Monday, September 17, 2012

Civil War Reenactments Bring Color to Black-and-White History

Civil War re-enactor Tim Stebleton relaxes with a plate of dinner sausage, green beans, potatoes, cornbread and a glass of water on Sept. 15, 2012 at Deerfield County Park, near Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Civil War re-enactor Dave Fountain plugs his ear during cannon fire in a reenacted battle on Sept. 15, 2012 at Deerfield County Park near Mount Pleasant, Mich.

John Martin smokes his pipe while dressed in Confederate garb after a Civil War reenactment on
Sept. 15, 2012 at Deerfield County Park near Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Twenty-three thousand people died 150 years ago today in the Battle of Antietam. 

The Civil War was the conflict that, perhaps, defined America more than any time in its history.

People have relived the Battle of Antietam, among others, through today. Even in Russia, the battles, soldiers and uniforms are reproduced.

John Loyd, left, smokes a cigarillo with Kevin Kettlehut before a battle reenactment at Deerfield County 
Park on Sept. 15, 2012.
The rustic, adventure of fighting a battle as some soldiers' families visited them at their base is just one element that sparks curiosity and intrigue within re-enactors and those interested in Civil War history. Families, ever-attracted to the sound of gunfire, picnicked on hills that overlooked the battlefield and watched both sides fight each other to oblivion.

The Civil War was also one of the last battles in the world to be fought using battle line tactics. The technological advancements introduced in the Civil War hinted at a change in future warfare: the rifled barrel, repeater rifle and machine gun. These and other developments introduced changes in the tactical strategies of the way battles were fought. The Franco-Prussian war in 1870-1871 and the Second Boer War (1899-1902) are thought to be the last wars using battle line tactics. This change in technology and tactics, among other changes in America impacted by the war, lead many historians to believe the Civil War to be the first modern war in American history.

Civil War reenactments preserve the vivid history of tactics, technology and lifestyles that have been obsolete for generations. The reenactments, in a sense, create a portal between the late 19th Century world to the world of immediately available information and general ease of living.
Arnie White, center, looks into the crowd after a Civil War reenactment at Deerfield County Park
near Mount Pleasant, Mich. on Sept. 15, 2012.

Apart from technological developments changing the nature of warfare were other developments that changed the future of industries, especially in medicine. Journalism was forever changed with the development of the inverted pyramid the method of presenting most important news at the beginning of news articles and broadcasts. Civil War journalists covering the war worked with shoddy electrical connections as battlefields between their telegraph post and news headquarters were bombarded with artillery. Journalists began to deliver the most important facts first in their telegraphs in case of a break in the connection. Consequently, the industry learned it was also the most effective way of presenting news to their readers.

A Civil War encampment at Deerfield Nature Park six miles west of Mount Pleasant, Mich. presented a chance for locals to question the details of Civil War life, both as a civilian and soldier on Sept. 15 and 16. Visitors to the encampment of authentic tents and equipment asked questions regarding anything from culture to card games of the time period. Apart from the history, re-enactors live history for simple reasons.

"I enjoy the camping and the night life," said re-enactor Tony Osterburg, a 17-year infantryman in the 2nd Kentucky Infantry Regiment. "Once my wife and I picked up the equipment and started doing this, we haven't looked back."

Osterburg served in the Gulf War and upon leaving the military, he longed for the military life. Even if its culture, clothing, weaponry and battle tactics were 150 years old.

"Everybody has a lot of reasons and purposes I'm sure," Mr. Osterburg said. "Not the same as mine, but I missed the flare of the military. We gave our modern equipment to our kids, the Coleman stoves, tents, all that. It all went to them.”

Mr. Osterburg also does reenactments of battles from the French and Indian War, the War of 1812 and World War II. He prefers Civil War reenactments.

"The Civil War defined us as a nation, as a character, who we are now," Mr. Osterburg said.

Confederate Capt. Jim Phillips looks back at his men near the end of a battle reenactment at Deerfield County Park near Mount Pleasant, Mich. on Sept. 15, 2012.
Debbie Phillips, a Civil War era re-enactor reflected in the mirror, looks out at the Civil War encampment at Deerfield County Park near Mount Pleasant, Mich. on Sept. 15, 2012.

Chandler Fountain, center, fires his rifle at Union soldiers during a battle reenactment in Deerfield County Park near Mount Pleasant, Mich. on Sept. 15, 2012.

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