OFFENDED NO MORE!
By Jeff Hendershott
During my passionate years as a "Defender of American Heritage" (or whatever Jonah Begone calls Civil War reenactors), I was, as were and are most reenactors who still have "the passion," offended by those who were not as enlightened as I was about the Civil War, reenacting and all that goes with keeping our "ancestor’s memory alive." Call it reaching middle-age, burnout, or choosing to laugh at life as opposed to trying to change it, I've found that although my wool-wearing has been reduced to nil (finding that I could no longer juggle a real life and reenacting did this to me), I'm no longer offended at statements such as…
ANYONE CAN BE A CIVIL WAR REENACTOR - Ho ho ho ho! That one used to REALLY piss me off, since it was usually delivered in a condescending fashion by one of those "unenlightened" high-brow Revy War reenactors. A few experiences led me to believe just how true that statement is! First, think about it, one can be armed and outfitted in a matter of minutes at the local event's sutler row. The longer version is ordering via mail the complete outfit. Secondly, I actually checked into Revy War reenacting. Shew! Too much money and work just to get outfitted, that is if you can even FIND an outfit to join within a 200-mile driving distance. No thank you please!
THE CIVIL WAR, AGAIN!!!! A bit of advice to you wanting to get a graduate degree or perhaps a doctorate in history - DON'T MENTION THE CIVIL WAR TO YOUR PROFESSORS! Several of my professors would wrinkle their noses and look at me with disdain when I'd ask to do a writing project about the Civil War. In short, EVERYONE is an aspiring Shelby Foote or Stephen Sears. They were completely sick of hearing about the Civil War from their students. "What's wrong with them?" I wondered during my years as a grad student. Who doesn't like the Civil War? I'll let you provide the answer: do an Internet search on how many books and articles and thesis and dissertations have been done on the Civil War. Point proven.
ARE THOSE UNIFORMS HOT? Why you brain-dead imbeciles! What do you think? Oh man, this one used to really make my Yankee blood burn. That was until I had a conversation (something I tried to avoid with the public) with a spectator once. This confused looking father with a son in tow asked me if it was true that the hotter you get in those uniforms, the more you sweat and the sweat cools you off, as another reenactor informed him. Yea, that's the "party line" as it were in the hobby. I just had to tell him that I believed it was a myth, and no longer frowned upon anyone who would ask me about the temperature of my uniform. Anyone who's been to a really hot event should know whether it's a myth or not.
YUP, I REALLY DID FIGHT IN THE BATTLE OF.......... (Choose a battle) If you've reenacted for any length of time, you've certainly had to have had the "pleasure" of meeting a reenactor who was convinced they are living a second life - hence, why they are reenacting! Since reincarnation goes against my religious beliefs, I'd get pretty angry at even the suggestion of it, especially in MY beloved hobby! Now, I look back and wonder why I got mad! We need these people around to remind us that there are indeed people crazier than the rest of us sweltering in those soaked, but air-cooled, wool uniforms.
BLANK STARES - Again, I hearken back to my days of my missionary zeal of trying to educate the world on history's greatest war. I didn't pay heed to my graduate professors, those anti-Civil War shmucks, who told us "Don't expect everyone to have the passion for history that you do." Now, how could anyone NOT love history, especially the Civil War? "Screw you," I thought, YOU are the unenlightened ones! Oh yeah? Of course, then, I mostly hung around history-lovers and especially Civil War fanatics. In "my world," I was right. The more I left "my world," I reluctantly had to eat my words again. Many blank stares of either pity or boredom or a combination of the two while I tried to convert the "unsaved" was a bit alarming. After having a girlfriend - evidently fed up with my monomania with the Civil War - tell me "Why don't you just leave those dead guys in their graves?" I never looked at the Civil War the same (and I never had the chance to take her out again after that…)
REENACTORS OUGHT TO BE LICENSED - Anyone remember that idea from the early 90's? Yea, some reenactor wrote an article in the Camp Chase Gazette suggesting that reenactors should become "licensed" due to the mish-mash of authenticity standards, or lack thereof. Oh boy, were WE fired up - the reenacting community, that is. Yes, I fired off one of my terse letters to "Camp Gossip" denouncing the guy who suggested this draconian idea. Today? Hey, don't get me wrong, this IS a hobby and no, I don't believe reenactors should have to go through a rigorous "test," but since virtually anyone can become a reenactor, I can certainly see where he was coming from now.
