Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Spotlight: Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors

Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors
Mark Elson's beautiful photographs and Jeannie Stein's introduction and captions welcomes the reader to the often misunderstood world of Civil War reenacting. As a Civil War reenactor (or living historian) myself I have seen how the media usually portrays reenactors as uneducated, conservative, rednecks who strap on their Confederate flags and play soldier in an attempt to bring back the glory days of the "lost cause." In fact in a feature Vanity Fair magazine referred to Civil War reenacting as something that is only done in conservative red states, in comparison to the sophisticated, liberal blue states. Rather, Civil War reenacting is a national pastime and can be found in such unlikely places as in Hawaii and has became as equally popular in Europe. 

This is what is celebrated in Elson's and Stein's gorgeous coffee table book. Through photographs taken both with period wet plate cameras and more modern cameras, Elson presents a vibrant picture of reeacting. In the pictures the reader sees the passion for history that makes the best reenactor stands out. We are a dedicated bunch, not only are we devoting our weekends to attend reenactments, but being a reenactor is not cheap as an accurate outfit (soldier or civilian) can cost hundreds of dollars. For me reenacting is a chance to become connected to the time and period, even if just for the moment. Wearing the clothes and studying the mannerisms of the Civil War acts as a bridge from today to the past and I stand in awe at the bravery of the average person who lived through such a dramatic, chaotic moment in US history. When I watch the battles, I wonder about the thoughts and feelings of the average soldier who stood facing an enemy whose duty was to try to kill each other. At the conclusion of each battle taps is solemnly played followed by recall when all the dead and wounded soldiers rise again and the audience claps. For me, that brings the reality of the Civil War home to me. At the conclusion of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and Shiloh there was no recall where the dead and wounded rose unscathed, but death and destruction with grieving families North and South. Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors is a beautiful tribute to those who spend their time bringing the Civil War back to life so that we can learn the lesson of history.