, and lectures. These should not, however, be confused with Living history museums. These outlets for living history utilize museum professionals and trained interpreters in order to convey the most accurate information available to historians.

Living history is the only reenactment permitted on National Park Service land; NPS policy "does not allow for battle reenactments (simulated combat with opposing lines and casualties) on NPS property."

Public demonstrations



Public demonstrations are smaller mock battles put on by reenacting organizations and/or private parties primarily to show the public how people in the 1860s lived, and to show the public civil war battles. The battles are only loosely based on actual battles, if at all, and may consist of demonstrations of basic tactics and maneuvering techniques.

Scripted battles


Scripted battles are reenactment in the strictest sense; the battles are planned out beforehand so that the companies and regiments make the same actions that were taken in the original battles. They are often fought at or near the original battle ground or at a place very similar to the original. A common question of non-reenactors concerns the determination of who "dies" over the course of the battle. Reenactors commonly refer to the act of being killed or wounded as "taking a hit" and is typically left up to the individual's discretion, although greatly influenced by the events of the battle. Because most battles are based on their historical counterparts it is generally understood when to begin taking hits and to what extent.

Total immersion events


Total immersion events are made up solely of progressive ("hard-core authentic") reenactors, who often refer to them as "Events By Us and For Us" or "EBUFU". As the names imply, these events are held for the personal edification of the reenactors involved, allowing them to spend an extended time marching, eating, and generally living like actual soldiers of the Civil War. Total immersion events generally require participants to meet a high standard of authenticity
Authenticity (reenactment)
In historical reenactment, authenticity is a measure of how close an item, prop, action, weapon, or custom is, to what would actually have been used or done in the time period being depicted....

, and in most cases little or none of the event will be open to public viewing.

Tactical battles



Tactical battles, which are not usually open to the public, are fought like real battles with each side devising strategies and tactics to defeat their opponent(s). They have no script, a basic set of agreed-upon rules (physical boundaries, time limit, victory conditions, etc.), and onsite judges or referees, and so could be considered a form of live action role-playing game
Live action role-playing game
A live action role-playing game is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters' actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may...

. Tactical battles might also be considered a form of experimental archaeology
Experimental archaeology
Experimental archaeology employs a number of different methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches in order to generate and test hypotheses, based upon archaeological source material, like ancient structures or artifacts. It should not be confused with primitive technology which is not concerned...

.

Reenactment and media


Motion picture and television producers often turn to reenactment groups for support; films like Gettysburg, Glory and Gods and Generals
Gods and Generals (film)
Gods and Generals is a 2003 American film based on the novel Gods and Generals by Jeffrey Shaara. It depicts events that take place prior to those shown in the 1993 film Gettysburg, which was based on The Killer Angels, a novel by Shaara's father, Michael...

benefited greatly from the input of reenactors, who arrived on set fully equipped and steeped in knowledge of military procedures, camp life, and tactics.

In a documentary about the making of the film Gettysburg, actor Sam Elliott
Sam Elliott
Samuel Pack "Sam" Elliott is an American actor. His rangy physique, thick horseshoe moustache, and deep, resonant voice match the iconic image of a cowboy or rancher, and he has often been cast in such roles.-Early life:Sam Elliott was born in Sacramento, California, to a physical training...

, who portrayed Union General John Buford
John Buford
John Buford, Jr. was a Union cavalry officer during the American Civil War, with a prominent role at the start of the Battle of Gettysburg.-Early years:...

in the film, said of reenactors:
At times, however, the relationship between reenactors and filmmakers has been contentious. Although reenactors for Gettysburg were unpaid, money was contributed on their behalf to a trust for historic preservation; however, some subsequent productions have offered no such compensation. Also, in some cases reenactors have clashed with directors over one-sided portrayals and historical inaccuracies. Some producers have been less interested in accuracy than in the sheer number of reenactors, which can result in safety issues. Finally, large film productions, like Gettysburg, can draw enough reenactors to cause the cancellation of other events.

External links