Historical Reenaction: Civil War

Civil War reenactors boys
Figure 1.--This family are civilian Civil War reenactors. Civil War renacting has become one of the fastest growing hobbies in America. This family portrays Northern civilians.

The Civil War was perhaps the great crisis in the American Republic and thus western democratic society. (What would have happened to Britain and Western Europe during World War II, if an independent rascist South had existed in North America?) It is thus no accident that no period is more popular for historical re-enactmernts in America than the Civil War era. It was the most costly war America has ever engaged in, even more costly than World War II--despite the much smaller population. Modern weapons emerged, but the tactics from previous wars resulted in horendous losses. How Europeans view World War I is how Americans viewed the Civil War. Virtually no family in America was left untouched in a war that bitted brother gainst brother. The most popular boys' costume is of course the famed drummer boy who has been so tenderly depicted in books and film. There are also civilian costumes used in these events.

The Civil War

The Civil War was perhaps the great crisis in the American Republic and thus western democratic society. (What would have happened to Britain and Western Europe during World War II, if an independent rascist South had existed in North America?) The War is generally seen as being fought over slavery. The debate over slavery is certainly the major issue driving the South to succeed. Abolition was one of the great outcomes of the War. It was not, however, why most Union soldiers fought--it was to preserve the Union. This was elegantly expressed in President Lincoln's Gettyburg Address--perhaps the greatest speech ever delivered in the English language. It has to be remembered that in 1860 that America was the only republic of any consequence in the world. America was the world's great experiment. And the Civil War was the great testing grounds of the American Republic. One of the great unanswered questions of American history is why so many northerners, many with only minimal education, saw the preservation of the American Republic as a cause worth the sacrifices that they made. The Southern responsw was more understandable. They wrere being invaded. But why were so many northerners willing to volunteer to preserve the Union.


Union and Condeederate veterans in the years following the Civil War and Reconstruction began to gather at encampments. The veterans would wear their uniforms and recall their acts of valor--and wonder why they survived while so many others perished in the struggle. At one such encampment in 1913 held at the Gettysburg battle ground, Confederate veterans renacted Picketts charge. Improbably, hundreds of uniformed octogenerians hobbled accross the field traveled in 1863. This time thrusting canes rather than bayonets. Upon reaching the Uniion lines, they offered hand shankes to theie former foes. It was a moving experience and the idea of renactiin was born. HBC is unsure if similar developments occurred in Europe at the time. Probably not because of the simmering natioanl feelings that were about to erupt in World War I.

Civil War Reenaction

Historical reenaction is a popular summertime activity in America and reportedly one of the fastest growing hobbies in America. The single most popular reenaction events in America are those associated with the Civil War. Men are the primary aficionados, but often the entire family participates. Civil War renacting in recent years has become a remarkable phenomenon. Relatively small numbers of devoted history buffs have pursued battle reenactments for decades. Fueld by Ken Burn's PBS epic The Civil War and books like Tony Hoewitz's 1998 bestseller, Confederates in the Attic. There are an estimated 40,000 reebactors natioinwide and more overseas. There are Civil War renactions held in England, Australia, even Austria and Germany.


The central and most exciting events at Civil War renactments are the battle scenes. There is much more going on, however, than just the battle scenes. There are drills to watch--the mounted calcvary exercizes are particularly interesting. Civlioan renactors put on living histories. There are lectures on the battles and social life of the period. There almost always is a "Sutler's" area where merchantssell period appropriate goods from penny candy for the kids to ball gowns and uniforms for serious reenactors. The climaic highlight is unlimately the battle scene.


Families can easily spend a couple of weeks preparing for a renactment. A great deal of equipment is needed: tents, rugs, beddingm, period costumes, food, games, and more.


Families that particupate in renactment see the experience as enriching, helping to bring th family together. The children learn a great deal about history. They often find that they know more about the Civil War than their teachers. Portraying civilian childten or drummer vboys, they have the opportunity to teach adults what they learned. It helps to build confidence.

Children in the Civil War

Thousands of children were directly involved in the Civil War. Older boys served as soldiers. Many younger boys were also invoved, some boys as young as 11 years old. The younger boys generlly served as drummer or bugle boys. Both the Confederate and Union soldiers tried to look after the younger boys. In major engagements they were often sent to the rear when charges into fortifications were planned. In some cases they had to be forced to the rear crying. Such a scene is portrayed in the movie Glory.

Related Books about the Civil War

There is a wealth of literature on the Civil War. Although not a major topic, quite a few books deal with the experiences of children during the war.

Across Five Aprils

This book was written by Irene Hunt. It is set in Illinois. Story about a boy whose family is split by the Civil War when his brothers enlist on opposite sides. Illinois was a northern state, but there was a great deal of southern sentiment in southern Illinois.

With Every Drop of Blood

This book was written by James Lincoln Collier. While trying to deliver food to Richmond, Virginia, a 14 year old boy is captured by a Black Union soldier.

Bull Run

Paul Fleischman wrote this book about the first major battle of the Civil War.

Turn Homeward, Hanalee

Patricia Beatty wrote this book about a girl and her brother are taken from their home in Georgia to the North by Sherman's Yankee soldiers to work in textile mills. Hanalee tries to return to her mother still in Georgia. This is loosely based on an historical incident. The sequel is Be Ever Hopeful Hanalee.

The Root Cellar

Janet Lunn: Time travel to the Civil War era. An orphaned girl is sent to live with relatives in Ontario, Canada. She finds herself in the Civil War after entering an abandoned root cellar. She makes friends with a servant girl. Together thay travel to wartime Washington, D.C. to find a friend of the servant girl who ran away from home to join the Union army.

Shades of Gray

Carolyn Reeder wrote this book about a 12-year old boy who goes to live with his aunt and uncle in the Virginia countryside. He considers his uncle a traitor because he did not take a role in the war.

Mr. Lincoln's Drummer

G. Clifton Wisler wrote this book about an ll-year old Civil War drummer who becomes the youngest receipent of the Congressional Metal of Honor.

A Dangerous Promise

Joan Lowery Nixon wrote this book about two twelve year olds join the Union army as musicians and see the horrors of war.


Patricia Beatty wrote this book about a teenage boy from Kansas becomes an abolitionist raider freeing slaves in Missouri and then becomes a spy.

Who Comes with Cannons

Patricia Beaty wrote this book about a 12-year old Quaker girl from Indiania stays with relatives who are running a North Carolina station in the Underground railroad.


Careful these will take you away from the HBC Web Site

Drummer Boy of Shiloh

Co.K, 37th VA Inf.


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Created: August 28, 1999
Last updated: 12:22 AM 1/26/2014