I am frequently asked what it is like to do a reenactment and “live” in the 1860s. So today, I will answer that question and more.
Camp life varies from unit to unit just as home life varies from family to family. Truth be told, each unit is like its own little family. There are the ups and downs, the different personalities, the problems, yet, we all blend together and love each other like one big family. By speaking to other reenactors, I have discovered that this is not just the case in my unit, but in each of theirs as well.
(Members of the 53rd Georgia and the 16th Georgia preparing for church and shopping. Battle of Resaca 2016)
Reenactment is not just a throw together event. There is a lot of planning, coordination, logistics, and preparation for each event. You can imagine how involved and important this is when we are doing an event every two to three weeks!
First of all comes arranging our lives and jobs so that we can take a break from 21st century life, and step back into the 19th century for a glorious long weekend.
(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K)
Then comes the packing. Based on your position, rank, and your roll in the unit and brigade, what you bring may vary. Our Captain comes loaded for all that he will need, plus brings extra supplies for the company– especially for those of us who haven’t finished our kits yet. His wife is our commissary officer, which means that they also bring our fly and most of the kitchen supplies.
(Planning happening at the fly of the 53rd Georgia. Photo credit: Becky Maddox)
She orchestrates all the food contributions and getting food prepared and out in time for all of us to be fed and on the line. Our quartermaster comes with all his needed supplies for his rank and position, as well as what his wife needs. She is one of our ladies in camp, and does much of the fine hand work we wear and demonstrate. There are some single men and women who bring their own gear for their tent and position on the line, and a few couples, including couples with children who bring what they need.
(Play time! Nash Farms 2015. Photo credit: Robert Carswell)
Then there is me. I have started affectionately calling myself the ‘chameleon of the unit.’ Usually I do medical, either as a nurse or medical corp depending on the event.
However, some events will not allow us to do medical reenactment and then my role changes. I have been one of the ladies assaulted by the Yankees,
(Photo credit: CRStudios BW Atlanta)
I have been an ice angel keeping the men from overheating during the battle and checking them when the fall. I have been artillery when the company was short, and I have been infantry fighting on the line.
(Alma, GA June 2016. Photo credit: Becky Maddox)
For me, it is fun not knowing what role I will play until I get there! I leave it up the commanders to tell me where I am most needed, and that is the role I fill. Unfortunately, that means I carry a lot of gear, for I must carry supplies for each of those roles when I go to an event. Thankfully, my Captain always has extra supplies for me to use when I am lacking in one impression or another!
Some reenactors are what we call campaigners-they only pack what they would have been able to carry on a march. That would include their uniform, weapons, ammunition, canteen, some hardtack and maybe dried meat, a couple dishes, and perhaps a bedroll. That’s about it. Then there are those of us who come to CAMP for the weekend. We drive up in trucks, packed SUVs, or trucks with loaded trailers full of the 19th century clothing, tents, and equipment we will display, wear, and use for the event.
(Photo Credit: 24th Georgia, Co H)
As each unit arrives, we find out where our camp is, and began to erect tents, flys, designate fire pits, and more. Slowly this mobile city begins to form as row after row of tents go up, ropes are staked, and supplies loaded into them. Each unit has their own way of doing it and their own rhythm. Our unit works like a well-oiled machine. Each person knows what needs to be done, and can put up or strike camp as if we were one body.
The contents of each soldier’s tent vary. Some sleep directly with a bedroll on the ground. Some of us use cots and our bedroll. Some throw a cover or quilt on the ground to make it easier when changing and such, particularly when we are in areas covered in poison ivy! Some hang up their clothes (us ladies), some do not. Some who have walled tents put furniture in them for dressing and holding supplies, but most of us do not.
Each unit varies about food preparation. My unit has a kitchen fly and almost all the food preparation is done under it and cooked under it. Sometimes we will also be cooking over the open fire.
