On Memorial Day Weekend, 2014, about 500 Civil War reenactors and their families -- all in period costume -- converged on Deep Creek, Washington, to relive the camp life and battle field encounters of 1864. They came from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana to travel across time by 150 years. The press kit for the event announced:
Feel the thunder and boom of the artillery. Strain under the weight of the rifles and packs the soldiers carried. Meet the fine ladies in their hoop-skirt dresses. Watch as battles are reenacted, walk through period-correct camps, and have fun with hands-on activities and demos for the whole family.
“We are here to help people appreciate hardships that everyday Americans endured during the Civil War, and to bring history from textbooks to life.” says Caleb Grove, a reenactor since 2009. “There is nothing better than seeing kids’ eyes light up when you dress them in the gear of a soldier, or watching as adults realize just how defining this brief period of history was for our nation.”
I found the doings at Deep Creek, Washington, last weekend so engaging that I went twice. I was drawn in equally by the quiet domestic scenes and the loud battle reenactment. Two girls beside a brook seemed to have appeared magically from 1864:
And a young woman with a violin was working to preserve a sense of tranquility in the midst of an actual war.
Other women were cooking a tasty-looking chicken dinner in a dutch oven over charcoal:
In the open fields near the camp, soldiers were drilling. Cannoneers fired off practice rounds with a crash that thundered through the camp, and horsemen were showing off their mounts.
A few years back when Ken Burns brought to prominence hundreds of photos of Civil War soldiers, at least one commenter asked where all of those "great faces" had gone. The soldiers of yore made modern Americans look like an assembly of pigmies. On Memorial Day weekend the great faces were everywhere to be seen in Deep Creek. Here are a few:
The Yankees were driven from the field, but then their cannon fire took effect, mowing down a dozen or so Confederates, who were willing to play dead, now that the battle was almost over. Then in a moving tribute to Civil War soldiers, real and reenacted, a bugler sounded tap as men across the field came back to life. My three-year-old niece, fascinated by the spectacle, noted with interest and approval that the recumbent soldiers were "not dead." Only then, as the soldiers came back to life, and we applauded loud and long, did we return to the twenty-first century.
Here is what the battle looked like, complete with movement and sound...
(You know you want to!)
Here are some other blog posts on the general subject of historical memory:
-- Connecting with World War II Correspondent Ernie Pyle in Dana, Indiana
-- "Over There": World War I Veterans Sing Songs of the Great War, 67 Years Later
-- "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies"-- Reflecting on a National Anthem
-- "Curse You, Patrick Henry" -- Memorizing the "Liberty or Death" Speech