American Civil War reenactment is an effort to recreate the appearance of a particular battle or other event associated with the American Civil War by hobbyists known (in the United States) as Civil War reenactors, Civil War recreationists, or living historians.
Reenacting the American Civil War began even before the real fighting had ended. Civil War veterans recreated battles as a way to remember their fallen comrades and to teach others what the war was all about. The Great Reunion of 1913, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, was attended by more than 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans, and included reenactments of elements of the battle, including Pickett’s Charge. Modern reenacting is thought to have begun during the 1961–1965 Civil War Centennial commemorations. Reenacting grew in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s, due in large part to the success of the 125th Anniversary reenactment near the original Manassas battlefield, which was attended by more than 6,000 reenactors. That year, Time magazine estimated there were more than 50,000 reenactors in the U.S.
In 1998, the 135th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg took place near the original battlefield. There have been several estimates on the number of participants, but it is widely agreed that it was the largest re-enactment ever held anywhere in the world, with between 30,000 and 41,000 re-enactors participating. This event was watched by about 50,000 spectators.
American Civil War reenactments have drawn a fairly sizable following of enthusiastic participants, young and old, willing to brave the elements and expend money and resources in their efforts to duplicate the events down to the smallest recorded detail. Participants may even attend classes put on by event sponsors where they learn how to dress, cook, eat, and even “die” just as real Civil War soldiers would have. Most reenactments have anywhere from 100 to 1,000 participants, portraying either Union or Confederate infantry, artillery, or cavalry forces. Some people, though uncommon, may portray Engineers or Marines. The 135th anniversary Gettysburg reenactment (1998) is generally believed to be the most-attended reenactment, with attendance estimates ranging from 15,000 to over 20,000 reenactors.
Reasons given for participating in such activities vary. Some participants are interested in getting a historical perspective on the turbulent times that gripped the nation, particularly if they can trace their ancestry back to those who fought in the war. In some cases, if there are not enough reenactors present on one side, reenactors from the other side are asked to change sides, or “galvanize”, for the day/event.
Although many periods are reenacted around the world, Civil War reenactment is, by far, the most popular in the US. In 2000, the number of Civil War reenactors was estimated at 50,000, though the number of participants declined sharply through the ensuing decade, to around 30,000 in 2011. Possible reasons for the decline include the cost of participating and the variety of other entertainment options.
Although women and children commonly participate in reenactments as civilians (portraying, for example, members of a soldiers’ aid society), some women also take part in military portrayals.
Moore’s Primitives has a number of Civil War era costume patterns available and if we don’t have what you’re looking for, let us know and we will see if we can find it.