Civil War: The Nuances of Reenacting

An obvious modern impact of the Civil War shows through those who keep the history alive. Reenacting groups participate in organized events all over Kentucky. Kentucky Public Radio's Chris Taylor set out to learn more, and got a lesson in garb.

Shannon Jefferies of Glasgow is the Company C Captain of the 6th Kentucky Infantry. He formed the reenacting group a couple years ago based on the real militia raised out of Barren County. His unit dons gear crafted in period-style design when they go to battle. But, Jefferies says, it isn't that way for every unit, the level of authenticity is often a point of contention between reenacting groups.

Jefferies- There's a few out here that I've saw. You go to an event, maybe another group. They're wearing cowboy boots with their uniforms and they're wearing sunglasses. They're just not putting as much into it as they probably should. I don't allow stuff like that in my unit.

Jefferies says on the other hand, while his group err's on the side of pretty authentic, some groups may scoff at what his unit wears.

Jefferies- They want you to go out here and buy a coat that's a hundred percent handmade even the stitches on the button holes are hand sewn even on the button holes and such. They may only allow you to buy a certain color or a certain cut of a coat. You know a lot of them you're not even allowed to have a tent. They'll sleep on the ground. They're more hardcore I guess than we are.

Jefferies says his group's middle ground level of commitment is what's really helped it grow from a few to almost thirty active members. Company C only requires members to buy reproductions from quality sutlers. Originally, those were merchants who during the War would follow troop movements to peddle their wares and keep companies stocked. It's much the same today, except with many more repeat customers.

Williams- It is a fantastic hobby for your family.

Kathy Williams from Union City, Tennessee is one of those sutlers, but not for the soldiers... she runs a small dressmaking business called Lady Adelines. According to Williams, authenticity isn't a battlefield-only concern and can even have health effects on both men and women.

Williams- When you look at a woman and she has on the proper materials, she looks like she just walked out of a history page. You'd be surprised at how seriously the ladies take their role in learning the correct mannerisms: the correct way to walk, the correct way to stand. When you see a woman walking around making something out of upholstery fabric, she's not going to look right. It's going to be really hot and she's probably going to pass out.

Williams warns if women use the wrong materials, it can lead to heat stroke. So at events, she teaches women about their undergarments' or using layers under their finer fabric.

Williams- The reason why they layered so much was that your body oils and sweats and things pour onto inner layers and not on the exterior, because you didn't want to be able to wash that too much so that it would wear and tear. So your undergarments took all the beating.

Williams says the summer heat offers plenty of perspiration so women get a first-hand appreciation for the practicalities of period dress. Williams says through the period style, woman's clothing can help paint the atmosphere in broader strokes. She says the larger reenacting events host Civil War beauty pageants and ball room dancing.

Williams- The ball is kind of like the highlight of the ladies' weekend. We love to doll up and go get our best, finest, prettiest dresses on and display them.

Many like Williams and Jefferies will be attending the region's largest events this year at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee and the Battle of Sacremento near Hopkinsville, both of which draw thousands of spectators from across the country for an authentic taste of what life was like during the Civil War. But just how much authenticity will Kathy Williams embrace?

Williams- I personally don't camp. I get made fun of. They call me the Ramada Ranger or the Motel Militia.