The Good and the Bad of the 125th Anniversary Events
By Jonah Begone
Written in Spring 1990
Well, I think we can say we've just about seen it all during these last four years! Some of it was good, some of it was bad. Here's my estimation of which was what. I'll start with the worst and finish up with the best, to put an end to all those nasty and untrue rumors about my jaded attitude.
The Wilderness. Disappointing in just about every way. In Friday's battle we got a small patch of woods that was jammed with about five reenactors per square foot instead of a Wilderness, and the usual rout in Saturday's "Fight for the Crossroads" (where were the crossroads?). Sunday we finished the Mule Shoe scenario in a ditch far away from the Rebel entrenchments that the Federals historically captured. For me that whole weekend was epitomized by the sight recounted at the end of Paul Rogers' "Southern Revenge": a pig's head mounted on a mailbox with a Confederate battle flag flying overhead.
Saturday's defense of
the redoubt at
Sunday's battle of
Remembrance Day at
The heat at First Bull Run: Thinking about it, I'm sure it was hotter and more humid for more days at this event than at any other! (Record numbers of paramedics bear this out, I think.) It reduced an extremely promising event to an experience of just languishing in the heat, waiting for a battle that at once was over too soon and not over soon enough. (Review of the event here.)
The "Flag Film" and "Stonewall's Valley" at New Market: I wasn't disappointed ‑ they were actually worse than I remember!
The canceled "Pass
in Review" at
The artillery duel prior
to Pickett's Charge at
Sunday's battalion drill
The traditional artillery battle at Cedar Mountain: it was bad enough that we almost watched the whole thing from the field with the ground charges, but our poor view of the demonstration from that Cornfield from Hell turned it into one of those "Let's Hurry Up And Get This Over With!" experiences.
24 hour picket duty at Gettysburg: I had the 2 to 3:30 AM shift, and instead of going to bed without having been properly relieved I'm now sorry I didn't just refuse to do the thing altogether! Let's face it: details of eight guys walking picket all night for the stated purpose of keeping the Unorganized Others camp away from ours was just plain dumb. Also, I have no interest in knowing "what it must have been like" (losing sleep, that is) and likewise have no desire to fall asleep at the wheel on the drive home for lack of sleep. A real loser of an idea from the National Regiment or the event sponsor (I suppose they'll blame each other).
Antietam. In my opinion, the best of the 125th events
The Saturday drill that turned into a tactical at South Mountain: What a great way to end a drill session: both sides forming up for an impromptu tactical where we got to rout the Confederates from wherever they made a stand ‑ unplanned and very fun!
Pickett's Charge at
Saturday's early morning battle at Cedar Mountain. The only time I've ever seen "fog of war." Maneuvering in the smoke was a unique experience; at one point our company actually managed to out‑flank the enemy, even though all we could see were the rifle flashes in our front. I haven't done a battle that looked so other‑worldly and weird before or since! (Unfortunately, we could have got into the cars and left after that because the rest of the event was hot, tiresome and generally boring.)
The Federal Rallies on the First and Second days at Gettysburg. Hundreds and hundreds of authentically‑uniformed Federals, all cheering and shouting ‑ this was the most thrilling experience of the 125th anniversary years. We were so pumped up that if the battle had taken place immediately after, we'd have swept every last Confederate off the field, despite their numbers!
Reenactors at Second
The Video Visions tape
Our fight for the colors
Camp life at New Market: with pleasant surroundings, lots of sutlers, cool weather, short, non‑exhaustive drill sessions, diverting colors formations and an endless amount of time in which to fool around, this event was just plain fun. What a "laid-back event" should be.
The Saturday tactical in
the woods at 2nd
The Sunday reenactment of the battle of Monocacy: this one was great! Despite the fact that we were within sight of umpteen‑thousand spectators I was able to visually tune them out and focus on our immediate area, which looked like a real battlefield. There were moments that seemed very genuine, and with the frenzy and confusion of the battle and of hasty firing not only was the barrel of my rifle untouchably hot, but so were the bands! Our company also took a lot of hits; when we got back we had about 30% missing ‑ surely authentic. Collin MacDonald remarked to us "You guys must have had fun - you look terrible!" He was right.
The Photo-Op at
The Friday evening snow at Sayler's Creek: In hindsight, I liked it. Besides giving the few of us that toughed it out by sleeping in the tents bragging rights, the resultant snowball fight was ridiculously entertaining (which when you think about it, occasionally sums up reenacting in general)!
POSTSCRIPT BY JONAH BEGONE (written for a 1990 reenacting unit newsletter I edited)
quasquicentennial (has anyone learned to pronounce it?) is finally over.
Thank Goodness! Hopefully, if we honor the paroles we were given as passes for
Like I suspect many of you are, I am thoroughly sick of the commercial, circus‑like ambiance of many of the "mega‑events" we've attended, and am looking forward to smaller, more sane battles, tacticals and reenactments. Without all the spectators and the necessary commercial spectator support structure, thank you. In fact, my initial response to the NTI questionnaire question "In what direction do you think Civil War reenacting should go?" was "Away!" My answer now is "Down a smaller and less commercial path."
our brave new world of post‑125th anniversary Civil War reenacting, my
preference is to see only an occasional big event ‑ Sayler's Creek or
Because the lesson of the 125th anniversary is that bigger isn't always better.
Often, as at the Wilderness and
past paramedics, groups of reenactors encircling water buffalos and a complete
lack of cohesion at the conclusion of the Henry House scenario at
However, there is an allure about numbers; the feeling that somehow we were a part of something bigger. But lest we overstate the 125th anniversary brouhaha, it is fitting to keep a sense of propriety and proportion. Real Civil War troops were conscious of the fact that they were taking part in history - real history or events, not the sham "events" we attended. The basic con during the quasquicentennial years is that many reenactors think they were involved in making history, too. With all the publicity about "once-in-a-lifetime events," the reenactment sponsors certainly helped foster this idea.
about it: more people attend the annual VW show in
I'm not saying we didn't accomplish something in the 125th anniversary years. If anything, we've managed to redefine recreation to include running around out in the hot sun shooting at one another without benefit of paint pellets! (Come to think of it, though, the paint pellets aren't a bad idea ‑ at least it would provide us with an answer to the quasquicentennial publics question, "How do you know when you've been shot?") But at the end of these four years of commercialism, good intentions, innovation and effort, reenacting is still more of a minor recreational phenomenon than a cultural one.
goodbye quasquicentennial. What started at the site of a Northern Virginia
business campus five miles from
a final, disquieting thought for you, first vocalized by one of our pards: the 130th
anniversary of the battle of