Tuesday, July 26, 2011

News---Civil War Reenactors: Who Are Those Guys?

Civil War Re-enactors Immerse Themselves In The Time Period, Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 24, 2011.

Chris Sedlak served for 19 months in Iraq, saving his pay to buy a cannon for Civil War re-enactments. Joanne Shelby-Klein, a longtime re-enactor who became disabled, now portrays a little-known Civil War heroine who also used a wheelchair. Nick Griffey and Allyson Perry, a young couple who met through re-enacting, are devoting their lives to teaching history.

Civil War re-enactors are drawn to it for many reasons. Some feel an almost mystical connection, jokingly dubbed the Civil War gene. Others with a passion for history use it to teach outside the classroom. It's as much a lifestyle as a hobby, requiring major commitments of time and money.

Mr. Sedlak, now 37 and a Pittsburgh police officer, spent $30,000 on a working replica of a 1857 Napoleon cannon and $12,000 more for its carriage. A trailer to haul them in was $5,000. His truck needed $3,000 in modifications to tow 6,000 pounds. "I was born in the wrong century. I just was," he said of his love for re-enacting. "I look at society today and it isn't me."

He believes that morals and honorable conduct meant more then, that men respected women and bravely faced certain death. He first sensed that backward tug in time on a seventh grade trip to Gettysburg. When he was 16, he enlisted in the Ninth Pennsylvania Reserves Company A, a Pittsburgh re-enactment unit. Like all such groups, it re-creates a real unit. All troops enlist as privates and earn promotion.

To man the cannon, Mr. Sedlak resurrected the Ninth Pennsylvania's Company C, the Iron City Guards, where he is field commander. To be eligible for promotion, enlistees must be able to talk to a crowd for an hour about artillery, to drill according to National Park Service standards and to explain how to load and fire the cannon properly. The Iron City Guards gather regularly to repair and maintain their gun. The strong bond that Mr. Sedlak feels to these men also keeps him in re-enacting. "These guys are my extended family," he said.

Not every re-enactor longs for Victorian times. Ms. Perry, 22, a Saint Vincent College graduate, has a critical perspective on life for women, black people and labor. "Some people see this as very romantic, but I'm not one of them," said Ms. Perry, a Plum native and summertime National Park ranger at Gettysburg.

"I don't understand why people would say they want to go back to that time and wear those wonderful things. If you really wore the costume with all the underpinnings and the corset in the correct fashion, you would see how confining it is and how hard it was to do everyday activities. You couldn't do what you do now." But she is devoting her future to teaching about the Victorian era. This fall she begins work on her master's degree in history and women's studies at West Virginia University. Her interest began in eighth grade, when she watched the movie "Gettysburg." She wrangled permission to attend re-enactments with a friend's grandfather. At 17 she joined the civilian wing of the Ninth. In high school she spent hours studying period photographs and reading, trying to make her wardrobe authentic.

The story is continuted at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 24, 2011.

CWL: The author, Ann Rodgers, is the spouse of CWL. She is a reenactor and her impression is of Mrs. Moore, a Baltimore mother who accompanied her persistent daughter to the Getttysburg battlefield in July 1863.

No comments: