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Public debate doesn't enter local re-enactment event

Those who participate in such events use up vacation days and money to purchase exact copies of uniforms, weapons, dresses, undergarments, footwear, tents, blankets, cookware, furniture and other needed items.

Scott Daniels

The Historic Zoar Civil War weekend, held the second weekend in September this year, is a biannual event attracting thousands of re-enactors, civilian presenters, area students and spectators wanting a peek into life in the 1860s.
This year the weekend saw the restaging of the Battle of Antietam, one of the bloodiest of the war. Cannon and musket fire were to be heard drifting over the sleepy historic village Saturday and Sunday with special presentations for students on Friday.
Those who participate in such events around the country every summer are quite passionate about their hobby, using up precious vacation days and available extra money to purchase exact copies of uniforms, weapons, dresses, undergarments, footwear, tents, blankets, cookware, furniture and other needed items.
The cost of re-enacting can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars. In Zoar, camps were created in different parts of the village for northern and southern soldiers. Saturday night saw a ball under a large tent, where reels and jigs were heard and danced much like they would have in the 19th century.
Yet more than 150 years after the close of the American Civil War, the public has re-engaged in a debate that began almost as soon as the cannon went silent: how to honor those who fought on both sides while keeping a wide ideological distance from the causes of southern secession, the belief that states’ rights were greater than the reach of the federal government and that individual states had the right to permit the owning of slaves as property.
The debate began anew this year with violent outbreaks in Charlottesville, Virginia, and other places in the country regarding Confederate statues and the flying of the battle flag. White supremacist groups, waving the Confederate battle flag, were met by counter protesters with many injuries and loss of life.
The protests and angry mobs have at least some potential to reach into the re-enactment community. To learn whether recent events have changed the hobby in any way, we spoke with several participants in the Civil War weekend at Zoar who agreed to be interviewed on a first-name-only basis.
“It hasn’t really changed in any practical way that I can see,” said Valerie, who has been re-enacting as a civilian for nearly a decade, this time on the Union side. “But we’ve been very much aware of the possibility of trouble this weekend. It’s hard to understand why people can’t just leave others alone to do their thing.”
“We see fewer and fewer young people,” Rosemary said in the same tent. “It’s just difficult to get younger people interested in history and participating. The protests won’t help that.”
Anthony, dressed in full Union uniform, tiny spectacles and polishing a bayonet, said, “The confederate battle flag gets all the attention, understandably due to its association with the KKK, but there were also the Stars and Bars and the Bonnie Blue Flag, which also represent the Confederacy.”
Anthony said that this year in Zoar, men participating in uniforms for both north and south were tasked with keeping an eye out for protesters so the rest of the encampments could be alerted.
“It’s a just-in-case measure,” he said. “We just didn’t want everyone to be taken by surprise if there was trouble.”
He also spoke of the presence of county sheriff deputes on horseback keeping an eye on the event.
All three noted the relatively small size of the Zoar encampment, compared to those in Gettysburg for example. “This one may just be too small to bother with for those who’d want to make a stink,” Valerie said.
In the Confederate encampment, often noted for its less-formal atmosphere, Brian, camped for the weekend with his family, said they participate to see friends and enjoy the family time.
“I think that’s true of most people here,” he said. “You can read about the war in books. You can get a professor’s take on the war, but you can’t appreciate what these men and women went through on both sides until you’ve done it yourself. At that time many of the men in the field didn’t necessarily hold the opinions of the leadership regarding the causes of the war. Many were drafted and just serving their country. I doubt you’d find anyone here, really, who re-enacts as a Confederate because they still believe in the southern cause. We’re simply here to have a good time with friends who share our interest in history.”
Tammi Mackey-Shrum, site director for Zoar-Ft. Laurens, said the weekend went off without any difficulty. “It was really a great event, and we plan to host the re-enactment again in 2019.”

Published: September 13, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170919996