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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

146

The Best Time My Civil War Soldier Came Home

My boyfriend, let’s call him Eli, fights for the Union Army. Sometimes Confederate, but mostly Union. He uses the excuse “I don’t have enough ammunition” as a reason for not going away for a weekend, and he once gave me a piece of hardtack, saying “Something to remember me by — it’ll last longer than I will.” Yep, dude’s a Civil War reenactor. And though my parents and friends may have guffawed a little when I first told them, dating a reenactor is pretty great.

For one, it means he’s most definitely a history nerd. Now maybe this is not a plus for you, but for me it’s a major pro. You’ll have flirty email correspondence in Morse code, and you can spend an evening together geeking out over early color photographs from the Russian Empire. It also means he will most likely love to cuddle up over an episode or two (or three, or four) of Downton Abbey, then engage you in conversation over the implication of Sybil’s harem pantaloons or Branson’s Irish radicalism.

Another great thing about having a reenactor boyfriend is that he probably sews. And for Christmas, he will make you a cool pouch made out of scraps of Osnaburg cotton he’s going to use to make a period-appropriate shirt for himself. He’ll also mend your vintage dress if the seams are busted and take a real interest in what knitting stitches you’re using on that scarf for your mom.

It also likely means that the man has a lot of close guy friends and mentors (fellow soldiers) with whom he’s staged battles or spent all night in the cold rain with nothing but hardtack to eat and the dregs of the fire to keep warm. By enduring such trials together, particularly those that are completely voluntary and under strange old-timey constrictions, reenactors tend to forge deep bonds that ground them in other aspects of their lives. In a world where “the bromance” has only recently been accepted by mainstream culture, my fella has strong male friendships and is comfortable with them. That’s cool.

It’s also sort of like having a daguerreotype boyfriend ... but he’s REAL. 

But it’s not all Gone With the Wind and “My very dear Sarah." There’s also the risk of yellow fever, lice, malaria, malnutrition … Okay, so maybe even hardcore reenactors don’t go to quite those lengths to make their experience authentic, but one thing that can be a little rough is that reenactors are away all the time, staging battles with their buddies. Especially now, when the 150th anniversary of the War Between The States is upon us.

This was the case last weekend, when I was headed to a square dance/old-time music festival on a Virginia farm (if it’s any wonder I’m into a history nerd …). A bunch of Eli’s (non Civil War) friends were going to be there dancing and singing and playing banjos and fiddles, but it coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of McDowell. This was a source of a little tension between us — I really wanted Eli to come to the festival, but he felt that he had to go on an ill-fated attempt to fend off Stonewall Jackson’s attack — even though he already knew the Union was going to LOSE. I could tell he felt conflicted, though, so I decided to lay off and do my thing.

At the festival, as each one of his many friends came up to me, asking where he was, I had to say, “Well, he had to go fight the Civil War.” After several of these interactions, I decided that we needed to embrace the spirit of the thing and write him a letter. The letter read (cue "Ashokan Farewell") …

May 6,1862 2012

Dearest Eli,

We are gathered around the table at the old home place and our mind drifts to you. Mrs. Cook and Mr. McGuiness have prepared a fine meal of bean stew, pork sausage from Sebastian’s farm, cornbread, creamed corn, boiled turnips, and light ale. Despite our plentiful fare, we are starved for news of you. Julie reminds us that yester night around the hearth, Mr. Winne sang a song, in his angelic voice, in memory of you. And just this morning, Miss Hilliard stopped in on her daily walk to market, inquiring for news of you from the battlefield. But all of this begs the question: Why aren’t you here? The war is over. Come home.

Your Loving Family

By Saturday night, I had just about gotten signatures from all the friends and relations from the old home place, so I folded it up in the pocket of my party dress, braided my hair, and walked through the moonlight to the packed barn teeming with dancers swinging and promenading and do-si-do-ing to a rippin’ live band. I found a partner and quickly got into the fray of what was the fastest and most exhilarating square dance of my life. After I’d swung so much I was sweaty, dizzy, and worried about the lack of bloomers under my dress, I decided to sit the next one out to catch my breath. I found a spot to stand in the barn door where I could watch the dancers and was drinking a beer and doing a little flatfoot, when I heard some heavy footsteps on the wood planks of the barn porch. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, I turned, and there was my Union soldier, in his woolen frock coat and side-cocked forage cap, trousers, and boots. I ran into his arms and he caught me and spun me around in the air, skirts-a-flyin’.

