Civil War Reenacting - The Next Generation
by Mal Stylo
Many of us have noted (with varying reactions) the evolution of Civil War reenacting from a male-dominated, glorification-of- war hobby (thinly disguised as "honoring our forebears who fought and suffered," etc.) into a family-oriented, spectator sport. This is normal and good.
Nothing better illustrates this trend than the parallels between Star Fleet (in TV's "Star Trek") as it was in the BAD Capt. James T. Kirk era, and as it now is in the GOOD Capt. Jean-Luc Picard era. In Capt. Kirk's day, Star Fleet personnel zoomed around the universe in battle cruisers with enough firepower to pulverize a planet in one photon torpedo blast. The word "surrender" wasn't in the computer's dictionary and there was no problem that couldn't be solved by "Cross-circuiting to B." While the crew admittedly was co-ed (5 years is a long time for a mission, after all), the main functions of the women were to serve coffee during intergalactic battles, look pretty and be rescued (there were darn few ugly women in that crew and they were usually killed off quickly).
One-hundred or so years later, things had changed dramatically. Star Fleet was no longer a "military" organization. A nursery on what was now a "ship of peace" had replaced the old battle cruiser's Combat Information Center, and policy was dictated by machines, female bartenders and doctors. There was no problem that couldn't be solved by detaching the saucer section (the nursery and family quarters) and then surrendering the rest of the ship (the worthless engines and weaponry).
The evolution of Civil War reenacting is an exact parallel. The old Civil War reenacting hobby, symbolized by Rouserville, PA 1985 (a period of great savagery when MEN wore blue costumes and carried guns and wore military accoutrements), was bad. In today's more civilized version, battles are limited and the "soldiers" are outnumbered by the camp followers and civilians. Main activities now are dances, concerts, fashion shows and shopping on "sutler's row." Children are in abundance and many wear uniforms. This is great! However, the process is not yet complete. Here's what still needs to be done:
1) Get a unit "counselor." HER vaguely military uniform has to be low cut and she has to be a fox (20 to 30 years old). Her function is to tell the unit military commander, just as the Confederates have the unit surrounded and are closing in for the kill, "Captain, I sense hostility and a lack of intelligence. I also smell stale, cheap beer."
2) If someone tries to organize a drill, disdainfully inform him that military tactical practice is a waste of time for an "educational" group and counter-suggest a seminar on Victorian sanitary practices or mourning customs. Or better yet, propose a spelling bee; the lessons learned here will be useful the next time a bunch of reenactors want to put up another tacky, misspelled monument like the one at Sayler's Creek.
3) The unit captain must be gruff. He must pretend to be uncomfortable around children but really be fond of them (although not as fond as one former reenactor now doing 270-plus years in the Maryland Penitentiary for child molestation). He must appoint a 10-year old boy (or girl) an "acting second lieutenant" and let the kid lead the unit in one of the rare battles it may accidentally become involved in. In recognition of his or her stellar leadership, the kid should be awarded an appointment to one of the growing number of Officer and NCO "schools" sponsored by some of the umbrella organizations (such as the National Regiment).
4) Sensitivity training for all unit members is a must. The feelings of various alien life forms (cavalry, mounted or dismounted, embalmers, zouaves, fundamentalist religious organizations, ethnic regiments created expressly for a movie, etc.) need to be protected. All are part of the rich cultural diversity that comprises the American Civil War and must be guaranteed their place, free from the unfeeling barbs of the generic line infantryman.
Implement these helpful ideas and we'll keep evolving the hobby and boldly go to reenacting heights where no man, er, no one has gone before!