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They're adults playing dress-up, really.
By Caelon Reed
In high school I worked as a cashier at Kmart in Williamsburg, Virginia. I’d often have memorable customer encounters, but nothing as memorable as this one day in particular. Picture this:
I’m performing my usual duties ringing up stuff for a customer, but I look up to find this is no usual customer. She’s dressed in clothes that make her look like a slave, with a funny hat, and a dull patterned dress plus an apron. My job was not too far from Colonial Williamsburg, a place dedicated to reenacting 18th century history. So I put two and two together and figured she worked there.
Here's a bit more that I've learned about historical reenactment since that incident:
Historical reenactment is living history, or a performance put on for the public to depict the past. Reenactment groups recreate different historical events or just everyday events. Often in my home state of Virginia, they recreate Civil War battles. These groups' purpose is educational and their presentations are based on extensive research of the history they reenact.
Who's chosen to recreate these scenes usually depends on the venue. Historic sites and museums like Colonial Williamsburg might hire amateurs and provide training for certain roles or they might hire trained interpreters who have formally studied theatre and/or history. They might want to bring a more authentic feel and employ an organized historical reenactment group instead of just going for random individuals. Yes, there are people who dedicate their lives to bringing the best history reenactment they can. Which is very admirable because it takes a lot of time, effort, and research to act like you’re a part of a time period that happened before you were even born.
10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment is a group that bases their reenactments off of the War of Southern Independence (ahem) through the eyes of infantry soldiers in Shenandoah Valley. Their mission is to give their audience the most educational, historically accurate presentation possible. In doing this they honor their ancestors and preserve historical sites. Most members in this group are descendants of men from the original 10th Virginia Infantry. The 10th Virginia Infantry is made up of eleven volunteer militia companies that originated in the 1850’s in Rockingham, Virginia. Various companies within the group were ordered to Harper's Ferry after the Order of Secessions was passed. At the end of the war, only 45 of the original 1,475 men from the 10th were left. The others died of battle injuries and disease.
Another historical reenactment group is the 50th Virginia Regiment Infantry; they are based on the 50th Virginia Company D, a militia organized in late 1861. The original unit was made up of farmers, laborers, and citizens from Grayson County, Virginia. 50th Virginia Company D’s first mission came from the newly formed Confederate Army. They were asked to protect Virginia’s borders from invasion by the United States Union Army. Now the 50th Virginia Regiment Infantry group reenacts Civil War events while honoring the men that served in the original 50th Virginia Company D. This group is active in reenactments in spring and fall seasons by way of events like school education events, and local/national events.
If you're interested in joining a group, get to know its mission first. Reenactment groups are special because they are the closet visual we have to our past. They are, in a way, our time machines and I'll take them over reading a history book any day. Unpopular Quail Bell opinion? Maybe. But I stand by it.