Manual Ghosts of Civil War Re-enacting

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If the battles are too loud for the little ones, make sure to stop by the children's craft booth. Events are not guaranteed. It is your responsibility to confirm before going. Subscribe to our newsletter! Log in Join. See all 1, reviews. Other Recent Reviews.

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Read all 1, reviews. Level 6 Contributor. Reviewed February 15, Write a Review Add Photo. The Civil War still captures the American imagination, and there is probably no more popular event in American history than the Civil War. Still, for all this interest, many Americans still possess little understanding of the Civil War and its outcome.

The sesquicentennial might help to remedy this knowledge gap by raising public awareness of the war in all its many dimensions, revealing local aspects of the war to many who might not know that their communities were involved in fighting the war or supporting the war effort, and spreading a broad public understanding of what the war meant to the people who experienced it and to subsequent generations of Americans who live, even years later, in its very long shadow. But the thought of being deluged with everything about the Civil War over the next four years leaves me with a distinct feeling of dread, if not outright exhaustion.

For one thing, I already "live" in the Civil War era on practically a daily basis. It is my job to read and write about the war, to teach my students about it, to speak to scholarly and community groups about it, and to learn as much about it, day to day, month to month, year to year, as I possibly can.

Other Civil War academics have admitted to me their similar feelings: For those of us who "do" Civil War history, it is possible sometimes to o. When that happens, I purposely take a vacation to some place unhistorical in nature or importance, drag along a suitcase filled with pulp fiction, detective novels and unread magazines from our coffee table, and find a quiet, shady place to forget about the Civil War. Predictably, I begin scribbling notes about my next writing project on slips of paper, napkins and those little, otherwise useless pads you find next to the telephone in hotel rooms.


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Which is why, in at least one respect, I find the unfolding Civil War sesquicentennial daunting. How much more Civil War can I deal with in my in life? How much more can I sink below its depths before it drowns me? How much more can anyone stand? Civil War reenactors and buffs seem to have a far greater tolerance level than I do.

Civil War Re-enactment

They live and breathe the war readily, without hesitation, and with a passion that veers close to a religious experience or even sexual arousal. In fact, the entire idea of commemorating the Civil War strikes me as perverse, including bloodless battle reenactments. Why would anyone want to replicate one of the worst episodes in American history?

Is there any uplifting message to be derived from such playacting? No one, of course, uses live ammunition, except for one French reenactor who did so during the th anniversary reenactment of Gettysburg, where he slightly wounded an American reenactor in the stomach; all charges assault with a deadly weapon, etc. When cannons are fired at reenactments, they do not produce explosions or rip through the advancing ranks of the enemy, since they are in essence firing only blanks -- that is, powder charges without projectiles.

Nevertheless, these battle reenactments usually produce a good number of real casualties, which turn out to be mostly burns from overheated muskets and artillery pieces, heat prostration and the occasional heart attack among overweight baby boomers who are trying, despite their huge girths and hardened arteries, to portray fit, young soldiers.

More to the point, though, is the strange desire to impersonate soldiers of the Civil War by pretending to fight a battle. In the first place, these pretend battles look and sound nothing like the real thing, although reenactors have convinced the public and themselves that they do. In the second place, these theatricals lose every bit of authenticity the moment the demonstration draws to a close and the faux dead and wounded on the field rise up in a mass resurrection resembling the Rapture, which is usually accompanied by the applause of the onlookers who, by the way, have paid a hefty admission price to see grown men shoot at one another with the adult equivalent of cap guns.

The crowd usually finds these phony battles truly entertaining, perhaps in the same way that "professional" wrestling has its devoted fans. Nevertheless, entertainment -- no matter how authentic the reproduction buttons and firearms might be -- is not history.

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Interestingly, a good number of reenactors actually have been in real combat, having served and gotten shot at in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps these veterans find it difficult to leave their military identities behind. The Civil War as entertainment was something that particularly troubled Bruce Catton, the dean of Civil War historians during of the s and s.

At the start of the Civil War Centennial, Catton warned:. How the Civil War soldier fought his battles is no doubt worth examining, but infinitely more important is a consideration of why he fought and what he accomplished. Lay on the sentiment, the romance, and the dramatic appeal heavily enough, and we shall presently forget that the war was fought by real living men who were deeply moved by thoughts and emotions of overwhelming urgency.

Or the seizure of free African-Americans who were dragged against their will into slavery when Robert E. Or the explosion of the S. Where should the paroxysmal "heritage" festivals begin and end? And how accurate will any of these celebrations of the past really be? In the Union army, contraband fugitive slaves were sometimes put to use in equally menial ways.

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For good reason, modern blacks are a little sensitive about slavery and anything that seems to suggest -- as reenactments most assuredly do -- that the Civil War was all about battles, that each side fought with equal courage and grand moral purpose, and that the war had nothing to do with slavery or emancipation. How, quite frankly, is one expected to commemorate the contents of the following letter, written by a Virginia soldier to his mother in ?

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I hope you received the letters. You do not know, dear Mother, how sad I am, and how deeply I feel the loss of him we all loved so dearly The longer I live the more convinced am I that there is no real happiness in this world without the hope of heaven. I have tried for the last six months to live a better life, and I hope that God will aid me in the effort, and that when it may please him to take me, that I will have nothing to fear. You must remember, Mother, that you have five children left yet to comfort you and compare your condition with that of other Mothers who have had all [their sons] taken.

Tell Lucy that she must remember she has two little children to live for. I know her affliction is too deep for utterance, and deeply do I feel for her. She and her little ones are dear, very dear, to me.

More likely, the partisanship that has created deadlock in Congress over almost everything else is the real political reason behind the lack of a federal commission, but without an agency to oversee the anniversary, the whole observance already seems to have fizzled. Of course, Congress is not about to tackle tough issues, and any official commemoration of the Civil War would only emphasize how hypocritical, how morally and financially bankrupt, our republic has become in the New Gilded Age of the 21st century.

The Civil War, in other words, is too difficult for Congress to manage.

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It involves taking stock of who we are and where we have come from. It means facing up to hard truths and unkept promises. So Congress, in typical fashion, has ducked the sesquicentennial.