Shadows of History - A look at re-enacting the American
Civil War - By Neil K. MacMillan
have seen me. Im the guy with two days growth of beard
and the blue uniform. Wire rimmed glasses frame my blue eyes
and youre as apt to see a guitar in my hands, as you
are the rifled musket I carry into battle. A dark blue kepi
covers blond hair that is getting ever whiter. Im a
candle ender, a writer a poet and husband. And I am a Civil
got into the growing hobby because I wanted to write about
the American Civil War and felt I needed to understand what
the soldiers went through. Re-enactors will tell you that
people participate for a myriad of reasons. Like any other
hobby, re-enactors are first and foremost, individuals. For
American re-enactors, the pull of our nations history
and in some cases the fact that a re-enactors ancestor
may have fought in the Civil War, are strong pulls.
re-enactors the pull can be equally strong. During the Civil
War, fifty thousand Canadians and fifteen thousand British
subjects (Other than Canadians and Irish immigrants) fought
in the war. The Union army was estimated at one point to be
forty percent manned by foreign-born people. The armys
XI Corps was predominately German born. There were several
thousand Irish soldiers in both Armies and even a handful
of Chinese soldiers.
join the ranks of re-enactors because they find it fun. In
addition to the usually seen Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry,
people also portray engineers, doctors, chaplains, civilians,
politicians and even undertakers.
United States there are several large re-enacting groups including
The United States Volunteers (USV), a National Regiment portraying
the Union, and the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), portraying
are several societies in the United Kingdom that re-enact
the American Civil War as well. Five years ago when I participated
in the 135th anniversary re-enactment of the battle of Gettysburg,
seven British subjects, four French citizens, eight Germans
and three Russian re-enactors joined our regiment.
writer and poet, the re-enactment hobby gives me a better
feel, not only for the history, but also for the people who
fought in the Civil war. I have written two poems about the
Civil War, a short story and several articles.
is a re-enactment like? Follow me into the time machine.
a sunny day and maybe just a trifle warm. The sky is almost
a powder blue and the birds are serenading you. Its
a good day for a stroll or just lounging with a glass of lemonade.
them first. The thunderous bellowing of a sergeant echoes
through the trees. His words are harsh and uncompromising
and the lilt of his Irish brogue mitigates nothing. The steady
tread of the steel heel plates on their brogans reminds you
of horseshoes. Tin cups rattle against their sheathed bayonets.
them now. They are clad in heavy blue uniforms. The brass
buckles that they proudly sport glitter in the early afternoon
sunlight. Their faces are grimly determined and their ranks
are ruler straight. Carrying ponderous looking muskets, they
march in measured, precise steps. There is very little banter
in the ranks.
officer calls out, To the right, by file, into line!.
Columns of four men become a battle line. The soldiers automatically
align their ranks. The commander orders them to load in a
brisk, confident voice. As they charge their weapons, the
first sergeant admonishes them to hurry. They are brought
to the ready facing a similar number of gray clad enemies.
The command to fire is given and the Union soldiers' ranks
erupt in a thunderous crescendo. A thick cloud of white smoke
lingers as they re-load.
bring their weapons to shoulder arms and start forward at
the double quick in time with the drum cadence. A wounded
cavalry trooper yells, Give em Hell, Regulars!
A Confederate volley opens gaps in the line that are quickly
closed by the men left standing. The blue line halts and the
command Fire by file! is given. Firing in pairs,
the Union line sounds like a rolling thunderclap. The units
Irish first sergeant roars, Quickly, Spalpeens! Keep
your fire up".
in amazement, musing that something has to give under the
intense fire. Amid the yells of the wounded and the gunfire
you watch boys with powder stained faces fight and die. Nurses
and medical orderlies dash out to help the wounded to safety.
A hush falls over the field and a bugler plays Taps.
as it started, the fighting ends. The dead and wounded rise
and shake hands with their enemies, complimenting
them on a well-fought engagement. There is lighthearted banter
about who took the best hits.
march back to their camp with just a touch of swagger, belting
out The Battle Cry of Freedom. As they fall out
of ranks, their equipment almost flies off of them.
sergeant pours a cup of coffee and asks if anyone else would
like a cup. The Irish brogue is gone now, replaced by the
Syracuse accent he was born with, laced with just a trace
of Dixie. Their job done for the day, if they are on the duty
roster, they help the ladies prepare dinner, and if not, they
start cleaning their muskets.
fight again in the morning. Will you join them?
written by :Neil K. MacMillan
by: Melyssa Sprott and Jeff Humphrey