News / USA

US Civil War Comes Alive 150 Years After First Battle

More than 6,500 people take part in Manassas re-enactment

The Manassas battle, staged twice during a recent weekend, is the first of several big reenactments planned to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.
The Manassas battle, staged twice during a recent weekend, is the first of several big reenactments planned to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.

Multimedia

Audio
Susan Logue

A century and a half after the first major battle of the U.S. Civil War, thousands of soldiers in 19th century uniforms once again faced each other across a field in Manassas, Virginia, 50 kilometers south of Washington.

Not even extreme heat was enough to keep the re-enactors from recreating a pivotal point in American history.

Recreating history

Long lines of soldiers marched across the field, white smoke filling the air as they aimed their muskets and fired. On one side, dressed mostly in blue, were the federal or Union troops. On the other, dressed mostly in grey, were the Confederates, from the southern states that had broken from the union.

These re-enactors are portraying Confederate soldiers from the old American South.
These re-enactors are portraying Confederate soldiers from the old American South.

“This is my duty and responsibility. I’m a Virginian and I think it is important to share and tell about the history,” says Robert Brown, 57. His ancestors were Confederate soldiers, and he feels he is representing them and what they fought for.

“This war was about political freedom, less government," Brown says. "They wanted to be out of the hands of the federal government."

He says soldiers on both sides, "fought for a cause they believed in. I’m sure it was hot back then, but they were willing to do that, because they believed in a cause they were willing to give their life for.”

Keven Pallett is also representing three members of his family who fought in the war.  And like them, he crossed the Atlantic from England to participate.

Even though Pallett’s ancestors were among the more than 50,000 Britons who fought for the Union, for this re-enactment Pallett is a Confederate soldier.

Arriving a day or two before the battle, the re-enactors set up camp in nearby fields, pitching white canvas tents.
Arriving a day or two before the battle, the re-enactors set up camp in nearby fields, pitching white canvas tents.

“If you want to re-enact, you join your local unit. The area that I live in, which is on the South Coast, there are just Confederate units so you join the local unit.”

Social gathering

Pallett, Brown and the thousands of other re-enactors arrived one or two days before the battle.

They set up camp in nearby fields, pitching white canvas tents, and making them as homey as possible, with chairs or camp stools, trunks and tables or just a bedroll to stretch out on at night.

Keven Pallett, preparing his musket for the battle, has participated in US Civil War re-enactments in England, but says they're much smaller in scale there.
Keven Pallett, preparing his musket for the battle, has participated in US Civil War re-enactments in England, but says they're much smaller in scale there.

For some, like 56-year-old Keith Murray, from Maryland, re-enacting is above all a social gathering. “It’s enjoyable, the camaraderie of meeting the guys from the unit and coming out and living the life of the 19th century. Some of the battles you can almost feel like you are there.”

Almost, but not quite. With high-tension electric wires in the background, more than 10,000 spectators on bleachers and a voice on the loudspeaker pointing out different aspects of the battle, it is clear that this is not the 19th century.  

And with few people willing to lie on the ground to simulate the dead and wounded, even the simulation of casualties is gone from this reenactment.

Pivotal battle

In July 1861, more than 60,000 troops fought at Manassas. Nearly 5,000 died in this first major land battle of the war, which resulted in a Confederate victory.

“It is often referred to as the end of innocence,” says Ed Clark, superintendant of Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Although re-enactors work hard to be authentic to the period, there are some things, like electric wires, that they cannot control.
Although re-enactors work hard to be authentic to the period, there are some things, like electric wires, that they cannot control.

“Manassas really changed the way the country looked at what was in front of them. Prior to first Manassas, both sides thought it would be quick and relatively bloodless, and what occurred down here on the plains of Manassas really woke the country up.”

For the re-enactment, more than 6500 people took part, even though it meant braving searing heat. While Clark understands that a lot of people connect to Civil War history through re-enactments, he fears they don’t get a complete picture of the war.

“They really don’t show the horrors of warfare.  Also, re-enactments portray a one-dimensional view of what is going on.  There is so much more going on at the time of the Civil War, way beyond the battlefield, the home front, experiences of different immigrant groups and African Americans that aren’t played out in reenactments.”

The Manassas battle, staged twice over the weekend, was the first of several big re-enactments planned for the next four years to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Many of those who came for this one, will be at those as well.  

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More