31 thoughts on “The Simple Joys of Authentic Reenactments

  1. Ray O'Hara with that. the guns started the show with a massed timed blast and then just banged away. and around 10,000 rifles all firing, July 25, 2011 / 10:42 pm

    Some things they get right, some they don’t
    I did notice a cavalrywoman though.

  2. marcferguson July 25, 2011 / 10:58 pm

    The number of pot-bellies is impressive, but it was still early in the war.

  3. Karen July 25, 2011 / 11:06 pm

    1) Are the guys in red shirts supposed to be Zouaves? Did they really wear bright red?
    2) Were women (besides nurses) really allowed to hang out on the battlefield?
    3) I’ve never watched a reenactment before . . . is this realistic? Would the two sides really stand right across from each other and shoot?
    4) Do people ever get hurt during the reenactments?
    5) How do they decide who “dies” and when? I guess it doesn’t show the entire battle, but it seems to me that if they were standing so close to each other firing their rifles, that there would be a lot more dead men on the field.

    Or am I over-analyzing?

    • Ray O'Hara July 26, 2011 / 8:36 am

      Early in the War before they sorted it out units were all sorts of colors including red shirts, no they aren’t zouzaves.

      1st Bull Run had many spectators male and female, after that not so much.

    • Brooks D. Simpson July 26, 2011 / 8:49 am

      1. Yes. I’d say that unit’s the 11th New York.
      2. Battlefield commanders don’t issue permission slips, so a few women did hang out on battlefields (not nearly as many as shown here). Judith Henry was killed during the battle as she lay ill inside her house on … Henry House Hill. Sometimes women had no choice, as was the case at Gettysburg, where women found themselves trapped in town, and one, Jennie Wade, was killed. But, as a rule, civilians were smart enough to get away from the fighting when they were able once they gained an idea of how lethal a battlefield could be.
      3. Sometimes.
      4. Yup. Sometimes they are even shot.
      5. This I do not know. Maybe they are issued numbers, and then they find whose number is up. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Actually, had the men really known how to handle their weapons, a Civil War battlefield should have been far more lethal than it was.

      • Andy Hall July 26, 2011 / 9:08 am

        “4. Yup. Sometimes they are even shot.”

        At the reenactment I mentioned below, participants were prohibited from bringing ramrods onto the field, because someone, somewhere, had mistakenly failed to remove his ramrod and sent it flying off downrange into the “enemy.” (Such incidents happened plenty in the real war, too.) It was a reasonable precaution, but it looked odd because, with no wad to hold the powder in place, the weapons had to be held upright and discharged at an oddly-high angle.

    • Andy Hall July 26, 2011 / 8:54 am

      1. I don’t think those reenactors are supposed to be Zouaves — I’m trying to remember a Troiani painting here — but yes, early in the war there were all sorts of fantastical combinations. That’s one thing I liked about the depiction of that battle in the film Gods and Generals, that it really conveyed the polyglot, and sometimes ridiculous, nature of the early militia units before the two sides settled into a long, grueling conflict.

      2. I’m gonna pass on this one.

      3. Not as close as in the reenactment, which are almost compressed in space to make it better visible for spectators. But yes, they often lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and blazed away.

      4. Yes. Lots of minor injuries, and some serious. I attended a Texas Revolution reenactment last year where one of the “cavalrymen” (actually a young woman, from a reenacting family) fell from her mount and was rushed off to the hospital, (I later overheard) from a combination of heat, exertion and low insulin. More recently, a Civil War artillery reenactor lost most of his hand when he (apparently) rammed home a powder charge in a gun that hadn’t been effectively swabbed.

      I’ve heard that the reenactors at Manassas this weekend, because of the heat, were obliged to wear badges or some other sign so that EMS personnel could determine who was faking dead/hurt and who really was in trouble.

      5. I think reenactors generally decide ahead of time among themselves who’s going to be “hit.”

      • tonygunter July 26, 2011 / 11:54 am

        > 3. Not as close as in the reenactment, which are almost compressed in space to
        > make it better visible for spectators. But yes, they often lined up shoulder-to-
        > shoulder and blazed away.

        Recent scholarship has shown the average distance at which units stopped and opened up on each other to be within musket range, I think it was 50 yards if I’m remembering correctly, and I think that number is from Paddy Griffith.


    • Lyle Smith July 26, 2011 / 2:41 pm

      I think there was Louisiana woman that was a part of Wheat’s Battalion (maybe another unit though) who wasn’t allowed to literally go into the field with them once the battle started, but she hung around and knocked down fence for artillery to be into a field.

  4. Johannes July 26, 2011 / 4:22 am

    I spotted a few…wristwatches that is. Judging by the girdth of some re-enactors, they could use a little more marching. I guess it’s still early in the war, right?

