Let the Games Begin! Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War

GeekMom Travel
My dear husband and me at the 135th anniversary Battle of Antietam Reenactment, September 1997. Can you spot the one anachronism in the photo? We joined about 35,000 fellow reenactors in the largest ever American Civil War reenactment to date.

On April 12, 1861, 150 years ago this week, the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, as the state militia attempted to take the fort from Federal troops.  While this “battle” itself didn’t result in any casualties — only two accidental deaths due to a Confederate cannon misfire and Union a 100-gun salute, the 2-day incident was the green flag for 4 years of intense fighting and strife that reshaped our nation.

My husband and I are Civil War reenactors.  Perhaps I’m more accurate if I said “My husband and I WERE Civil War reenactors,” but I’m not ready to give it all up yet.  Let’s just say we’ve taken an 8 1/2 year hiatus since we’ve had our two sons.  I enjoy sewing the costumes, and we both really enjoyed a unique way to enjoy a weekend of camping and camaraderie with fellow American history fans.  I don’t know how many times the guys would be sitting around the campfire after a day of “battle”, passing around a flask of moonshine, discussing not sport scores or the federal budget, but rather whose historians’ interpretations of the battle diagrams of the skirmishes between Atlanta and Savannah are most accurate.

But with the war’s 150th anniversary coming up, and my husband being stationed east of the Mississippi River these next 2 years (if not longer!), there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to get back into the hobby, and we’re excited about the prospect.  We’ve been hauling around about 200 lbs. of uniforms, hoop skirts, tents, leather goods, and a replica Springfield Model 1861 musket from home to home all these years.

We’re even more excited about introducing our kids to the wonderful world of Civil War reenacting!  I have sewing patterns at the ready to make some handsome circa 1860s costumes for my boys.

I won’t go into Civil War history here, but I would like to bring to your attention some of the commemorative reenactment events on the calendar over the next four years.  The first significant combat action, the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run*, will be reenacted July 23-24, 2011 in Prince William County, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.). Word on the street is that the current economic and political climate is contributing to a lower-key approach to the observances, with lectures and walking tours leading the list of commemorative activities, more so than the all-out reenactments.

*Many of these battles are known by two separate names.  The Union Army leans towards geographical features for names, such as Bull Run, the creek that ran through the battlefield.  The Confederates used the names of nearby towns and cities, such as Manassas.  You’ll see other examples of this with Antietam Creek v. Sharpsburg (Maryland), Pittsburg Hills v. Shiloh (Tennessee), and Sabine Crossroads v. Mansfield (Louisiana).

I don’t think the First Battle of Manassas will be on our summer travel itinerary this year, but we are looking at other 150th anniversary events during our two years on the Florida Panhandle that might fit our travel schedules.  Shiloh is definitely a finalist (late March 2012)!  It’s easy to do web searches for smaller reenactments near you.  Websites such as the Camp Chase Gazette and Civil War Traveler have extensive information on reenactments, and the Civil War Traveler webpage even has special designators on the 150th anniversary events.  Here are some other key reenactments that will probably do something special for their 150th anniversaries:

Events are also being planned for western and even the Pacific theaters and the calendar links above can tell you more about that.

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9 thoughts on “Let the Games Begin! Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War

  1. Can’t wait for it all to begin! My 16 year old son and I will be heading to Manassas in July to partake in the 150th. It is my son’s first National event and I don’t know whos more excited about it me or him.
    My wife and I took some time off too when the kids came along, now that they are older we are getting back into the hobby as a family. It’s a great and educational family activity.

  2. How exciting that your son is 16 now and can “fully” participate. I’m about to head out to the shed and find that young boys’ costume pattern I bought 7 years ago, but never used yet!

    Shiloh, here we come!

    1. I’ll need to scan in more picture from our earlier reenacting days in the late 1990s. We were stationed in Western Louisiana and had the honor and pleasure of reenacting about 1/2 dozen battles in the Red River Campaign, a rarely discussed part of the Civil War.

      I remember fellow reenactors going to the April 1997 Shiloh reenactment, which was very rainy all weekend. The red clay soil from Shiloh stained uniforms and tents and for the next 5 years you could tell who was at the 135th Shiloh reenactment.

  3. I think the re-enacting is very interesting, but I’m concerned about the use of “celebrating.” “Celebrating” implies a happy occasion, and no war should be celebrated. How about “commemorated” instead?

    1. Kay you have a good point, in fact, it had crossed my mind to put “celebrating” in quotes, but then that thought exited my mind before I acted on it.

      The word percolating through the media today about yesterday’s reenactment of the first shots at Fort Sumter is “somber”: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_civil_war150th

      I will take your advice and change that title…thank you.

    2. To Kay,
      “Celebrating” does imply a happy occasion. How many times have you seen somebody’s life “celebrated”…. at their funeral? Likewise, war spawns death, so the use of the word “celebrating” is fine and appropriate in this case. Everybody knows where you were trying to go with this, but FYI it just makes you look like a nit-picking complainer.

  4. Ok, you got me on the picture. Is there a tackle box in the tent? I don’t see anything out of place.

    What a great way to teach your kids about history too! I have wanted to do a tour of Civil War battlefields for a long time.

    1. Yep — that’s what’s out of place. Good eyes! That blue plastic box. The tent behind me on the right is our tent, and we had so many anachronisms in there we kept it closed!

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