Civil War Reenactment is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the United States, and with good reason. Not only does it reinforce our sense of pride in our heritage, but it’s something in which the entire family can participate. It’s educational and, finally, it’s a great way to escape the worries of today and “pretend” in the great outdoors.
Beginners should start by attending Civil War Reenactments and observing what goes on. Get a feel for the atmosphere and conditions of a living history event before you rush to buy vintage style military uniforms & equipment. Once you’re sure that the discomfort (sleeping on cots or bedrolls, wearing uncomfortable clothes, and generally avoiding anything “farby”) is worth it, then find a unit to join.
“Farby” is a Civil War Reenactment term for anything not typical of the period. A plastic mug would be farby as would a polyester uniform since they didn’t have polyester in 1861. Wearing historically accurate clothing is essential to your “impression” and attention to details is important, i.e. Civil War soldiers or civilians didn’t have digital watches or plastic frame eyeglasses.
There is no age requirement for being a Civil War reenactor, but, of course, minors will need to have their parents’ approval and support.
For a great description of women’s clothing and textiles during the Civil War, read this Civil War Fashion piece by Kathy Dhalle on the Bits of Blue & Gray website.
Following are some useful terms to acquaint you with Civil War Reenacting. Used by permission of Kathleen Smith.
Civilian – A person, male or female, who reenacts any non-military impression during Reenactments.
C.S. or C.S.A. – Confederate States or Confederate States Army.
First-person – When a reenactor speaks to fellow reenactors and the public as a person during the 1860s. They will take on the “persona” of one who is living through the period and will not speak in modern language. They will speak as though the War Between the States is current.
Impression – Many reenactors will choose an “impression” during a reenactment. Military reenactors will choose infantry, artillery, cavalry or medical (and a few others such as engineers or sharpshooters) and many will choose a civilian impression. While doing their “impression” many will do a “first-person” impression.
Muster – A gathering, especially of troops, for service, inspection, review or roll call.
Reenactor – A person, male or female, dedicated to recreating the War Between the States or Civil War. Most will sleep/camp at the reenactment event.
Threadcounter –A reenactor who insists on a historically accurate impression, down to fabric and buttonholes having the same threadcount typical of the time. The derogatory term for this same person is “stitch nazi.”
Sutlers – Merchants who followed troops during the Civil War. Also, merchants who set up during reenactments and sell period-style goods to reenactors and the public.
Units – Groups of Civil War reenactors who participate as an actual unit that fought during the War, i.e., the 7th Texas Infantry, the 69th New York or the 19th Alabama.