So, the other night my Dad called and asked if I'd like to go to a Civil War re-enactment the following day with he and my nephew. Being a history nut, I jumped at the opportunity. Still, a part of me was hesitant. Aren't Civil War re-enactments, I asked myself, something that hip, intelligent, educated people don't take seriously?
Maybe, but I'm here to tell you, it's their loss.
Civil War re-enactments, I learned yesterday, are awesome. For starters, the people behind them know what they're doing. That's right, those characters running around in authentic costumes tend to be smart. Real smart. You can learn more from a guy from New Jersey about what is arguably THE pivotal moment in American History than you can from most professors. Count on it.
What's more, the re-enactments are a lot more than re-enactments. They're total immersions into a time and place most of us only know from books, blogs and photographs. My dad, nephew and I walked through both the Union and Confederate “encampments.” The “soldiers” slept in the same types of tents, ate the same kinds of foods, and went through the exact same drills the actual soldiers of the time did. Talk about roughing it. Daniel Day Lewis would be proud.
There's also an entire aspect of re-enactment culture that deals with the civilian end of the things. That's right, there are civilian re-enactors at these events, too. And they're all in character, demonstrating how non-military personnel coped, did their part for the troops, and generally helped keep the mechanics of society moving during the war.
As for the battles. Well, they're what you'd expect. Loud gunfire, plenty of smoke and authentic strategies are employed for education and, entertainment. Yes, the war was really gruesome. And no, these re-enactors don't make light of the horror. But I challenge even the most aloof cultural snob to show complete disinterest in the presence of one of these mock engagements.
Which leads to my final point. Lots of people seem to have the impression that these re-enactments are weekend getaways for goofballs. Well, you can indeed find goofballs at them - if that's what you're looking for. Yet, you can find goofballs at the Museum of Modern Art, too. Besides, the conversation was more interesting at the re-enactment I attended than it was at any New York hipster bar I ever drank at. So push your pride aside and give a Civil War re-enactment a go.
You won't be disappointed.