Reenactors are a rare breed of people. They love history, they love teaching, and they LOVE this country. Many of our reenactors are military veterans who have sacrificed and served for this country. Many more of us are military family members who have sacrificed on the home front. But, all in all, whether veteran, family member, or civilian, our reenactors truly love this country and are very patriotic.
Those of us who are serious reenactors, are historians. We spend countless hours in research, pouring over journals, records, first-hand accounts, other historian’s research, maps, troop movements, military manuals, and more. We learn and know the correct clothing designs, materials, and accessories. We know our weapons and how to use them, the equipment of the time, items that would have been used at the time, medical equipment and procedures, troop movements, the manual of arms, actions on the battlefield, we learn skills of the time, and more.
We delve into the thoughts of the time, the motivations behind historic events, the reasons people joined the war (and they were quite varied), the reasons the war took place, the politics leading up to the war, and throughout the war, the complications for the war and the home front – from decisions made, to the impact of the war on the country as a whole, down to the Northern or Southern housewife. We study the shortages caused by the war and how it affected the people as well as how or if they were able to overcome it. We explore the effects of the war on the countryside from the North and the South. We find out what it was like to watch one’s town shelled until it’s nothing but empty husks of once majestic buildings, or to see your home, farm, and town burned and destroyed by an invading army. We educate ourselves on the cost of war, from minor skirmishes, to 16,000 men falling in one day, to the long-term effect of losing over 650,000 men in 4 years.
We don’t just study these things, we are impassioned by them. One cannot study these things to the point that you feel as though the people about whom you read were one’s family members, without being passionate about it. We seek to describe it and portray it from the viewpoint and context of those who were there. Only those who lived through the actual events can give us true perspectives on the issues and time that we portray. Then, we take our passion and use it as the impetus to educate any and all who will listen!
Reenactors aren’t motivated by politics, or the whim of a time. We are motivated by history! We feel our only job is to tell the history of what happened – good, bad, or ugly – and then let the reader or hearer decide where they stand on the issue, and whether or not they would have agreed with those long ago. It is not our job to interpret the issues, only to present them, and let each person decide for themselves.
Reenactors are like family. We say we have a reenacting family, and we truly do. Of course, we have the ups and downs, the conflicts and selflessness of any family, blessings and extreme irritations (just like a real family), especially when you have hundreds of passionate people all in one place! But for all of that, we truly get along and support one another. There are times when we may want to knock someone in the head one minute, and will go running to their rescue the next. We watch out for each other, protect each other, sacrifice for each other, and we do it gladly.
Not only do I write this blog, and articles for several publications, but I also travel all over my state here in the South to teach in schools and universities, and give guest lectures to whichever group invites me. I know that there is almost no place in this state, or over the line into other states, where I do not have connections within 1-2 hours, or less, who would drop everything and come to my aid if needed. I have crashed in friend’s houses, had friends look at my vehicle when there were issues, or simply say “pull up a chair and I’ll make you a cup of tea” when I show up on their doorstep. These are the type of people I find among reenactors. They will help you, pray with you, clothe you, feed you, rescue you, and literally give you the shirt off their back if needed.
Reenactors are also special, and a rare breed! There are things that make us happy and excited that no one would understand unless you have spent time with us. For instance, seeing what appears to be canvas rolled up with tent poles in the back of someone’s truck going down the highway and getting all excited because you’re thinking about your tent and being in camp (and very sad when you realize it isn’t a tent). Or knowing how to handle and survive in all different types of weather and hardships because you have WILLINGLY gone to events and survived in it before!
Or making and putting on clothes that went out of style 140 years ago. Or loving the smell of your stinking uniform that smells of black powder, sweat, the terrain in which you have fought and camped, campfire smoke, and more, because it reminds you of camp, your family and friends, and all the adventures and stories contained in those few yards of fabric. Or being willing to pack for a full day, to drive between one and thirteen hours to do an event for a few days, just to drive home and have to go straight back to work. Or choosing to go to the field with nothing but an outhouse or port-a-john for days, living with people who, along with you, have not had a shower in days, only to go home, shower, and get comfortable in your house with HVAC, sigh and say, “Okay, when is the next one?”
When we are out of the field too long, we miss it. It is currently January, but it’s been six weeks since the last event for many of us. Just a few days ago I was speaking to other reenactors and we were all saying, “I need to get back in the field!” Now we all do not want to be camping in this cold front that’s the coldest in 30 years, but we are yearning for the day the next campaign will start and we can roll into camp in our SUVs, trucks and trailers full of gear, just to set up camp and live like the 1860s for several days.
For me, not only do I recognize all these things, but also the awesome guys who volunteer to be our patients for the medical demonstrations. They recognize that the war was not just soldiers fighting, but also being wounded and killed. As a medical reenactor, I couldn’t do my role, if it were not for these guys willing to be my patients, and to make it very real. They do their own research, and listen to me and my co-surgeon as we explain the details of the case we have pulled from the records, and what that soldier would have experienced, and then they bring it to life. Boy do they do a good job with it too! Many times, it is so real that people have to leave if they have a squeamish stomach lest they get sick. These boys take it as a challenge to make it more realistic than the previous event with every demonstration we do. Who else but reenactors would volunteer to have their arm or leg “taken off?” 😀
When I was in college, I wanted to be part of a group, to have my own nickname, to have a family away from home. I didn’t realize that would not happen during my education, but that I would find my “tribe” on barren fields once burned by Sherman. I never had to ask to be included – I was invited. I never asked for nicknames – they were freely given. I never had to ask to be a part of something or ask whether I was allowed – I was adopted. I have never found something in which I felt so much like myself, and yet so much a part of the greater whole, as I did reenacting. Honestly, these are some of the best people I know.
So, to all my adopted siblings, my adopted family, my friends in the GVB, thank you for being incredible, loving, patriotic, passionate, giving people, who strive to keep history alive! I’m looking forward to seeing you all in the campaigns of 2018!