He must have gotten my unsent letter! (Did someone email it?)

And then we danced. And the band played "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

Emily Hilliard is a folklorist, fiddler, and baker currently residing in Washington, D.C. She writes very little about the Civil War and a lot about pie at Nothing in the House.

Photo by Todd Harrington.



146 Comments / Post A Comment

okaycrochet

Where do I get one??

ClogginBoydCrowder

@okaycrochet Join up! I am an ex-reenactor, and believe me, that place is crawling with boys. Also, at the big events, they have dances at night. Yes. Dances. In full outfit, with a band and everything. And everyone is on their best behavior, and gets all dressed up in civil war-appropriate clothing. The dances were the best part of reenacting.

slutberry

Holy. Yes. Wow. This.

I wanna go square dancing with my fiddle-playing friends.

Ophelia

Ah! When I was a kid, my uncles would do Revolutionary War reenactments on April 19th, to fight the British at Lexington & Concord, and we always got to dress up in costume and meet them at the Wayside Inn/Grist Mill for a picnic.

For some reason, though, we always ate Kentucky Fried Chicken??

meepmeep

@Ophelia the Grist Mill is the best--mostly because of the candy "shoppe" that's nearby.

PatatasBravas

@Ophelia @meepmeep the key thing for any event in Lexington and Concord is to immediately break for Bedford Farms' ice cream afterwards.

Ophelia

@meepmeep There's a breakfast place right next door to the candy shop and the "general store" that makes THE BEST johnny cakes. And YES @PatatasBravas on the ice cream!

I want to go home, stat.

PatatasBravas

@Ophelia If I am allowed to continue with icecream related diversions, I am zooming to the homeland for a weekend this summer, in which I will most assuredly be hitting up Bedford Farms AND Kimball's. Huge whopping portions! Baby goats!

(re-establishing sibling rivalries!)

Ophelia

@PatatasBravas When I was in 5th grade, we went on a field trip that included an ice cream stop, and I am 99% sure it was Kimball's. I have no idea where the actual field trip was to, though.

MilesofMountains

That is so absolutely adorable. I've never really got war reenactments, but in this I can see the appeal.

Reginal T. Squirge

Um... good luck with all that.

bluebears

My husband and I are reenactors of late 90s undergraduate life. Every weekend we get high and listen to music. Sometimes we get a little too committed and take our laundry to our parents houses. It's a big time commitment but it's just something we really enjoy and believe in. For historical purposes only, of course.

Nicole Cliffe

This is so...Hairpin...in the best way. ("cue Ashokan Farewell")

Oh, squiggles

I feel like an asshole for saying this, but I don't understand glorifying war. I just don't. I know little boys like to play fight with each other, and then those little boys grow up into men who still like to play fight with each other, but...I don't get it. Killing people, or realistically reenacting massive amounts of killing people just doesn't sound like my idea of a good time.

OxfordComma

@Awesomely Nonfunctional : ...It's less about glorifying war and more about understanding how we got there in the first place. History is a fascinating thing, and re-enacting it helps us remember.

(That said, I'm sure there are some folks who *do* glory in it. They tend to be the exception rather than the rule.)

TheLetterL

@Awesomely Nonfunctional Agree with what OxfordComma said. I know that my reenacting friends on the battle lines want to show the horror of war and have been disgruntled when a host site asks them to tone it down. At one place, for example, no one was allowed to "die" in battle because it might scare the kids in the audience. The grumbling among the reenactors amounted to "Well, shouldn't it?"

Oh, squiggles

That is reassuring to know.

Xanthophyllippa

@Awesomely Nonfunctional Read Confederates in the Attic - it's got some excellent insights into why re-enacting is so popular. It generally tends to be a hobby for folks who are more thoughtful about the nature and consequences of war and less for the Halo 3 crowd. (Not that Halo 3 people aren't thoughtful or are barbarians, but still. Different goals.)

stuffisthings

@OxfordComma "It's less about glorifying war and more about understanding how we got there in the first place"

So there must be TONS of Early 19th Century Congress Reenactors, then?

stuffisthings

@Awesomely Nonfunctional

Yeah I tend to feel the same way about Confederate reenactors as I do about people who collect Nazi stuff from WWII. Like, there ARE perfectly reasonable and sane motivations for doing it, but it's always going to be a bit "guilty until proven innocent" with me.

whateverlolawants

@stuffisthings As a kid browsing an antique store in rural New York, I found a late-1930s German postcard with a swastika postmark. I was so scared of it I couldn't hold it. Now I wish I'd bought it, because it's the only one I've ever seen. I promise I am very anti-Nazi!

