Reenacting the American Civil War

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Civil War reenactors now number approximately 400,000 in the United States alone and was named in one recent survey as one of the North America's fastest-growing hobbies. The Southwestern Ontario Civil War Round Table can proudly boast several reenactors among its ranks. On many occasions, these reenactors have added much to our monthly meetings with information about upcoming events, stories about past reenactments and have even attended meetings in uniform.

Reenacting the American Civil War began, in earnest, almost immediately after the real fighting had ended. Civil War veterans began the hobby as a way to remember their fallen comrades and to teach others, who had not seen the fighting, what the war was all about.

Ken Wood, one of several members of the Round Table who is also a reenactor, dressed as a Confederate soldier.

The hobby did not really begin to gain in popularity, however, until the Civil War Centennial in the early 1960s. Back then, the hobby lacked any sort of standardization. Basically anyone who wanted to come out and join in could, regardless of their attention to authenticity. As well, the industry devoted to reproducing the weapons, uniforms and other gear used in reenacting was still in its infancy and thus, most reenactors had little access to the proper clothes and equipment needed to properly portray the soldiers and civilians involved in the American Civil War.

Gary Davis -with an unidentified civilian- dressed in the official uniform of the 49th New York

It wasn't until the 1970s that Civil War reenacting began to standardize its ranks. No longer was the hobby just a collection of enthusiasts parading around in whatever they could find in their attics and closets, armed with old shotguns. Soon, authenticity became the key, right down to the last button. As well, reenacting units began to prop up, not only in the United States but in Canada as well as France, Australia, Germany, and England. Many of these units are based on the actual units who saw action in the Civil War, with many of the reenactors adopting the persona of the men who served in the ranks.

The men and women who choose to become reenactors do so for as wide a variety of reasons as their forefathers marched off to war in the first place. Some are enchanted by the stories they have heard about the war. Others are history buffs who wish to move their experiences beyond the printed page. Still others are simply following in their forefather's footsteps and are simply reenacting their great-grandfather's or great-uncle's experiences in the American Civil War.

The experience of reenacting goes far beyond simply picking up a replica rifle and marching around a battlefield. These modern-day Civil War soldiers drill on a regular basis, research endlessly and are constantly looking to make themselves look and feel more like the men they represent.

116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Company C.

The 116th Pennsylvania joined Federal service on September 1, 1862 and were sent to join Thomas Francis Meagher's Irish Brigade at Harper's Ferry on October 9, 1862. The regiment saw action at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Petersburg.

Today, the 116th Pennsylvania is a reenactment group based out of Ontario that SWOCWRT member Dave Ward is a member of. The group is dedicated to honouring the memory of those men who fought on both sides of the American Civil War, especially the Canadians who volunteered to serve in the Union and Confederate armies. While the Union army is represented by the 116th Pennsylvania, the Confederate impression is the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Company K.

Most of the unit's reenactments take place in Ontario, they have also traveled to Michigan, New York and as far away as Virginia, Tennessee and Pennsylvania to take part in events. Events are held between the months of April and October. Members of this reenacting unit, which includes families, adults and children alike, pursue this hobby because it is fun, but also because it helps to educate others about what the American Civil War was really like.

116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry F.A.Q.

How far do I have to travel?

Our drills are held in the spring in the London area before the season gets into full swing in Ontario. There are plenty of living history festivals and reenactments right here in Ontario each year within a two hour drive from London.

How do I get the proper uniform and equipment?

The Unit can outfit a recruit from head to toe for the first few events. After a recruit has showed an interest in continuing, equipment can be acquired gradually over a year or more. The Unit can provide on a loaner basis of the gear etc. until a new member is fully outfitted.

Where and when are events held?"

Events are held across Ontario between the months of April and October. The Unit tries to attend at least one event per month as a group. In addition, there are at least two events in Michigan and/or New York per year which we attend as a group. Members can attend as many events as they wish once they have their own gear and equipment they will be welcomed at most of the hundreds of events which are held annually throughout Canada and the United States.

What happens at an Event?

Most events are held over the entire weekend. Members can camp in "period" tentage, modern camping units, motel it or attend for one or both days by driving back and forth. Campt set ups are usually on Friday nights. Saturday morning includes military drills, demonstrations and tactical. Normally scripted battles for the public are held in the afternoons. Saturday evening usually inclueds a dance or concert with period music.

How authentic is reenacting?

The 116th Pennsylvania/1st South Carolina stresses the importance of authenticity in our drill and general impression. All uniforms and accessories are copied as best as currently possible from original period material and pictures. The unit is drilled according to Casey's and Hardee's manuals which are two of the original drill manuals used during the Civil War.

Thanks to Dave Ward for providing the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry's pamphlet for the above information. The 116th Pennsylvania is always looking for new members. Anyone interested can e-mail Dave for more information.