Feeding a Small Army: The Logistics of Reenacting – Part I

I was recently having a chat over the phone with my long-time reenacting friend, Chase. We were both geeking out over the prospect of a sweet new event being held down in Arkansas next June called the Red River Campaign. A full week-long event, about a thousand of us would spend the week on the prowl through 60 miles of southern back country, a regiment of Federals and a regiment of Confederates hunting each other in the hazy forests of the Deep South. As awesome as all this sounds, I had to stop and think, “Holy crap, this is going to be sheer hell for the event organizers. Having to feed a thousand men for seven days?”  I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty glad I’m not organizing the Red River Campaign. But it got me to thinking, there’s A LOT that goes into organizing a reenactment, even just a weekend event, and it’s often more than spectators – or even we reenactors – expect.

The first thing you’ve got to get down for organizing an event is finding a place to do it. This is easier said than done. I mean, sure, if you really want to, you can organize a reenactment on a local soccer field or fairground, but the thing is that most reenactors won’t show up and it simply won’t be a good experience for anybody. We reenactors want to do our thing on unique and interesting ground with few modern intrusions where we can have a pretty impressive fight. If we get some land like that to play around with, nine times out of ten we will put on an awesome show for the spectators if it is a public event.

This 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Antietam was held on a farm four miles from Antietam National Battlefield in nearby Boonsboro, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Oak Hill Studio.

But getting the land to put on a reenactment isn’t always easy. If we are putting on an anniversary reenactment of a particular battle, we often cannot do it on the original battlefield as most major Civil War battlefields are owned by the National Park Service, who, understandably, does not permit a couple thousand armed men to rampage over their land and make a mess. Often times, the reenactment must be held at an adjacent property, like a nearby farm or woodland preserve. Some land owners are kind enough to allow us to use their land free of charge so long as we clean up afterwards, but other proprietors request payment for the land usage.

Organizers digging trenches during the planning stage of a reenactment to be held this April. Picture courtesy of John Pagano.

Organizers digging trenches during the planning stage of a reenactment to be held this April. Picture courtesy of John Pagano.

The next big step is planning the event itself. What exactly is the event going to entail? If it’s a recreation of a real battle, how are we going to properly recreate portions of the fighting? If it’s just a hypothetical scenario, what can be done to make the experience of the event as good and historically accurate as possible? In some cases to accomplish this, event organizers have to put together a “script” for the reenactment. If we’re recreating a real battle, this script will detail out to commanding officers, “Ok, at 6:30 AM, 1st Brigade will advance into the clearing and commence firing on the right flank of the Chesapeake Volunteer Guard. At 7:15 AM, the Liberty Rifles will march up the eastern road and support 3rd battalion in their assault on General Anders’ center-front.” Sometimes to prepare the event site for the scenario, work needs to be done on the land. Entrenchments may need to be dug, trees may need to be cut, fences may need to be built, and crops may need to be planted. At 2012’s Maryland, My Maryland event in Boonsboro, MD, an entire acre-wide cornfield was planted specifically for reenactors to fight through (don’t worry, all the corn grown in the field was stripped from the stalks before the event and donated to a local food pantry).

Tune in next week to learn how we deal with actually having to take care of a couple thousand hungry, smelly men for a weekend!

4 thoughts on “Feeding a Small Army: The Logistics of Reenacting – Part I

  1. The amount of detail and planning that goes into these events is amazing! But I can see how the hard work is worth it when so many people learn from these reenactments about the war that almost broke the Union (and when the reenactors have a field day).

  2. @kma5477: Thank you, much appreciated! And I must say, planning these things are indeed pretty challenging! A lot of our larger events usually enter the planning stage about a year ahead of time depending on the hurdles we have to leap to get it all set up. Often times in the many months before an event, groups of reenactors get together and volunteer for work-days at the event site in order to help the organizers get things moving. While we as reenactors absolutely love the awesome experiences we get out of these events, our biggest goal is to make everything look exactly how it really would have all for the sake of the spectator and the education of the public!

    @Veronica: Thank you! It basically all started about nine years ago, I was really interested in Civil War history after visiting Gettysburg a number of times with my family, and I visited a reenactment which absolutely blew me away. I remember thinking, “Wow, that is so cool, I could never do something like that!” But all I had to do was simply ask one of the reenactors how to get into it, they offered to loan me a uniform, and next thing I knew, I was being trained in field artillery!

  3. Can I just say, I love your use of vocabulary! Whenever I’m at a large event as a speculator I always think to myself how much planning had to go into it to make it a success, and it cannot be easy! I think it’s crazy how much thought and effort goes into choosing and creating the setting of the reenactment, such as planting entire fields of crops, I mean, that takes a decent amount of time to grow, but these events are also probably planned a year or two in advance. I also was unaware that spectators also view the entire scene. Whenever I went to Fort Knox, let’s say, there were hourly reenactments for tourists, yet the men playing the soldiers are both paid and don’t necessarily seem to love what they’re doing. I had thought that the reenactments you partake in are simply for the pleasure of those participating, but now I see that that is not the case!

  4. This is such an interesting hobby. I’m really curious what made you get into doing this because I’ve never met anyone else that does this. I didn’t think this much went into reenactments and its really cool that so much planning is involved in making them as authentic looking as possible. Planning one does seem like a lot of work but participating in one seems like a lot of fun!

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