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For Find Out Friday Week 7- What is the reason Southerners continue to Re-Enact the Civil War?

Have you ever wanted to be somebody else? Maybe just for a moment, a day, or even a lifetime?? It can be tempting especially on a bad day. Personally I know that I could stand being President just for a day or two so that I could take a ride on Air Force One and sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. I also wouldn’t mind being one of Lisa Vanderpump’s many pets as they live the glamorous good life in her mansion on the West Coast. Finally I truly wish I could blink my eyes and be a New York Times best-selling author. If I could click my heels three times I for sure would not go to Kansas under any circumstances but then again I don’t have my Auntie Em looking for me.

I think I can understand just about any person, object, or location you would want to be as long as you have a reason. I don’t need to understand or relate to that reason but as long as you know why you feel the way you feel I can sympathize. However there is one group I don’t think I could ever relate to.

Certainly if I had a day to spend as someone else I don’t think it would involve a war that ended over a hundred fifty years ago. This makes even less sense when you want to portray the side that lost. To me this seems more like an act of mental illness that role-playing. I was therefore determined to find out why and when Civil War re-enactors do what they do.

Surprisingly there is A LOT of material containing these phrases. But as I began to comb through them it was more rhetoric than an act of clarification. I was getting confused and sucked into a line of highly illogical thoughts. My favorite was whether the North really won the war?! I couldn’t bear more than a paragraph of that. I tried to follow the theory but got lost someplace when I “learned” that slavery was not the cause being fought over. I guess the epitaph over President Lincoln’s monument in D.C. is wrong.

Perhaps a healthy dose of denial is key factor creating the urge to re-enact? It makes more “sense” that way. At least there are reasons, even if they are delusional.

This statement and question was on Yahoo and I couldn’t love it more:

“I mean people from the South, do they realize that they lost? And why do they justify it by saying "There were some brave Southern soldiers fighting", well I am pretty sure there were some brave Nazis also, does Germany celebrate?”

When you put it like that re-enacting such a deadly war seems unfathomable. But imagine people impersonating Nazis? Could you envision the public outcry?

My personal interaction with re-enactments in my adult life has only occurred during the annual Battle of Brooklyn celebration at Greenwood Cemetery. I went in 2012 and had a blast. I even got my photo taken with one Benji Franklin. I can call him that because we are close. I have even been to his house in London, which was recently featured in episode of Mysteries of the Museum. In a six degrees of separation moment it was Don Wildman, the host of that show that got me hooked on events at Greenwood Cemetery in the first place.

The day of the battle re-enactment my father got his picture taken with a lady who was either Benjamin Franklin’s wife or mistress, I am assuming.

A second highlight from that day was watching the men on horseback in full retro gear fighting on the cemetery grounds (the battle proceeds the cemetery). I had taken the tour so I had already been to all of the spots in that area where the battle was fought and won. Greenwood Cemetery is truly a magical place. I could go on and on but I have already written two blogs about that place so see the links below for more of this tangent.

Re-enactments as far as I can tell started during the 1960’s. No matter where you are in this country you can look up the closest battle re-enactment going on and sign up. I couldn’t believe that I found more of those sites than ones dealing with the reasons behind it. Apparently the adage “ignorance is bliss” prevails.

“Folks like that are still on the battlefield, but lately, a more diverse group of people — with a broader understanding of Southern history — have begun to push reenactments toward deeper, truer purposes.” - S.E. Curtis

I would like to think this thesis is correct but it seems at best it is fifty percent old and fifty percent new age thinking.

For example consider this fact:

“In 2010, for instance, Texas school officials made the news by insisting that Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address be given equal prominence with Abraham Lincoln’s in that state’s social studies curriculum. The following year, Virginia school officials were chagrined to learn that one of their state-adopted textbooks was teaching fourth graders that thousands of loyal slaves took up arms for the confederacy.” - Tracy Thompson

Sometimes there are no words. I continue to reread that paragraph and each time it does not fail to amaze me.

The most coherent explanation I have found thus far to explain the re-enacting phenomenon was found on a website called Bitter Southerner, of all things. He may be bitter but he is also brilliant.

Paul Singleton III, an African-American art therapist and poet, said:

“By dressing up and taking part in battles and other historical events, re-enactors can work through the pain and loss their ancestors may have felt. White Southern re-enactors may feel oppressed and conquered because their Confederate ancestors lost the war. At worst, their families have had to suffer through not only defeat, but also Reconstruction and 150 years of socioeconomic hardship. So they use an aesthetic means in the present to examine this past in the hope of creating a different future. In their minds, they are the underdogs. Through this kind of performance, they are yearning for catharsis and a change in outlook.”

Waverly Byth Adcock added:

“We cannot pick our history,” he told the crowd. “In order for us to learn from our mistakes or triumphs, we must embrace the entire story of our past. The good and the bad, all of these things make us who we are today.”

I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s why my love of history is so strong and apparently why there remains to be Southern Civil War re-enactors.

Tag, you’re it followers!! The next Find Out Friday topic is on you. That means start twitting, emailing, or posting your suggestions. I want to know what you need to know.

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