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Observations 101
by Charlie McCulloh

I would suppose that this falls in the category of a critique, although it really is just a personal observation. Some of these observations come from recently attending “Ham & Yam” reenactments  in Georgia and Tennessee, while the majority come from several years of experience.

1. The average Civil War reeneactor has read no more than 3 books on the War. Most are general knowledge books and they usually get their rudimentary  information from trade magazines like “Civil War Times”,etc.

2. 75% of reenactors strive to look and act like other reenactors, they do no research on what the original soldiers themselves actually resembled or the functions they preformed.

3. I used to think that 75% just needed guidance to improve their impression. I was wrong, I now believe that they honestly do not care. Doing research and improving will interfere with their “fun”.

4. A large percentage of Civil War male reenactors use reenacting as an excuse to get away from “the ball and chain” and get knee crawling drunk.

5. A large percentage of Civil War male reenators care nothing for the minutia of drill and soldier life and are here to play a structured form of “Cowboys and Indians (invariably the Yankees)”. I believe the quote is “lets burn some powder”.

6. The larger the reenactment the more proportional is the Yahoo factor. Large reenactments draw every marginal psychotic and part time Yahoo reenactor. Event staff  protest loudly but do nothing as this will decrease their numbers. While our Battalion stands in line for uniform and equipment inspection some Yahoo is crawling out of his truck with his cowboy boots, drop fly cotton trousers, wool blend sack coat and leather Confederate kepi complete with crossed muskets and “Rebel” flag decal. He will stand next to you in line during the scramble of battle and desperately try and shoot your ear off.

7. If a commander institutes stringent requirements for authenticity he will probably  loose a large number of troops. He will then loose his basis for command. This is wrong and the whole system is set up for the lowest common denominator.

8. It appears that the reenacting community “General Staff”, which includes the various commanding generals of the different Divisions, Battalions, etc.,  can be stricken with petty politics at any given time. I wish they could do what dogs do and just sniff each others butts as this establishes the dominance order quickly  with little fuss and no politics.

9. The reenacting community continually gives mildly  retarded, borderline psychotic and socially challenged people rifles and sends them out on the field to boost numbers. This is wrong and dangerous.

10. Reenacting has begun and will continue to divide along the basis of authenticity. The marginal units and the progressive units will drift further and further apart and in 5 years will not be at the same events. Good? Bad? I don’t know but it’s headed that direction even now.

  I realize this seems cynical and could even be depressing but we must, as living historians, chart a course through these circumstances. I believe that many of us are making a continual effort to improve, this is a good start. We must aline ourselves with other units and individuals that are progressing in the same direction. We must take advantage of the knowledge that more advanced researchers have gathered. We can learn from association with the best that reenacting has to offer. We can hold high standards. We will loose some but gain others of commitment. We must always be willing to help others without a condescending attitude. Never belittle someone as they struggle on their learning curve, we’ve all been there.

Call this what you will, “living history”, “reenacting”, “applied archeology”, or’s changing. We need to be at the forefront. It’s possible.