  5. Sharryn clark July 26, 2011 / 8:41 am

    “Play Weekend” These folks are not “Hard Core”……………

    • Andy Hall July 27, 2011 / 12:51 pm

      Don’t you suppose reenacting is like every other sort of group activity, including politics? You can achieve greater ideological purity (i.e., hard-core reenacting) only at the expense of having greatly smaller numbers.

      • Brooks D. Simpson July 27, 2011 / 1:07 pm

        I do so suppose. I also think these are largely internal arguments that we now grasp because they have been well-publicized. I doubt many spectators cared. In most such endeavors there’s always a self-defined “hardcore” group that claims that it has a greater commitment to authenticity, etc., that do others. So much matters on why people do what they do, and I for one don’t see the need to question motives in what I see as a harmless activity. It is when the scene shifts to claims that reenactors are also “living historians” who speak with authority on all sorts of topics that other historians arch their eyebrows. Putting on a Civil War uniform does not automatically qualify you to speak on the reasons for secession.

  6. TF Smith July 26, 2011 / 9:38 am

    i think “Falstaff’s Own” volunteers were well-represented.

    Artillery was impressive; some of that equipment must have set someone back a few…


  7. Lyle Smith July 26, 2011 / 2:37 pm

    Oh be kind to these people! It’s not like they’re going to go out there with small pox or the measles.

    • Brooks D. Simpson July 26, 2011 / 3:56 pm

      Actually, from what I understand, reenactors are hardest on each other. That’s why I find the slip-ups remarkable.

  8. Will Hickox July 26, 2011 / 3:40 pm

    The (original) 1st Minnesota wore red shirts at Bull Run.

  9. David Corbett July 27, 2011 / 6:18 am

    Dear sir,
    I participated in this event and did not witness a single case of wristwatch wearing. Many units wore red shirts: 1st Minnesota, 69th New York ,2nd Mississippi, Garibaldi Guard, et.al.
    Quite a lot of research, time and money was invested by most and havelocks,tricornes, and Hardee hats were the norm. Too many swearing spectacles but a great many ,slender young fellows were in the ranks . Scot Buffington who portraryed Colonel Corcoran of the 69th N.Y. must have spent a thousand dollars on his impression to be worn this one time!
    This event was probably as accurate as could be expected given the numbers of particpants and lack of rehearsal not to mention the brutality of the sun and heat.

    • Brooks D. Simpson July 27, 2011 / 8:52 am

      Well, the wristwatches are evident in the film, so I’ll leave it at that. Given where the red-shirted unit on the film is located, I’d venture it was a Union unit that was being represented, and if both the 11th NY and the 1st Minnesota were represented, someone else can tell us whether one of those units (or another one) is the one on film. Given all the sorts of uniforms that were present at the battle, I’m sure the people doing the research concerning proper attire did their best to present faithful representations of what was worn at the battle.

      The actual participants at the battle itself also suffered from a lack of rehearsal. They didn’t even know how it was supposed to turn out.

  10. Greg Taylor July 27, 2011 / 8:44 am

    The spectators at First Manassas were on the heights near Centerville, fully 5 miles from the battlefield. All they could see was black power smoke rising above the hills and treetops in the distance. The could also hear the rumble of artillery. The “romantic” image of Washington elites having a picnic spread out before them while they watched the battle unfold below is poppycock.

    • Tony Gunter July 27, 2011 / 9:26 am

      What about the first-hand account of Logan grabbing a musket discarded by a fleeing soldier and joining the fray. Does he count as a Washington wonk watching near the front.

      • Brooks D. Simpson July 27, 2011 / 1:08 pm

        Too bad Logan never commissioned a painting of that incident. It would become the Manassas Cyclorama.

    • Andy Hall July 27, 2011 / 12:54 pm

      The โ€œromanticโ€ image of Washington elites having a picnic spread out before them while they watched the battle unfold below is poppycock.

      Are you insinuating that Frederick Douglass was not, in fact, nearly trampled by three regiments of the Confederate Native Guard advancing past his position? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Corey Meyer July 27, 2011 / 4:18 pm

    “Ashokan Farewell” is a piece of music composed by Jay Ungar in 1982…performed by a reenactor band…classic farbism. I love the song, but it does not fit an authentic reenactment.

    • Ray O'Hara July 29, 2011 / 8:00 pm

      Ken Burns usage of it in his series made it the accepted theme of the CW.
      I used to like that song too.

  12. Will Hickox July 29, 2011 / 5:47 pm

    Given the heat, wool outfits, and girth of the average reenactor, it’s a miracle nobody died.

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