The American Civil War looms large as one of the central events in American history. Across the United States, enthusiastic “living historians” gather for weekend celebrations of their nation’s history on the very sites where battles were fought over a hundred years ago. Civil War Re-enactments are a unique part of American culture and make for some great road tripping for the history buff, the aspiring re-enactor, or the culture observer.
Re-enactments range in popularity (the number of participants can range from 100-1000 people) but typically take place over a weekend. Most of the time, re-enactors aim to re-create a particular battle that took place during the Civil War and share it with the public. Try to catch a scripted battle – these are rehearsed to be as much like the original troop movements that take place at the site of the original battle and may even include character re-enactors, who act the part of famous generals or soldiers.
Re-enactors also participate in living histories, which are not exactly recreations of battles so much as recreations of life during the Civil War Era that are put on primarily for the education of participants, who can be very convincing! Usually taking place at a National Park, this is the place to enjoy traditional cooking, song and leisure activities with passionate re-enactors.
Be aware that not all re-enactment events are open to the public. There are events designed specifically for hardcore re-enactors who spend an extended period of time immersed in their role and historical time period out of interest rather than for public display.
Some of the most popular events to witness Civil War re-enactments include the Battle of Gettysburg, the 135th anniversary of which drew over 30 000 re-enactors and 50 000 viewers; the Battle of Petersburg, held in Virginia where there are more re-enactments than any other state and your experience will include colonial dance demonstrations, kids’ activities, vendors and local performers; and the Civil War Re-enactment at Hale Farm and Village in Ohio, a two day festival featuring colonial activities, demonstrations, a battle re-enactment and a Civil War ball to close the weekend.
For anyone interested in participating as a re-enactor, you have your choice of hundreds of battles occurring all over the United States each year. Look for a unit you would like to join (representing your preferred side – North or South) and talk to them about which battles they participate in and what type of equipment and uniform you will need. Be prepared to do your homework and put your money where your mouth is – an inauthentic re-enactor is frowned upon. This is a hobby that could take you across the US to the sites of great historical battles!