Genghis Khat

I love your letter so much.

lobsterhug

@Genghis Khat In my head it sounded just like Ken Burn's Civil War with some weary, husky-voiced, woman reading it.

Emily E. Hilliard

@lobsterhug hahaha. that's me!

MoxyCrimeFighter

My parents did something like this! They were in the Society for Creative Anachronisms in the '70s and did medieval reenactments - it's how they met, actually, one of my dad's personas wooed my mom away from her boyfriend (with the help of his other persona). (The nerd runs strong in this one.) They loved it and still talk about how much fun they had.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

My friend Esther used to dress up in period costume for re-enactments, corset and all. Inclines less steep even than legal wheelchair ramps would wind her!

Xanthophyllippa

@josiahg I have a friend who worked at a museum in college and had to participate in a demonstration of old-timey clothing. They had to rush to take the corset off her because she passed out in the middle.

Gwdihw

Is Eli fighting Bob on the battlefield?

ArgosMama

Ashokan Farewell is one of my favorite folk songs/compositions. History guys are super cute and great for conversations. Every girl should have one.

TheLetterL

@ArgosMama I am inspired to dig out some albums when I get home. Katy Cruel and Johnny's Gone for a Soldier are at the top of my list. So dramatic!

ArgosMama

@TheLetterL , I wish I had albums to dig out! I've just been searching youtube and apple for my fix.

TheLetterL

@ArgosMama For general geeking out purposes: http://www.contemplator.com/america/index.html

Emily E. Hilliard

Aw, thanks you guys. Y'all are so sweet!!!!

@Awesomely Nonfunctional, I hear what you're saying about war glorification, but I think reenacting can be an interesting exercise in historical study and understanding the actual experience of a soldier, material culture, foodways, etc. (pushes up invisible nerd glasses).

remargaret

@Emily E. Hilliard That party sounds like my jams! If your dude's ever at war and another of those barn dances happens to turn up and you need a lady-date to it, do let a newly transplanted DC resident know! I will even drive :)

Emily E. Hilliard

@remargaret hahaha! will do--it was SO fun. you should come to the DC Square Dance--THIS SATURDAY!!!

remargaret

@Emily E. Hilliard Ahhhh! So many good things to do this weekend (Seersucker Social Ride! Square dance!) and I will be at my 10-year high school reunion. Fortunately it will be rad, AND now I know that there is such a thing as a DC Square Dance, so thanks :)
Ahh noooo I just checked out the dance, and it's even near my house! *shakes fist at sky.

Emily E. Hilliard

@remargaret Ahh! That's a bummer. Well you should definitely come to a dance sometime--it's the largest in the country! And you can bring beer! To a church!

sox
sox

Awww, as a Western North Carolina native livin' out here in Colorado, I sure do miss my contra dancin'! Just ain't the same out here (as in, people my age are not into it so if you do find an event and go, it's kinda super weird).

Reginal T. Squirge

I went Contra dancin' with Bill Rizer and Lance Bean once. It was really tough until we found the Konami Code.

formergr

@sox Up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-A-B-C

TheDragon

@sox
I moved down to a town on the Texas/New Mexico border for college, and my list of "not necessary but it'd be great if" for future boyfriends includes "good dancer"
I refuse to have a check list of qualities, but I'd be lying if I said there weren't certain things I want in a man. The ability to send me through a wicked spin combo then bring me back into his arms without missing a step just happens to be one of them.

sox
sox

@The Kendragon YES! I too have few qualities I would "require" but being able to let loose and be a little silly is non-negotiable, and that would hopefully include getting out on a variety of dance floors. I am not a great dancer so that ability to spin and then catch you as you mention is KEY. And so fun!

TheDragon

@sox
I don't mean to toot my own horn... but I'm a pretty good two stepper.
I have had a BUNCH of bad spins. The top three are: Guys who jerk your shoulders out when the spin you, guys who go for a flip and DROP you, or (this only happened once) guys who PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE WHEN THEY TRY TO TWIRL YOU!!! Dude. I'm tall. But I ain't that tall.
So yeah, a guy who can lead me around the floor without injury (or without me having to take over leading!) is a huge plus.
On that note, if anyone wants to learn to Two-Step and is in El Paso, TX or Las Cruces, NM, let's go! :) I promise that I won't let anyone punch you.

