Sunday, October 19, 2014

Civil War Military Re-enactors of a Certain Age – It is Time to Portray a Civilian!

Civil War Military Re-enactors of a Certain Age – It is Time to Portray a Civilian!

As historic process photographers who have taken images at the major 150th Anniversary Civil War re-enactments, we have seen good, bad, ugly, uglier and scary impressions. While I normally focus on civilian impressions, it is time to consider the state of the hobby in the military sector.

This is an aging hobby and many military re-enactors have continued to portray soldiers long after any actual mid-19th Century male would have been considered qualified to serve in the Home Guard. There has been many an event where we pitied the horses that were drafted to serve as rides for cavalry impersonators of zaftig proportions. Women who make no effort to pass as male soldiers defile the ranks at reenactments. Even children with toy guns join infantry units. 

While I am all for family fun, a re-enactment that is marketed to the general public as a living history event should aspire to some level of authenticity. The 150th Cedar Creek re-enactment this weekend purported to have standards of authenticity; however, it is clear that nobody made any effort to enforce the standards. Visitors that were charged $18 a head to watch the battles were treated to badly executed skirmishes in which unfit, couch potato, weekend warrior, poorly accoutered, aged soldiers who fired their weapons at point blank range resulting in- no casualties.

Yes, another challenge in staging even a pseudo authentic re-enactment, there is a significant number of re-enactors who want to “burn powder” rather than recreate history. As such, they refuse to die or fall wounded.  At a properly choreographed re-enactment, the commanding officers direct certain persons under their command to portray casualties. That is authentic. People must die.

For those men and women who have reached a certain age – say over 45 – and have continued to portray a soldier, it is time to clean that military uniform (or burn it), stow it in mothballs (or burn it,) and morph into a civilian impression. This could be your opportunity to improve an impression. One can portray a civilian with authenticity as an older, less fit, softer, slower, and more rotund human. The possibilities are endless. So, you’ll have to hang up your Henry, Spencer, Sharps or Enfield rifle and carry a walking stick instead. But think of the delightful patterned trousers and fabulous civilian frock coats that one can wear! Not to mention you can enjoy portraying civilians with your spouse or significant other and you can decamp to a hotel with a shower and eat really good food while enjoying heat or air conditioning rather than camping in unpleasant weather.


It is time to move into the Civilian world if you attended any of the 125th re-enactments (or could have) as an adult. Really. I’m not joking. It is time!
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