“Why I Reenact” by Brian Walker
photographs by Newt Rayburn
Hundreds of muskets cracked in succession until they blended together into a huge roar,cannons rocked backwards as a sonic boom belched forth flame, and smoke filled the battlefield between the two armies that had marched into position. Rigid lines of men stood their ground and reloaded as officers shouted their orders, then the Rebel Yell with all its animal ferocity pierced the air as the Southern soldiers began to run in a charge down the slope of the hill toward the Union lines.
This wasn’t 1863 but 120 years later—1983, where as a ten-year-old boy I witnessed the reenactment of the Battle of Champion’s Hill outside Vicksburg, Mississippi. Ever since that time my interest in the American Civil War grew, and still provides me with a seemingly unending search for knowledge about this time period that shaped so much of American history and culture. Many may think of reenacting as a hobby, a bunch of grown men playing war, people feeding their egos, or as a silly pastime, but in truth I’ve come to find that the reenactment community is as diverse, complicated, controversial, and educational as the many facets and characters of the actual war itself.
As the Civil War reaches its 150th anniversary, I became involved in the reenactment community to participate in the events sponsored and promoted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans. Not knowing what I was getting into other than the fact that many groups have done this for years and knew what they were doing, I decided to jump in. I found in my own unit a woman dressed as a man, a black soldier fighting for the South, and a variety of personalities and backgrounds, all of which really occurred in the Civil War.
At the Battle of Fort Donelson 150th anniversary event I got a taste, smell, and feel of what it was like to be a green private in the ranks of the Confederate army defending the South from the Yankee advance. Living in canvas tents, cooking over campfires, wearing period wool and cotton dress, drilling under the tactics of the time, loading and firing a musket, advancing and retreating all gave me both a sense of military life and necessary cooperation with my comrades. I found this real-life experience to be both challenging, rewarding, disciplining, educating, and enlightening about not only what it was like to live in that era, but about human beings ourselves and our individual and group mentalities.The object of reenactments and living history demonstrations is to educate the public about the lives, hardships, innovations, technology, mentality, and motivations of both soldiers and civilians of the time period. Many can learn how the history of the Civil War shaped American culture, and correct or confirm any misconceptions or myths they previously held. For the reenactors, safety and authenticity are stressed, at the same time being an enjoyable event for participants and spectators.
At the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, March 30–April, 1, 2012, the Army of the Tennessee sponsored an event in which thousands of reenactors and spectators participated and witnessed the bloody days of April, 6–8, 1862, which occurred on and around the reenactment site. This pivotal battle promoted Union Generals Grant and Sherman to their later successes, and ended the life of Confederate General Johnston, as well as producing so many deaths and casualties that it became known as the “Gettysburg of the West.”
This reenactment brought thousands of spectators, fueled both local and national economies as people came from all over the country as well as the world to see it and be in it. Diverse groups from ghost hunters, to foreign, local, and national journalists, enthusiasts, and newcomers came to attend, document, and educate themselves.
Personal experience has led me want to continue this pursuit of living history, and shown me the value it can have to the individual, the children, adults, and families who participate and attend. As more 150th anniversary events are being planned and organized, I would encourage all who are interested, and any seeking to further their knowledge of history, to attend a reenactment. You bring back the knowledge, empathy, and respect for our American ancestors who fought on both sides during this crucial part of our history, and reflect upon how it has shaped you, your culture, and your nation.
Brian Walker grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, and is a local artist and musician who has played with the bands Wobitty, Morphist, Swole, Black Plague, and the Backwoods Mississippi Anarchy Orchestra. For more info on events comemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh April 6-8, 2012, visit http://www.nps.gov/shil/shiloh-150th-anniversary.htm
This article was originally published in The Local Voice #153: http://www.thelocalvoice.net/LocalVoice-PDFs/TLV-153-web.pdf
More pictures are located here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150640746321854.383701.558841853&type=3
See more of Newt Rayburn’s photographs from Shiloh National Military Park here.
Read more of The Local Voice’s coverage of
the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh here:
“Rediscover the Battle of Shiloh”
by Newt Rayburn
Including exclusive photographs from important areas of the battlefield.
“Why I Reenact” by Brian Walker
Including exclusive photographs of the
Sesquicentennial Reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh.
“Shiloh’s Grand Illumination, April 7, 2012”
by Newt Rayburn
Including exclusive photographs of the 23,746 luminarias
placed at the site of the Battle of Shiloh, 150 years later.