Jane Err

This is so adorable. I'm writing a nice letter like that the next time my dude disappears for a three-day Phish concert.

RNL
RNL

hahaha my daguerrotype boyfriend is blocked at work as pornography.

bloodorange

@RobotsNeedLove oh, but it IS...

Speaking of cake, I have cake

You people with your adorable quirky boyfriends. You make me sick.

Only joking! It makes me all warm & fuzzy to hear stories of people meeting other halves who are lovely and sweet and into nerdy stuff. Just would love to get a piece of that action

Mad as a Hatter!

@Speaking of cake, I have cake Same here, I've decided to be aggressively (scarily) proactive about it in my old age of 23. Would you like to join me in the hunt?

Speaking of cake, I have cake

@Hello sweetie As a somewhat creakier 29 year old, I have battle wounds that need licking before I can start stalking the savannah again. Perhaps you could go on a recce mission and report back?

cosmia

The implication of Sybil's harem pantaloons is that I want a pair of Sybil's harem pantaloons.

tessamae

@cosmia RIGHT. They were the BEST. I mean, did you see Branson's adorable little face as he spied her prancing in them through the window? Love.

Heat Signature

@tessamae Why do we have to wait so long for another season of Downton Abbey?

tessamae

@Heat Signature Because. The universe is often cruel and selfish and knows all I want is to see the greatness that is Dame Maggie Smith vs. Shirley MacLain, the Magnificent, in what I am now calling Downton Abbey, Season Three: Discord of the Dowagers.

cosmia

@tessamae I need this to be a real thing right now. Also SYBIL + BRANSON HEARTS IN MY EYES.

Apocalypstick

Adorable, sure, but you forgot to mention that also they smell after a battle and fill the house up with their kit & crafting. We have an entire room for chainmail. No joke.

sox
sox

@Apocalypstick
Paging Jolie: how exactly does one clean chainmail?

Lucienne

@sox CLR, maybe?

Hmmm, the internet says dishsoap! Interesting.

ArgosMama

@sox, I prefer cleaning my chainmail with vinegar. @Apocalypstick, I have one of those rooms only its for me not my man...

Emily E. Hilliard

@Apocalypstick ahaha. you are so right! I forgot about the battle stench. Though it's pretty similar to old-time festival stench.

Xanthophyllippa

@sox I don't know how to clean it, but I know from an internship at an arms museum that you wear it with the rivets on the outside. Otherwise you get prickles in your bits.

Marie_Ayres

Oh, I loved this. (And oh, man, do I miss contra dancing. So much.) I will totally write someone a Civil War-era letter someday.

Also, always good to check that the Sullivan Ballou letter makes me cry. Every time.

OxfordComma

NERD.

:D

I work at the SoCal Renaissance Faire, and I love pretty much everything about it. I love the costumes and the history and the intensity of the folks who work there with me.

It's glorious nerdiness.

Faintly Macabre

When I was wee, my sister and I were interpreters at a colonial farmstead outside of Philly. They have a big French-Indian battle every year, and we got to be the scared women of the house who go hide under a bed. Except no one was able to see the battle we ran from, nor us running to the house, nor us hiding under the bed. We spent probably half an hour hanging out under a bed before one of the reenactors came out and told us we were supposed to come out.

Faintly Macabre

Is your boyfriend featured in Confederates in the Attic??

bb
bb

@Faintly Macabre if not he's a total farb.

TheLetterL

@bb FARB! Best word ever.

Emily E. Hilliard

@Faintly Macabre hahaha. I don't think he is, but his friend is on the cover. And I know what farb means ;)

Faintly Macabre

@bb Maybe he -is- one of the farbs! Next we'll see a post on yoshouldidumpthisasshole: "My boyfriend says he's a historical reenactor but wears Timberlands and eats Power Bars on the battlefield. Should I dump him?"

Xanthophyllippa

@Faintly Macabre @Emily E. Hilliard OH I should have read all the way down before I started plugging this book - you got there first! It's a fabulous book and I've wanted to learn how to bloat on command like Hodge ever since.

Emily E. Hilliard

@Xanthophyllippa i haven't read it yet, but I have a copy at the ready. Hopefully it will help me understand my fella better.

TheLetterL

Dear Faintly Macabre,

But shoes are the hardest part!