HE'S A SHE! - How cool, I thought, when I met my first "comrades in arms" who were of the opposite sex. Who cares? Look at all the Tubby Bearded Guys running around! What's the difference from 100 yards away? Hey, if someone told my daughter she couldn't reenact as a soldier, I'd take care of them, ad nauseum. I thought all the reenactors against women in the ranks were some kind of control freaks who thought they had some special insight into history, you know, an arrogant bunch, and I'd get offended. When I realized that it had less to do with authenticity and females interested in "seeing how it really was" and more to do with political correctness, I lost my tolerance of women in the ranks, fast!
WE'RE DOING IT JUST LIKE THEY DID (Or, We're the REAL historians) - The more I learned about the Civil War, and the more units I met who's authenticity standards fell somewhere between a costume party and a Three Stooges episode, I no longer got offended when pure historians whose books we read, and National Park personnel, would not gush all over me when I proudly proclaimed "I'm a Civil War reenactor!" As if this earned me some kind of status in the world of academia. As if no one could possibly "really know what it was like" unless they donned a uniform and carried a musket. If ANYTHING should offend us, it should be those reenactors who bark out to the unenlightened public "Hell yeah, we do it just like they did!" while working up an appetite for the nightly weenie-roast.
THE HEATED DEBATES - Ask former Camp Chase Gazette editor Grant MacMeans or former publisher Bill Holschuh. When a new debate or "controversy" ensued, I was always one of the first to lick my pen-tip, grab some paper and write "Dear Editor…" I don't know what the controversies are now, not having paid much attention lately, but boy oh boy, the 90's had their share! I remember a particular incident when a reenacting participant wrote a rather condescending article about his experiences during the filming of the movie "Andersonville," criticizing everything from the fire pits in the stockade to the poor acting. I was really upset and surprised the printed my rebuttal. Looking back, so what? "Andersonville" is still my favorite Civil War movie of all time, regardless of what he and I wrote. It didn't change a thing.
FARBS AND HARDCORES - I submit that most of us have had an opinion on this long, tiresome "debate," and I also submit that most reenactors were much like myself - I adapted my authenticity to the event's "atmosphere." Which is to say, if it were a farb-fest, I tended to slack on my "impression," and if it were a more authenticity-oriented event, I'd buck up and do my best. Given that most of the so-called farbs and hardcores make up such a small percentage of the hobby, why the hell get in such a twist over it? Farbs will always be around so long as there's "fresh fish" first coming in to learn the ropes, and "hardcores" will always be around so long as ego invades the soul of human nature. Those of us in the majority would do well to not make such a fuss, so long as it does not go to the extreme either way.
THE BIGGER, THE BETTER - Civil War reenacting, I suppose to a degree, has always been an "numbers-oriented" hobby. While it's nice to have an ample supply of men to put into a field, like anything, it can be overdone beyond logic. Ask me in 1993 what my favorite events were, and I'd say, "The biggest national event you can find." Just a couple years later, I'd rather mow the yard and wax the car to avoid a "mega" event. I'm not submitting that I am "right," and that mega events "suck." However, to me, stuck in Ohio, if I were going to drive 8-12 hours to the annual "Event of the Century," I'd rather do it with my family and take a leisurely tour of a battlefield as opposed to spending a weekend with thousands of reenactors who'd do nothing but bitch about the weather, the parking, the straw, wood and water and, of course, the lack of organization. Seems like too much effort to simply end up miserable.
Jeff Hendershott is a tubby shaven guy from Ohio who reenacted for 12 years. His shrink says his post-traumatic stress from reenacting is a manifestation of "Hodge Envy."