Sunday, May 3, 2015

Civil War Sunday - When Reenact?

150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln, the assassinated 16th President of the United States, was buried in Springfield, llinois.  His body was brought there by train, the main long distance mode of transportation in 1865.

The route of the train was, itself, a type of reenactment, as it retraced (in reverse) the train trip that Lincoln made from his home in Springfield to his first inauguration in 1861.

At each stop, except for New Jersey, Lincoln's body lay in state.  Over 10,000. people watched the train leave Washington, DC.  Thousands more mourned at each stop:  Baltimore, Maryland.  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  New York City.  Albany (the capital of New York State).  Buffalo, New York (where, in 1901, another President would be assassinated).  Cleveland, Ohio.  Columbus, Ohio. Indianapolis, Indiana.  Michigan City, Indiana.  Chicago, Illinois and, finally, Springfield.

The route wasn't a straight line but made a loop. It was a long journey home.

All this weekend, solemn remembrances and ceremonies were held in Springfield.  Many observers dressed in Civil War era clothing.  Over twelve hundred Civil War reenactors participated. Blogs carried live coverage.  Six descendents of the 12 pallbearers who bore Lincoln's casket in 1865 attended. 

Why?  Why, when we have photos (some in stereo), and written accounts, do we need to dress up in costumes and reenact events?  Well, it may surprise you to discover that Civil War reenactments were already being held even while the Civil War was still being fought.

The earliest men and women reenacted successful hunts.  As for the Civil War reenactments held prior to the end of the war, there are various explanations-  fund raisers, battle practice, and to educate the people back home supporting (or not supporting) the war effort.

Reenactments are how we touch the face of history.  It is how history comes alive for us.  Instead of reading history in some history book (I have to admit I am not big on reading books on history, despite my interest in history) I would much rather go to a well-researched and historically accurate reenactment.

Apparently, many people feel the same way I do, and it isn't just the United States that does this.  In June of 2015, there will be a major reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo in Europe.  It will be, after all, the 200th anniversary of the final defeat of Napoleon.

Have you ever been to a historical reenactment of a battle or other historical event?


  1. I love that-
    "Touch the face of history"
    Great expression, great post! Thanks for the history lesson!

  2. Great post, i did a massive project on the American Civil War, when at school for my history project and have always been interested in how it shaped America. (I'm a Brit)

  3. I've never seen a re enactment, but I love the idea that doing so brings the event to life in our minds. I got a similar feeling when my husband and I walked 'The Way' in Israel. Tremendous sorrow hit me from all sides.

  4. I do not participate but my sister and her husband do. Someday I should go watch them, but they have never invited me.


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