Sincerely,
Someone who kept a cell and tampons in her haversack, but at least had the decency to duck into a tent to eat a Power Bar and pour bottled iced tea into a mug

TheLetterL

@Xanthophyllippa Just requested that book from my library.

Faintly Macabre

@TheLetterL Oh, I know. It was years after I stopped being an interpreter before I stopped mentally filing every possibly-authentic pair of shoes I saw. Meanwhile, the older ladies at the farm went hog-wild with linen colors, getting bright teal and hot pink, but accused me of wearing lipstick at age 10.

TheLetterL

@Faintly Macabre Oh dear. "But it's linen!" Me, I learned to side-eye the bodice wearers.

Xanthophyllippa

@Emily E. Hilliard It made me want to take up reenacting, but I already have too many expensive, time-consuming hobbies.

meetapossum

I went to college in Gettysburg, and lots of my friends were reenactors. This is just lovely.

nyikint

He uses the excuse “I don’t have enough ammunition” as a reason for not going away for a weekend, and he once gave me a piece of hardtack, saying “Something to remember me by — it’ll last longer than I will.”

sorry about your crap sex life

Dandyliongirl

Well this is adorable!

thisisunclear

As a snobby historian-in-training, I will leave the reenactor boyfriends to the rest of you. Sometimes a girl needs a break from the past!

Xanthophyllippa

@thisisunclear I don't read historical fiction for that reason -- well, and also because I'm snobby enough to be disdainful when I find inaccuracies. I had to put down an otherwise excellent novel set in Elizabethan England that included William Cecil attending a banquet because I'd just written a paper on him and knew beyond a doubt that he was on the Continent at that particular time.

joie

This is so cute! One of the best things about falling in love is finding someone to share nerdiness with. :)

TheLetterL

I...I've done a little reenacting. A friend of mine grew up doing American Revolution reenacting, so she got some of us involved. It is so much fun! The group was pretty relaxed and we never took on first person personas. (That is to say, if we were asked a question, we'd answer as a modern person.)

Yes, I have spent a weekend -- even hauling firewood -- wearing stays, and it was fine.

Ultimately, you get to wear fun clothes and teach some kids some neat stuff. At night, you change into comfy clothes (or not) and sit around a campfire and hang out with friends.

whateverlolawants

@TheLetterL Oh, I like the freedom to answer as a modern person, but sometimes I would love to be forced into a 1st person persona. In my non-existent historical reenactment life.

Also, I thought you wrote that your friend grew up during the American Revolution. "Cool! They should write a column for us!"

TheLetterL

@whateverlolawants "The Best Time I Ever Fell into a Time Wormhole While Shooting at the Doodles"
(Yes, it is a redcoat unit. Shhh! Someone has to be the opposition)

I think first person reenacting would be a lot of fun, too. Still, if you're a newbie or more casual about it, it's nice to have the ability to say "Oh, that's a great question. I wish I knew the answer" instead of kicking yourself for greeting someone with an anachronistic "Hello!" instead of "Good day!"

If you do decide to pursue reenacting, you'll definitely be able to find some first person units. Keep in mind "first person" can correlate with "hardcore." (The other thing to watch out for is that it's common for units to have a policy of "No ladies unless you have someone on the line." Which is frustrating, but the name of the game is building ranks. However, some units will allow women to portray soldiers, if they decide you can "pass" when in uniform.)

whateverlolawants

@TheLetterL I'm not so interested in Civil War reenacting- more like giving presentations at museums and historical homes. That's interesting info, though!

TheLetterL

@whateverlolawants I swear I'm not recruiting an all-Hairpin unit (although WHAT IF?) but keep in mind that if you are portraying a civilian, the event is kind of your oyster. The soldiers have the military part MORE than covered. Chat with the public about whatever floats your boat: camp life, medicine, society, food, politics, music, dance, crafts, costumes, economics. Most large events will even have more-or-less formal demonstrations of those things.

whateverlolawants

@TheLetterL WHAT IF?

That is good to know. I live in the midwest, so I think there are some events not too far away. I'll ask my friend who's really into the Civil War.

Judith Slutler

I'm legit relieved that he usually plays war on the Union side. Confederate reenactment... I'm sorry but it creeps me out!

ArgosMama

@Emmanuelle Cunt, Someone has to play the losers or you can't play war right.

Megasus

If there was an online dating site that set you up with historical reenactors, I could possibly be super into that.

