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Reliving the Civil War

Updated on April 3, 2012

Imagine, a bunch of grown men, dressing up as Civil War soldiers and playing army! Ridiculous wouldn’t you think?

Actually, people doing exactly that are part of a rapidly expanding hobby called Civil War Reenactment. Although most popular in the US it seems to have also caught on in Canada, Germany, England, Australia and Italy.

Actually, reenacting the Civil War began before the war had ended. Veterans found it a way to honor their fallen. Today, reenactments teach history of the war and what it was like to live in that era. Part of its popularity is probably because it’s a hobby the entire family can enjoy.

Participants in battle are generally men, although women and children also participate as civilians in support roles such as, members of a soldier’s aid society saloon proprietors, musicians, and even insurance salesmen.

Some women also take part in battle but this is a controversial subject with many reenactors. While it’s true a handful of women did participate as combatants in the war, they were disguised as men.

The great attraction to this fascinating hobby may be the attention to detail in creating an atmosphere of realism. Not only are uniforms, battle gear and clothing of the period replicated, but the vernacular of the times is spoken as well. Life is lived as it was without any modern day conveniences.

Perhaps, it’s only rival are the Renaissance Fairs where life in medieval times are recreated. See: .

In 1998, the 135th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg was the largest ever held with an estimated 30,000 to 41,000 participants

However, those wanting to become involved in this fun activity need to learn the ropes, so to speak. Begin by attending a few. A complete list of events and schedules can be found at: .

Many events have classes put on by sponsors where how to dress, cook, eat, and even "die" in true Civil War tradition is taught. Learning about the history, speech and how life was lived in those turbulent times is an important step before becoming totally involved. Otherwise, many mistakes will be made. For example, don’t wear a wrist watch or drink from a plastic cup. They didn’t exist in 1861 and any such contrivance is commonly referred to as a “farby.”

Novices will need to understand sleeping on bedrolls or cots can be uncomfortable, especially in stormy weather and extreme temperatures. And historically accurate clothing is essential. .There are many vendors who sell replicas of uniforms and supplies used by soldiers. They are referred to as “sutlers.” But, depending on the degree of involvement, it can get expensive.

In addition to looking authentic, it’s also important to know the language and terminology used at the time. Here are a few terms one might want to become familiar with:

· Impression – role played during a reenactment such as infantry, artillery, cavalry or medical.

· Civilian – a person reenacting a non-military impression during Reenactments.

· First-person – speaking as a person would during the 1860s and as if the War is a current event.

· Muster – gathering of troops, for service, inspection, review or roll call.

· Threadcounter – one who rigorously demands historical accuracy, even down down to fabric and buttonholes having the same threadcount.

· Sutlers – Merchants following troops during the actual war.

Reenactors commonly fit into one of three categories. First are the “Farbs,” who spend little time or money maintaining historical accuracy with uniforms, accessories or period behavior. Blue jeans, tennis shoes, polyester clothing, zippers, Velcro and those who smoke modern day tobacco products are frequently sources of disagreement with more serious participants.

Another group is categorized as "Mainstream." These reenactors fall somewhere between the ranks of Farbs and “Authentics.” Most reenactors belong to this class and make an effort at appearing authentic.

For instance, visible stitches on clothing may be period correct, but hidden stitches and undergarments are not. They may eat food consumed in the early 1860s, but it may not be seasonally correct. After hours, when there is no audience, they might use more modern day conveniences.

The last group is made up of “Authentics," sometimes called "progressives. This class usually consists of the Threadcounters, sometimes amusingly referred to as called "stitch counters." They are known for their meticulous attention to minute detail.

Some reenactors portray actual persons such as General Robert E. Lee or Abraham Lincoln. They often don’t participate in the actual reenactment, but serve as narrators during the battle.

Typically, Reenactments take place over a weekend, with participants arriving on Friday. They often camp on site and hold the reenactment on Saturday and Sunday, becoming a 3 day affair. Usually reenactments are recreations of an actual battle. The battles are precisely scripted and performed as originally fought.

There are also Tactical Battles, not usually open to the public. They are fought like real battles, but have no script, basic rules or boundaries. These battles are frequently judged by referees.

In addition to their regularly scheduled events, motion picture and television producers sometimes recruit reenactment groups. Films like Gettysburg and Glory were shot using them. They arrive on location having knowledge of military procedures, tactics, camp life and in costume.


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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      An old friend of mine does this and loves it. When my husband and I were in Gettysburg a few years ago we watched a few squirmishes from the towers.