The Civil War Connections Blog

Reenactors’ Memory

Howdy folks, and welcome back to the Connections blog! I have a special treat in store for you… a two part posting on Civil War reenacting and how it deals with Civil War memory! This past Monday, the nation remembered the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Battle of Sharpsburg in the south.) This single-day battle, between Confederate General Lee and Union General McClellan, was the bloodiest day in the entire Civil War: out of the roughly 80,000 men involved, over 23,000 casualties were sustained. Over this past weekend, reenactors from all over the United States converged on a sizeable farm near Sharpsburg, Maryland for the 150th reenactment of the Battle of Antietam. Yours truly was among them.

Me, after the Saturday morning battle of Dunker Church. Long, long lines of Union troops are marching back to camp behind me.


This “battle,” fought between Friday and Sunday, featured four separate engagements based on key points in the real battle. Friday afternoon’s skirmish portrayed the fighting in the Cornfield, Saturday morning’s engagement portrayed the fighting near Dunker Church, Saturday afternoon portrayed the Bloody Lane, and Sunday afternoon portrayed Burnside’s Bridge and the subsequent arrival of Confederate General A.P. Hill’s corps. The unit I belong to is the 17th Virginia, who historically fought at Burnside’s Bridge and got wiped out. This time, our unit portrayed part of A.P. Hill’s Corps, so instead of dying in piles at the bridge we got to charge the Union flank and drive them across the battlefield.

As opposed to the Bloody Lane engagement on Saturday, where we all died in piles at that fence back there and got driven from the field by the Union. Click for a much better view!


For a generic spectator this event may seem like merely a small-scale replication of the real battle.  For the reenactors, however, this event is something more: something special. The effects of the conflict are still keenly felt, especially in the south – to quote NPR, almost no other nation was as completely and utterly defeated as the Confederacy was. The memories of the war and the suffering it caused occasionally manifest themselves in a few hard feelings between the reenacting sides, especially during a reenactment as monumental and momentous as Antietam. In addition, many reenactors can trace back ancestors who fought in the Civil War, and for them the event can assume a deeply personal meaning. They honor the memory of their forefathers who fought and died for their countries by walking in their footsteps, even if just for a few days at a time. No matter which side you’re on, the ground beneath your feet ends up feeling especially hallowed during reenactments like the 150th Antietam.

Dawn on Saturday in the Union and Confederate camp.


The reenactment this past weekend was for me about remembering the hardships and sacrifices endured by the real men who fought there, sharing in the camaraderie with my fellow 17th Virginians, and above all having fun. Men and women of all races and creeds come together for events like these, and we enjoy the simple pleasures of camping, dressing up and burning powder while removing ourselves from the cares and worries of the 21st century. We respect and remember the past, and relive the stories of our ancestors in a safe and family-friendly environment. From my perspective, Civil War reenacting is a wholly positive way to remember the Civil War. Tune in tomorrow for part two of my post!