Xanthophyllippa

@Megano! I wouldn't mind a Tudor-Stuart paramour, m'self. Minus the clap, of course.

Lucienne

@Megano! I'm claiming all the Alexander Hamilton reenactors in advance.

TheDragon

@Megano!
Can I have one of the legal Pony Express riders?
Nothing makes me swoon as hard as a man who knows horses and can handle himself in back country.

...I'll just be in my room if anyone needs me.

BadWolf

My beau is a reenactor, too! It is the best thing ever. We were playing with his collection of musket balls the other night, and looking at amazing grisly pictures of dead CSA soldiers (and he knew which ones were faked by the photographer). And once he let me field-strip his 1861 Enfield. And I really do have daguerreotypes of him. And he was SO upset he had to miss McDowell. I wonder if they know each other?

Emily E. Hilliard

@BadWolf Totally possible! The above photo is actually a tintype of him...

BadWolf

@BadWolf They do know each other! Or at least of each other, they have mutual friends, says the Gentleman. Also I was wrong, it's a Springfield, not an Enfield, which is most embarrassing. The world is so small! Thanks for this article, it's so delightful.

Emily E. Hilliard

@BadWolf Ahaha! Totally small world. And thanks for your sweet words!

Trillium

he once gave me a piece of hardtack, saying “Something to remember me by — it’ll last longer than I will"

It totally will! I used to volunteer at a small historical society that had a lot of what I called "mystery boxes"--full of stuff that somebody donated years ago, but that nobody really remembered what it was or where it came from. I was sorting through one when I found a small, rectangular paper bundle. In it was what appeared to be some very stale crackers and a handwritten note reading "from Spanish-American War" (!!!).

Xanthophyllippa

@Trillium What's the penalty for eating the collection, I wonder?

TheJacqueline

@Xanthophyllippa Oh, Elaine. Eating that cake will be punishment enough.

iseeshiny

I just legit sighed longingly. That was the cutest IRL romcom love scene ever. And I have a special place in my heart for the brand of nerdery that is reenactment. (I come from an SCA family, which is not as reenacty but just as history nerdy.) But in conclusion, that story brightened my day.

Emily E. Hilliard

@iseeshiny aw, thanks so much! it was very nerdily rom-comy.

Xanthophyllippa

Oh wow - y'all have to go read Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, STAT! It's so tremendously engaging that I can't even begin to describe it, but the accounts of his travels with the reenactors are both hilarious and insightful. A+ would read again.

OxfordComma

NERD.

:D

I work at the SoCal Renaissance Faire, and I love pretty much everything about it. I love the costumes and the history and the intensity of the folks who work there with me.

It's glorious nerdiness.

PatatasBravas

@OxfordComma I have always wanted to visit a Ren Faire, but my friends here are too thoroughly embarrassed by the concept :(

OxfordComma

@PatatasBravas : Oh, that just breaks my heart. Especially since, judging by your avatar, you're a Dr. Who fan, too.

People are silly. So are Renaissance Faires. But in the best possible way. :)

stuffisthings

My friend had an unfortunate run-in with a pirate reenactor (or whatever they are called) recently. He forced her to sit on his lap and then recounted all the stories of times he fell off boats.

Xanthophyllippa

@stuffisthings You sure that wasn't the local showing of "Rocky Horror?"

Lars Prillaman@facebook

@stuffisthings regarding Confederate Reenactors, Third Reich collectors etc. Its truly unfair to equate these things with eachother let alone the fact that neither of them is "bad" and one must ascribe the word guilt to either hobby. Generally speaking, reenactors who truly strive for authenticity will portray soldiers of both sides and pour equal amounts of money and sweat into getting it right. Its not about "playing war." We do this because we lust for tangibility. I've been obsessed with the Civil War since I was a child and reading wasn't enough. Photographs weren't enough. I had to get my hands on the stuff. I had to wear it, I had to carry it. I had to link myself somehow to the time. Call it physical memory or whatever, it doesn't matter. Reb reenactors aren't bad guys or racist nut bags. Nor are Union reenactors abolitionist do-gooders. We pour over unpublished and published documents, we examine original relics and pieces of material culture, we count how many stitches were used per inch in certain items so we can reproduce it accurately. Sorry to go on a bit of a tangent but it really chaps my ass when somebody wants to dog reenactors of either side but especially those who occasionally wear gray because what they are really doing is going after the guys who really did wear the gray and honestly, isn't it just a little too easy to go after somebody who's been dead for a century and a half and can't speak for themselves?

