Friday, October 30, 2009

Battles Without Bullets: Civil War Re-enactment and American Culture

by Randal Allred

From the publisher:
Near the end of his life, Confederate soldier Berry Benson wrote a passage that many Civil War reenactors now consider the clearest evocation of what they do: "Who knows but again the old flags, ragged and torn, snapping in the wind, may face each other and flutter, pursuing and pursued, while the cries of victory fill a summer day? And after the battle, then the slain and wounded will arise and all will meet together under the two flags, all sound and well, and there will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say: Did it now seem real? Was it not as in the old days?"

Here, through anecdotes, interviews with participants, and a keen analysis of his subject, Allred offers insight to this uniquely American phenomenon. Allred first puts the practices of "living history" (including "living museums" and medieval pageants) into their cultural and political contexts, and then moves on to discuss the history of reenacting itself. Further chapters consider reenacting as a hobby and as a cultural community. Allred addresses various questions about reenactment: Why the Civil War? Why this particular way of honoring it? Is this a form of historical catharsis? What are the stories being "told" on these battlefields? The resulting study is both penetrating and entertaining.

RANDAL ALLRED is Associate Professor of Literature and Humanities at Brigham Young University, Hawaii. He is the author of the chapter of "Living History and Battlefield Reenactments" for The Greenwood Guide to American Popular Culture.