The smell of black powder and smoke fill the air. The sound of gunfire still echoes in one’s ears. Men in uniforms of blue, gray and butternut lie scattered on the field. Women cry in anguish over the fallen, then wipe their tears and blow their noses -- there’s a presentation on fashion at 2:30 p.m. they must prepare for.
Reenacting: by definition, it’s the performing of a role in an event that has occurred at an earlier time, for example the reenacting of the Battle of Gettysburg. By passion, it’s the telling of a story through the recreated words and lives of those who lived it. Not the clean, white pages of history books, but the dirty, smelly, smokiness of reality. It brings to life the “so what?” of history.
A Whole New Understanding
It’s this perspective that compels Civil War reenactor Bob Minton, who says “You understand the misery when you’re in a dog tent and it’s pouring rain. It just takes anything you read in a book and fleshes it out to give you a whole new understanding.”
Ohio Village opens for the 2013 summer season on Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26, amidst a swell of Civil War reenactors, both soldier and civilian. They’re a group of people who spend countless hours researching events, people and clothing. The accuracy of the construction and fabric of one’s clothing is as critical to them as the historical facts and details of the person and time period they’re representing.
“Reenacting is a kind of an outlet for me to share knowledge I’ve uncovered that has been buried in decades of dust and indifference,” says Ohio Historical Society volunteer and reenactor Elizabeth Topping. “Most people learn and retain knowledge best through visual aids. I like to draw people in with what I’m wearing or doing to get a conversation started.”
Information Comes From Many Sources
Minton’s knowledge journey began in 1992 with standard history books on the war, but has become more specific in reading primary source material such as a soldier’s diary or a regimental history. He finds that talking with other reenactors is also a great source of information, though he stresses the importance of being sure that what is shared is accurate. “It brings it to life. I think they [students] get a lot better feel for it in a fun way by seeing and talking to us as opposed to a textbook. I’m not big on talking names, dates, places -- I talk about the soldier’s story, his gear, how he lived.”
The publicity surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Civil War has introduced the world of reenacting to a much larger audience and has encouraged a number of people to look into taking part in re-enactments themselves.
Right Out of a Picture
One of Minton’s most interesting experiences was the 2012 reenactment of the Battle of Antietam. “We did a dawn battle in the cornfield and it was just surreal -- fog and gun smoke hanging in the air… you could only see a few yards in front of you. Simply amazing, like it was right out of a picture,” he recalls.
The Gettysburg National Civil War Reenactment on July 4-7, 2013, will have over 9,000 soldier and civilian reenactors. Many Ohio reenacting units will participate in the four-day battle, including Minton, who will be commanding the entire Union Army.
Topping is looking forward to the reenactment at Ohio Village so that she can pass on American history to the next generation of kids. “I can’t tell you how many kids have no idea where the Civil War took place or who won! It’s very sad,” she says.
Learn More About Reenacting
Interested in learning more about reenacting? Visit the Civil War Reenactors web page www.cwreenactors.com/index.php. For a listing of Civil War reenacting organizations, visit www.civilwarhome.com/reenact.htm.
This summer, the Ohio Historical Society will be offering volunteer classes teaching primarily first person (“I do”) interpretation. Some third person (“they did”) interpretation will be included. To learn more about the upcoming classes, contact our Volunteer Coordinator or call 614.297.2392.
Click here to learn more about the May 25-26, 2013, Civil War reenactment A House Divided at Ohio Village.