Reenacting For the Sake of History

two women in antebellum dress on the swings

Mixing Metaphors

I had always wondered about reenactors of various wars. Hadn’t we done our best to end them, to heal and move forward? I can see dressing up in clothing from another era, but why would anyone want to reenact a bloody battle?

After meeting and getting to know at least one group of Civil War reenactors, the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves based at the Capt. Thos. Espy Post No. 153 of the G.A.R., I’ve come to understand that for most it’s not the battles, but respecting and learning from the history of the events, of spending a day or a few days literally in the shoes of someone—perhaps even an ancestor—who lived and may have even given their life more than a century before, to understand their decisions and maybe a little more about life in that era, and how it led to where we are today.

So it’s more about history, about being an expert in how things were, and a perspective on how we are. It’s also about wearing neat clothes and living life as someone else for a while. And about adding your personality to that character, reacting to your surroundings as that person might have, as the two ladies on the swings did—had they been dressed like that and walking through a park and seen the swings, of course they would have hopped on and gone for a ride.

Four reenactment groups camped at Carnegie Park from a frosty 38-degree Friday night, April 29, through a misty, drizzly Sunday morning, May 1. Both Union and Confederate reenactors participated, pitching their tents among the trees and turning the familiar park into a convincing scene from 150 years ago, only the occasional anachronism like a car or the mowed grass or tennis shoes jarring your attention back to the future.

Their realistic setups showed us how Civil War camps were organized and what they actually carried around with them before the days of easy communications and even carbon copies. In addition to setting up and hanging around in period clothing, reenactors also participated in Artillery Demonstrations and a reenactment of skirmishes at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.

I’ll be posting a series of photos I took from this weekend on a site I set up for the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, the first entitled Living History Weekend: The Encampment featuring a dozen images (out of over a hundred) of just reenactors living the life for the afternoon.

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