Civil War reenactments aren't just for Americans. There are groups of reenactors in the UK, Germany, Australia and Sweden, all recreating people and events from 1861-65 in their spare time.

A new photographic book by Mark Elson captures the drama and pageantry of restaging battles, using a combination of modern and nineteenth century techniques. The below text and images are taken from Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors (Merrell, $34.95)

No one becomes a reenactor as a lark; it takes considerable time, money, and dedication to portray a Civil War Soldier or civilian. So why do people do it?

Many have ancestors who fought in the war, and reenacting allows them to celebrate their memory and service. Some reenactors are fortunate enough to have their ancestors' diaries, war records, and photographs, all of which contain fascinating details about the period, information the reenactors often incorporate into their portrayals.

For history enthusiasts, reenacting provides an immersion in the era and an experience that books cannot supply. It is not unusual to find reenactors huddled together, discussing the minutia of a battle or arguing the finer points of states' rights while going in and out of character.

Entire families reenact together, enabling family members to spend time with one another away from computers and television. Parents bring children into the hobby and children bring parents. Friendships spawned at reenactments have lasted decades, just as they did during and after the war.

For everyone who participates, reenacting provides an opportunity to escape from the stress, complexity and responsibilities of twenty-first century life - if only for a little while.


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  • Andrew Bowman, right, portrays Andrew Jackson Smith in Hartford City, Indiana. Smith, a color sergeant and Medal of Honor winner, was Bowman’s grandfather. Khabir Shareef, center, takes on the role of Martin Delaney, the first African-American field officer in the Union Army. At left is Sam Meadows, portraying a drummer.

  • Smoke fills the air as a Union cannon fires as the Confederates defend a makeshift plantation staged on the grounds of Sewerby Hall & Gardens in Yorkshire, England.

  • A Union solider at the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, California, stands ready with his musket, knapsack, haversack, cartridge belt and canteen. Wet plate photograph

  • A battle line of Union soldiers fires on Confederate troops at the 150th anniversary of Wilson’s Creek near Republic, Missouri.

  • Wearing a mourning outfit complete with veil, a woman pays tribute to fallen soldiers at a Veteran’s Day memorial in San Gabriel, California. Wet plate photograph

  • Reenactors from the 37th Virginia portray seasoned Confederates from 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania in Virginia.

  • Civilians under siege during the Vicksburg Campaign in Mississippi would sometimes take refuge in dugouts they fashioned themselves in nearby hillsides. To make them as homey and livable as possible these dirt floor dwellings were furnished with rugs and furniture from their homes. Life went on, albeit with fewer amenities. This reenactor at the Raymond Battlefield site in Mississippi shows an aspect of dugout life.

  • A Union captain with his sergeant and two privates pose in front of the headquarters of Union General Meade at Gettysburg Military Park in Pennsylvania. Wet plate photograph

  • Wearing an outfit she made herself, reenactor Maegen Hensley poses in front of the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, California. Hensley is a member of the Historical Citizens Association, a nonprofit Southern California reenacting group that seeks to educate the public about American history. Wet-plate photograph

  • Members of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry march at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia.

  • A Union battle line displays its flag before facing Confederate troops at the McDowell Battlefield in Virginia.

  • Reenacting the Battle of Gettysburg at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire, England, four British men portray famous commanders. From left, British Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle is joined by Confederates Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, General Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant General James Longstreet.

  • At a reenactment at the McDowell Battlefield in Virginia, a reenactor portrays Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson down to the last detail, even holding a lemon, something Jackson was known to eat during battles. His horse also resembles Jackson’s horse Little Sorrell.

Photos courtesy of Merrell Publishers

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