Archive for April, 2011

>Why do we reenact the Civil War?

Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »

>I get funny looks sometimes when I tell people I’m a Civil War reenactor. Outsiders don’t understand why I’m willing to put on seven layers of underwear, a huge skirt and camp in a canvas tent in the heat of a Southern summer. I understand that. Sometimes – like when I was overcome by heat in Gettysburg and very nearly passed out – I do wonder if I’m a glutton for punishment. But like the people in these two films, when I feel myself totally immersed and I’m able to get a tourist excited about history, I remember why I do it. Please watch these two short films about Civil War reenactors.

Civil Warriors

Chasing the Elephant, Part I

Chasing the Elephant, Part II

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>The Conspirator: why you need to buy tickets

Posted by Jessica Jewett 2 Comments »


Today, coinciding with the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death, Robert Redford has released a new film called The Conspirator. To summarize:

In the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President, the Vice-President, and the Secretary of State. The lone woman charged, Mary Surratt, 42, owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Against the ominous back-drop of post-Civil War Washington, newly-minted lawyer, Frederick Aiken, a 28-year-old Union war-hero, reluctantly agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal. As the trial unfolds, Aiken realizes his client may be innocent and that she is being used as bait and hostage in order to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt, her own son.

Now watch the trailer and then I will continue.

Why is it so important to see historical films in the theater? It’s very simple. If you don’t shell out the cash, Hollywood doesn’t think anyone is interested in seeing movies of this type. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just wait for it to come out on DVD,” but the lack of numbers in the theaters means these movies will be available on fewer and fewer screens. There is already a reputation out there of historical films not making enough money to really entice filmmakers to contribute to the genre. Some of the best films out there are historical films but they’re not getting much press attention because people are choosing to wait for the DVDs. The recent remake of Jane Eyre was great but it barely made any money.

These films are important, more important than explosion-riddled epic blockbusters with thin plotlines, because they open people’s eyes to how interesting history is. While most of these films are not substitutes for the reality in history books, I have witnessed time and time again how someone previously uninterested in history suddenly has the spark of interest when something strikes them in a historical film. If seeing history brought to life on the big screen is what it takes to spark the interest in people to think more about it, then we need to do all we can to support historical films. In the case of this film, interesting casting has brought in names like James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood and Alexis Bledel. These names appeal and draw in younger audiences. McAvoy has a growing female following, Wood is a popular actress on True Blood and has also just appeared in the acclaimed HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce, and Bledel has been in many popular roles such as Gilmore Girls and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants franchise.

So this weekend, even if you hadn’t considered seeing The Conspirator before, please give it a try. Help us support the historical genre in the film industry. These movies need to continue being made. If there are more successful historical films, more prominent directors would be willing to take on these projects. Don’t wait for the DVD. Take the family down to the movie theater this weekend.

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>A Civil War reenactor responds to the NAACP

Posted by Jessica Jewett 3 Comments »


Today I heard from my friend who attended the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter that the NAACP has been vocal about how they believe anyone “celebrating” the anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War is perpetuating racism. I looked at news reports and found this quote from the president of the NAACP.

“This was not something to commemorate,” DuBose said. “Commemorate means that you’re honoring something. There’s nothing honorable about this period. Nothing at all. We cannot somehow try to sanitize slavery. You can’t do it.”

As a Civil War reenactor of fifteen years, I take serious issue with being lumped into such a broad statement simply because I happen to be a (mostly) white woman involved in the sesquicentennial. Where exactly is the sanitation of slavery happening? I’m offended by the NAACP continually making statements insinuating that people commemorating the Civil War in any way are perpetuating racism. I am not a racist and me being a Civil War reenactor does not automatically put the racist stamp on me, nor does my involvement in the reenacting community mean I am sanitizing slavery. The NAACP has been targeting Civil War reenactors and preservationists for years and they are largely responsible for the public stigma attached to being a reenactor. We are seen by the public as being stuck in the past, ignorant, toothless Southerners who long for the days when we still had slaves. This is not true, by and large.

Here is a dose of truth. We are not celebrating the days of slavery, nor are we interested in sanitizing it. We are honoring our ancestors, which the NAACP does, and we are teaching history to the public so it’s not repeated, which the NAACP does as well. The fact of the matter is there are racists in every walk of life. The continuous and repeated attacks upon Civil War reenactors, historians, preservationists and enthusiasts makes the NAACP just as guilty of ignorance and hatred as any other organization based solely upon race. I have never encountered a single Civil War reenactor teaching people in such a manner that glorifies slavery or the way African-Americans were treated in the nineteenth century. While there are some extremists within the reenacting community, the majority have no desire to promote racist or sanitation ideology. On the contrary, there have been incidences in which white supremacist groups have tried to join reenacting groups and they have been chased away from the events by the very people alleged to be ignorant, racist and hateful. For me personally, I don’t even look at people by their color. Most of my friends early in school were black. It just didn’t matter.

Race is still an issue in America because people like the NAACP, the KKK, and so on make it an issue. In my belief system, the soul is colorless and we have reincarnated into all races, both genders, and every economic circumstance. Hating people for those reasons is the same as hating yourself. The NAACP is just as guilty as any other organization of that nature.

Let’s not forget the African-Americans who reenact the Civil War alongside white people. Are they betraying their own race by associating with reenactments? No, they are not. They are reaching out to the public to tell the stories of their ancestors and are working alongside historical groups instead of working against them. The NAACP could learn a lot about public outreach by looking at African-American reenactors and understanding that nothing can be accomplished with this us vs them attitude. Instead of fighting reenactors and people commemorating the war, they should begin reaching out and working with us in order to promote solidarity and prove that the war was not fought in vain. They are equally to blame for perpetuating racial separation.

One thing I noticed in DuBose’s statement is the following: “There’s nothing honorable about this period. Nothing at all.”

Really? Maybe he should rethink that when he looks the descendants of these brave men in the eye. African-Americans fought bravely for the Union and the Confederacy. There’s nothing honorable about this period? Not even the former slaves and freedmen who took up arms to decide their own destiny even though it meant possibly being captured and sent back into slavery? I would say these men are pretty honorable.

 As my friend Nellie said, “There is a big difference between commemorating and celebrating. Considering that the war also put an end to slavery, you’d think they might think that it was worth celebrating.”

Stop perpetuating racial division. Start honoring all soldiers for what they were — brave men who sacrificed their lives to fight for their beliefs. It’s easy to talk the talk but I doubt many today could walk the walk. Stand before a loaded cannon and see how brave any of you remain. These people, no matter what color they were, possessed the most bravery this country has ever seen. That is why we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. They lived, fought and died by their beliefs. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. These aren’t just people in books. These were our ancestors, our family, our blood. No, we cannot sanitize slavery but we cannot alter history either.

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