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.
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.
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!