Unless it’s a celebration of a major monument such as the Statue of Liberty, most national or state anniversaries aren’t of interest to anyone but historical authors and social studies teachers.
But there are exceptions, such as reenactments of historical events, especially about the U.S. Civil war, the massive conflict that engulfed the nation and sometimes pitted brother against brother. The U.S. is brimming over with reenactments of the Civil War, and they’re not of interest only to history buffs. It’s theater, and you have the opportunity to have a front-row seat.
More than 30 states have sites related to the Civil War and many reenactments have already begun. More will be taking place throughout the rest of the year, mainly in the eastern half of the country. California is the only state that hosts reenactments in the West since it’s the only state where Union troops were stationed during the conflict.
Not all reenactment sites recreate battles and skirmishes. Still, though, it’s fascinating to walk through the encampments and speak with the various participants. Their uniforms and weapons have all been meticulously researched for authenticity and since the actors often remain in character as they interact with you, you’ll sometimes feel you’re having a conversation with someone 150 years ago.
I recently visited two reenactments at opposite ends of the country. One was at Ft. Moultrie National Monument on Sullivan’s Island outside Charleston, SC, the other at Roaring Camp Railroad, the site of an old mining camp deep in the woods in Fenton, CA, about a 1½ hour ride south of San Francisco. I’m not a history buff and was unaware of these reenactments until I stumbled upon them, but both were exceptional experiences. Click here to view a short video of the two.
The Ft. Moultrie encampment was at a coastal battery on Charleston Harbor that helped protect Charleston during the Civil War. The modern-day Confederates there, both the soldiers and women and children dressed in period costumes, really made one feel as though you had been transported back to the South of the Civil War era. I was even challenged by the sentry as I entered the fort (although I felt he could have done it with a bit more gusto). We had the opportunity to wander around the underground fort and the battery above, speaking with the participants about their reenactment hobby, which has a lot more devotees than I had even imagined.
Set deep in the woods near Santa Cruz, Roaring Camp is a totally different venue. For many visitors to the area it’s famous for it’s old steam railroad train that brings you up a mountain through beautiful redwoods groves. A second railroad (both depart from a recreated western town) brings you down the San Lorenzo River to the beaches of Santa Cruz.
Roaring Camp was the more interesting of the two events since in addition to the encampment it also included an actual battle, complete with infantry skirmishes and canon fire.
At Ft. Moultrie we met only Confederate troops since the Union had never encamped there, but the larger area at Roaring Camp allowed for both Confederate and Union encampments at different ends of the battlefield. There we met a number of interesting people there, including a Union bugler who’s a jazz trumpeter in real life, and an actor who has an uncannily resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. He plays Lincoln at reenactments and other events around the country and, in fact, found that his family is a distantly related to the former president.
You can find information on the War and these reenactments at The Civil War Discovery Trail and Civil War Trails, although the latter is relative only to the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee and North Carolina. The best, though, is The Civil War Trust, a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of endangered Civil War battlefields, and provides a more in-depth look at the commemorations of the Sesquicentennial.