Lars Prillaman@facebook

Try reading Joseph T. Glatthar's General Lee's Army From Victory To Collapse. It might help you see the Confederate soldier as something more than a radical slavery loving racist. How about Rebel Private, Front And Rear, William Fletcher's Memoire from his days in the 5th Texas or most famously perhaps Co. Aytch by Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee Infantry. Maybe reading their own words will allow you to see the average rebel soldier as a regular man, even if you think we reenactors are "guilty" until you decide we're innocent.

stuffisthings

@Lars Prillaman@facebook

Just as most Confederate soldiers weren't slaveowners, most German soldiers were conscripts, not members of the Nazi party, and had complex and human lives as well. That doesn't mean I'm not going to assume someone with an enthusiasm for dressing up in a Wehrmacht uniform might have some odd, possibly unexamined motives.

I do get that most reenactors are just hardcore history buffs -- what creeps me out is the disproportionate interest in the Civil War, and particularly the Confederate side. There must be history buffs who reenact all kinds of things, why is the Civil War such a draw?

The political rehabilitation of the Confederate cause since the end of Reconstruction is a trend I find troubling, and I see the prominence of Civil War reenactment as a small part of that.

Faintly Macabre

@stuffisthings At least they're not dressing up as Indians! Or British people, heaven forbid.

stuffisthings

@Faintly Macabre True. Would this be an awkward time to mention that I'm a Trail of Tears reenactor? On the U.S. Army side?

Xanthophyllippa

@stuffisthings The Civil War itself was disproportionately important in American history, though -- I mean, I just stated the obvious in a really stupid way, but given the cataclysmic nature of the war, I'd be more surprised and nervous if it hadn't shaped identities and captured interest for the next century and a half. If the Revolution and the Civil War are what we identify as prominent in U.S. history (and the number of folks who still participate in the DAR show another set of identities that still trickle down), then that's what we'd reenact. (I have friends in the UK who are English Civil War reenactors for the same reason.)

I also wonder if some of the popularity in Civil War reenactments has to do with the technological revolution in warfare that followed at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, though; the Civil War is kind of the last war that can really be portrayed live by amateur enthusiasts who don't have specialized equipment. Even setting aside interest in authenticity, it's easier to portray a kid who went off to fight a war in his own state while wearing his everyday clothes and carrying a hunting rifle than it is to get hold of a Panzer I and reenact the invasion of Poland. Instead, World War II enthusiasts channel that interest into watching marathons of D-Day invasion shows and episodes of "Hitler's Eager Mistresses" on the History Channel.

(incidentally, as I Googled "Panzer" to make sure I had the right vehicle, the second autofill term was "Panzer tank for sale." Now I'm really nervous.)

omgAileen

This is all I want -> "you can spend an evening together geeking out over early color photographs from the Russian Empire."

I love this all so much. History nerds are the best nerds, though I'm still trying to find one of my very own. Also, "cue Ashokan Farewell" is a phrase that needs to move into my daily use.

little sausage

Does he pee on his buttons?? That's the important question.

bluewindgirl

@Emily E. Hilliard I am a folklorist! I would bet you one square-dancing pie we have friends in common, I know a few ABD (from IU) history grad students out in DC. Small internet!

Emily E. Hilliard

Awesome! I went to UNC for my M.A. Maybe run into you at AFS sometime?

bluewindgirl

@Emily E. Hilliard Yes. New Orleans this year!

The Hyperbolic Julia Set

I just relocated from my home town of Manassas- major Civil War reenacting town and this was refreshing and nostalgic for me. So sweet! Also last year was the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas and so there was a ton of reenactment going on. It was also the summer I got married so when I got back from my honeymoon and I was moving out of my parents' house I ended up having to stop in the middle of moving because there was a peace march blocking the entrance to the house. The best time Stonewall Jackson stranded me at my parents' house....

Emily E. Hilliard

@The Hyperbolic Julia Set Ah yes! I think he was there with the 5th New York. You should totally write "The Best Time Stonewall Jackson Stranded Me At My Parent's House"!

Morgan H. West@facebook

this was great!

Emily E. Hilliard

@Morgan H. West@facebook Thanks Morgan! YOU'RE great!

josep

The best time Stonewall Jackson stranded me at my parents' house. kitchen plumbing repair nj

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