(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K)
Other units do all their cooking over the fire in the open. In some of the units everyone brings their food and a little to throw in together. I am told it can get quite interesting to see what they end up having! In our unit, those in the 17th Georgia, and some other units, there is a plan in place before coming to camp. For us in the 53rd, a menu is created by our commissary officer and the ingredients and meals are divided up among those coming. All the men and the soldiers bring things to contribute, but us women contribute and divide up the cooking. Between the different roles I play, doing my part of the cooking, and being medical care for the reenactors when needed, it can make for a busy event!
(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K. Coffee is a necessity for these men!)
Some other questions I am commonly asked are:
“Do you actually live in those tents, or are they just for show?” People’s mouths drop open when they find out that yes, we do indeed live in those tents for days. Heat, cold, rain, wind, we have experienced it all. My friend, Captain Young from the 17th Georgia, says that he has been at events where it was in the 20s, and events where it was 115 degrees. He has been in heat, rain, conditions where everything including the canteens were frozen, in storms, and everything in between! I personally have done events from 28 degrees to a heat index of 103! It provides a great appreciation and admiration for our ancestors and everything they endured during the War Between the States.
(Yes, it really was that cold. The ground was frozen! Photo credit: Robert Carswell)
(The Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade. It was a tolerable day in the 40s, but the next morning it was 27 degrees! Photo credit: Mary Delaplane)
In those days, there was no opportunity to get into air conditioning or central heating (which were 20th century inventions). However, the clothing was made in such a way it certainly helped. The period correct underpinnings helped cool the soldier under the heat of the wool uniform during the summer. During the winter, campaign coats were worn by the soldiers, and crocheted wraps and wool capes helped to warm the ladies. Sometimes nothing helps but wearing it all and sitting by the fire.
(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K. Battle of Olustee- 2016. Those wraps sure did help in the February weather!)
“But where do you go to the bathroom?” Glad you asked! Rarely do we do an event where we have the luxury of central plumbing and running water. The very idea of it would have been awe-inspiring to our ancestors. If you are at an event, look carefully around a hidden corner and you will probably find a row of port-a-johns. Yes, we do use them. I have used from bathhouses to out-houses at events. The nice thing is, everyone is in the same boat! (And yes, we do have soap and/or hand sanitizer hidden away, particularly us nurses!)
People ask how we bathe or clean up. The truth is, we don’t bathe while at an event. We use a basin of water and a rag to wipe down just as our ancestors did. Occasionally we will have an event where there is a running stream and cooperating weather were we can get in it, cool off, and clean up a little. It is glorious!
“Well what do you do to pass the time?” Electronics barely work at most of our events, and they aren’t even allowed out in our camp. It makes us unplug from the world for a few days. It makes us slow down, take a breath, and really LIVE, though we are living 150 years in the past. In between the battles, church,
presentations, shopping, the ball,
(True Southern Gentlemen. Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co K)
ladies tea or other event, meals, and sleep, we talk, rest, read, clean our weapons, discuss the history we are living (and sometimes the history being made in the 21st century). We answer questions for the attendees, we teach the school children on Friday school days, we stop and pose for people wanting pictures, we roll bandages,
sew, play games with the camp children, and prepare for the next part of the event. As for what happens in a battle or presentation? That will have to be the topic of other blogs.
“With all the hardships, would you do it again?” Absolutely! We deal with the heat, the lack of sleep, the various food adventures, the numerous personalities in camp and in the neighboring units, whatever drama or injuries come our way, and the fact that we haven’t had a bath in days. Then we break camp, go home, unpack, get a shower, sit down in our nice air conditioned or heated homes, take a breath, and then say, “Okay, when is the next one?” already looking forward to when we will pull on that uniform or those hoops once again.
Once someone has been bitten by the reenacting bug, some recover, but most are infected permanently. I am one of the latter. We live, study, and serve to bring awareness of the history of our nation, and of the honor of the men and women who served. We do this to bring the history to life. We do this because we love it!