Ladies and gentlemen, I have promised you epicness and I now bring you epicness. Straight from the 1860’s. This past weekend, while nestled in the historic bosom of Manassas, Virginia, I proudly reenacted the First Battle of Bull Run.
Happy Lollipop Tuesday, ya’ll.
It all started when a loyal reader casually mentioned her long and lustrous history of reenactment. For those of you who are lost, reenactors are folks to trot from one famous battleground to another to reenact a historical event that took place there many year prior. They don the clothes, they sleep in tents, and even the greenest of them know more about history than your high school teacher. In fact, many of them can tell the story of a battle in such interesting and tremendous detail that it makes you want to be a history teacher.
Apparently, my reader has been donning crotchless pantaloons (and a host of other period-accurate items) since high school and wanted to share her joy with me. And as if that weren’t enough, she also suggested I apply for a media pass on the grounds that I was covering it for my blog.
And to my surprise, it worked.
I drove in the evening before to get the lay of the land and conduct an “interview” with my friend. I donned a dress with my bright red magical media lanyard sticking out like a sore thumb and in the parking lot stumbled upon a group of rowdy men in camping chairs, drinking beer. I walked past and gave it a moment – considering the power of my magic lanyard, and whipped back around to actually, well, interview someone. Without the quotation marks.
They greeted me happily with a camping chair and a beer – which in any other scenario I might have declined but I was on official business. And if I had to stomach a can of fizzy urine to have an experience, then by golly I was going to make that the best damn beer of my life. I asked them what reenacting was all about, what brought them there, and things like there they got their uniforms. Out of respect for their privacy and for what they shared with me I shan’t go into further detail. But suffice it to say they were a wonderful group of fellas who gave me my first glimpse into what an interesting mix of fun and sincerity goes into the life of a reenactor. When I parted, I left them a bottle of Brandy for their troubles and decided that I had experienced something fantastic that weekend even if all the rest was a bust.
Which it wasn’t.
Because the next day when I walked onto the battleground, I was greeted by horses, muskets, canteens, and wool uniforms on every lad and lass in spite of the ridiculous death-taunting heat index. Make no mistake: these people aren’t joking around. One man brought his 2-week-old baby along. (Fear not – rumor in the Union camp was that they were harboring a small AC unit in their tent for moments of dire need.)
As with any Lollipop Tuesday, I tried to get as involved as possible. So when my reader offered a pair of crotchless pantaloons, a modesty skirt, a full button-up dress, and told me she could get me onto the battlefield if I donned them all and followed her command, I giggled like a little schoolgirl.
To be frank, it was awesome. The entire thing. With over 8,000 registrants, what could have been better than standing in the battlefield with the Pennsylvania Artillery as they rallied the horses to pull the canons forward, cried havoc, and let loose the dogs of war? As they pushed their way farther onto the field and gun powder and dust overran them, I made my way over to the official spectators area to see the fruits of their labor.
And my heart sank.
I saw real gunpowder, real formations, real charges, and real horses. I saw men fire guns and others fall to the ground. And while I knew it wasn’t real because I was just having a beer with those men or laughing as they shoved ice in their hats to fight the heat, I couldn’t ignore the fact that not long ago, men gathered on these fields to fight for something far bigger than themselves. And when it was over, they did not retire to their tents to talk about what a good time it was or drive home to air conditioning, or – in most cases – get to rise from the battlefield and brush themselves off. That’s what brought people from all over the world and the United States to reenact the 150th Anniversary this past weekend. In fact, some of them took it upon themselves to represent a member of their own family who lost their lives that day in Manassas.
And even after the camaraderie, the thrill of a new experience, and a beer enjoyed with a great group of men, that realization is one that quiets my soul. ♣To see professional photographs of this event, consider viewing the Richmond Times-Dispatch album here. Their photographer, Kevin Morley, did a fine job of capturing the weekend.