Last Updated on February 22, 2023
By Dave G. Houser
Civil war reenactments are exciting.
At one, peering through a cloud of acrid smoke at a wave of musket-firing soldiers and cringing from volley after volley of ear-pounding pyrotechnics, I was beginning to feel like a front-line war reporter.
But thankfully, what I was witnessing wasn’t for real. Instead, the furious action just yards away was part of an amazingly authentic replay of Florida’s largest Civil War battle.
The setting was Olustee Battlefield State Park in the pine barrens of north-central Florida. Several hundred combatants clad in blue and gray uniforms of the Union and Confederacy were replicating an actual encounter fought in February of 1864.
It’s one of the dozens of such Civil war reenactments staged annually across the country and, in fact, in other countries, as well. It brings together thousands of dedicated reenactors who have made a hobby out of their interest in wartime history.
More Than Military in Many Civil War Reenactments
However, it’s not just soldiers you see and meet. In fact, at some reenactments, entire little “villages” grow up around the battlefield. Many people are in period dress, and speak as in the times they’re representing. They give a wonderful historic feel to everything, although usually never ad nauseam.
Battlefield reenactments have a long history around the globe. The Romans staged recreations of famous battles within their amphitheaters as a form of public spectacle. In the Middle Ages, tournaments featuring military displays and mock battles were popular.
The reenactment of American battles began gaining momentum in the late 19th century.
Re-enacting the Civil War began shortly after the actual fighting ended. And within a year of the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana, Gen. George Custer’s U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment survivors recreated the scene of their defeat for the cameras. Moreover, veterans recreated battles to remember their fallen comrades and teach others what the war was all about.
Nearly 60,000 Union and Confederate veterans attended The Great Reunion of 1913, a Civil war reenactment commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The event featured replays of various actions during the famous battle, including Pickett’s Charge.
Civil War reenactments are by far the most popular in the U.S., although there are a variety of other conflicts that are brought back to life in other countries. However, let’s take a look at a variety of the popular reenactments in the U.S.
Battle of Gettysburg,PA – One of the Great Civil War Reenactments
The 154th Gettysburg Battle Anniversary Re-enactment will take place July 2-3, 2022 marking the most significant and longest-tenured of all Civil War reenactments. Furthermore, next year’s event coincides with the days of the battle in 1863 that resulted in 51,000 casualties and foreshadowed the end of the Southern cause.
It is expected to attract 10,000-15,000 redactors and about 50,000 spectators. In addition, the Gettysburg battlefield looks much as it did in July 1863, adding to the realism of this historic replay.
Gettysburg National Military Park
1195 Baltimore Pike
Gettysburg , PA 17325
Tel: (717) 334-1124
Battle of Lexington, Massachusetts – Birth of the Revolution
April 19, 1775, was the fateful day of that famous “shot heard round the world,” and the Battle of Lexington is relived every year on Patriots’ Day – on the very ground where the first skirmish of the Revolutionary War took place.
In any case, nearly everyone knows the story about how one lantern in Boston’s Old North Church meant the British were coming by land, sending Paul Revere on his famous ride from Boston to Lexington.
Members of the Lexington Minute Men Company and His Majesty’s Tenth Regiment of Foot perform the annual reenactment of the battle, in 2023 on April 17. But you’d best ask for an early wake-up call as the event gets underway on Lexington Green at 5:30 am.
Battle of Lexington
Town of Lexington, MA
Battle Green (Lexington Common)
Massachusetts Avenue at Bedford Street
Fort Ticonderoga, New York – the French vs the British
This imposing 18th-century fortress on Lake Champlain in upstate New York was the scene of colonial warfare in North America during most of the 18th century. Incidentally, it’s an interesting reenactment about foreign powers on American soil.
France and Britain repeatedly fought over the strategic outpost that controlled trade routes between the Hudson and St. Lawrence River valleys. The sprawling star-shaped fort also figured importantly during the Revolutionary War, changing hands between British and American forces.
Of course, it’s now a major tourist attraction. In addition, Ticonderoga stages a busy schedule of reenactments and living history events from May to October. The best reenactments include “Montcalm’s Cross: The 1758 Battle of Carillon,” a colorful two-day replay of an epic battle between French and British forces for control of Carillon, later named Ticonderoga.
Battle of Cedar Creek, Va – Another of the Civil War Reenactments
Like Gettysburg, this Civil war reenactment has been staged every year since the actual battle ended. So this year’s event, to be held October 15th and 16th, will again commemorate the largest Civil War battle in the Shenandoah Valley. It will be held on the original 1864 battleground just outside Middletown, Virginia.
The Battle of Cedar Creek was significant, with the Federal Army of the Shenandoah under Major Gen. Philip Sheridan finally driving the war-weary Confederate forces of Lieutenant General Jubal Early from their stronghold in the Shenandoah Valley.
In addition to witnessing simulated battles, spectators can explore recreated camps on both sides, attend living history demonstrations, enjoy period music sessions, and shop for arts and crafts.
Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park
7712 Main Street
Middletown, VA 22645
Battle of Olustee, A Civil War Reenactment in Florida
This three-day Civil war reenactment, next scheduled for February 17-19, 2023, has been capably organized since 1977 by the Florida Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, a local citizens’ support organization, and hundreds of dedicated reenactors.
The Battle of Olustee remembered here took place on February 20, 1864, when Union and Confederate armies – together numbering about 10,000 cavalry, infantry, and artillery troops – clashed near the small railroad town of Olustee, 15 miles east of Lake City. When the smoke cleared, the Union army had been dealt a stinging defeat.
Educational demonstrations complement realistic battlefield action, and there are period music concerts, a night-time artillery firing, and an old-fashioned barn dance staged beneath a vast tent.
Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
5815 Battlefield Trail Road
Olustee, FL 32087
@ [email protected]
Battle of the Little Bighorn, Montana
This battle, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, is easily one of the most famous conflicts in American history. It pitted Custer and more than 600 of his 7th Cavalry troopers against 2,500 mounted warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes.
Consequently, the two-day battle along the banks of Montana’s Little Bighorn River on June 25-26, 1876, resulted in a crushing defeat of the 7th Cavalry. Custer and 268 of his soldiers perished in the encounter.
Reenactments of the famous battle are organized and staged by the Real Bird family, prominent members of the local Crow Tribe (the Crow served as scouts for Custer).
The event brings together more than a hundred volunteers who showcase both sides’ bravery and tremendous riding skills during a realistic and exciting portrayal of the Wild West. This year’s reenactment will take place June 24-26.