Friday, November 7, 2008

Thoughts on Civil War Civilian Reenacting

More interactive than a book and more accurate than many movies, reenactments allow visitors to not just glimpse history, but to step back and experience a moment in time.

It's sad, now, knowing that the living history/reenacting season is over - my main solace from 21st century life. Oh yeah, I know that the Christmas Season is within arm's reach, and that makes me glad. But, still, I enjoy my excursions into the life of an 1860's citizen immensely. As I said, it's my solace.
I've had a few reenactors ask me why I do not portray a soldier. In the citizen/civilian realm of the reenacting world, there are very few of us males - most men prefer the military. Personally, I just have no interest in reenacting that part of history. I am not - and never have been - a military person (although I have nothing but respect for soldiers - actual and the reenacting "teachers"). Instead, since I have always loved social history, reenacting gives me the opportunity to pursue my 'fantasy' of living in the past as an ordinary citizen of mid-Victorian society.
You see, at the reenactments I portray a postmaster. I have period correct replica stationary, pen and ink, and a small post office set up for my impression.

During a number of events this year I have encouraged reenactors from multiple units to write letters and bring them to my "post office" where hopeful recipients can stop by to see if they received any mail. What I do is ask folks from many of the different units to write letters to soldiers, friends, and even family. They drop off their letters to my post office to hopefully be retrieved by folks knowing they may have mail (house to house mail delivery was a relatively new concept in the 1860's and was a rare occurrence - America was too rural of a country for home delivery. One went directly to the post office to get their mail). I also encourage the letter writers to use pen and ink. So far, it has been working great! My first time out I had dozens of letters in the slots, waiting to be picked up. By weekend's end, I ended up with only two pieces of mail that no one claimed - I located those people at the next event and told them they should visit my post office. They did and were happy.
At one particular event, my very good friend, Mike Gillett, who portrays a Chaplain with the 21st Michigan, read letters to the soldiers who were "illiterate" - an actual very touching (and historically correct) scenario.

Because of my post master impression, I have become known in the local reenacting scene. In fact, one veteran citizen reenactor told me that I was helping to make it more like an actual community.
I couldn't be happier. It sure beats camp sitting, this "having a 'purpose' while at a reenactment." And now I have an answer when I am asked by visiting patrons what my purpose is for being there, other than wearing period clothing. Now, I can give a short history lesson.
What fun!


john said...

Hey Postmaster
Accusing other people of socialism doesn't work when is running our nation into debt and buying up the banks (national socializing them) Try living in the present. Learn the facts don't waste your time on radicals left or right. Be smart. Hold the high ground. Remember its was those gray (now red) state people who tried to destroy us once before
General Buford

Historical Ken said...

I've tried living in the present - the past is more my time.
To each his own I guess.
I don't believe in socialism - never have and never will.
I don't believe in Bush nor McCain either.
The facts speak for themselves in both major parties.

Thank you for writing Gen. Buford.
Until next time.