Getting Started

Volunteer, step up and immerse yourself into the world of Living History.  You read about the Civil War, you visit the battlefields, the museums.  To get a small taste of what the soldier  experienced, wearing the uniform, drilling, the campfire, the thrill of the battle you need to participate as a reenactor. A small taste is just that.  The Civil War soldier of 150 years ago endured much more.  He could not go home on Sunday.  Military on the march was a very difficult existence filled with hours of drill and hard physical labor, sometimes punctuated with forced marches measuring over 10 miles.  Disease was rampant, and if you were lucky enough to survive the epidemics you would on occasion face the sheer terror of battle.  We don't face real bullets or canon shot, and we do this on a weekend.  Reenacting is portraying a reasonable facsimile of Civil War life.   Out of respect for these Veterans and their sacrifices it is important that your impression be authentic and the information we share with the public be correct.  You can also allow yourself to enjoy the  hobby, the comradeship, the historical experiences unmatched by any other hobby.   If you come this far, I would venture to say you are willing to go a little farther and take the first steps in getting started. 

Finding a unit suitable to you is the most critical step.   There are different types of units with varying expectations.  First of all determine the type of impression you wish to do, Federal or Confederate .  This will be a function of where your loyalties lie, and not necessarily where you live.  Next is the branch of service:  Infantry, Artillery, or Cavalry.  There are also non-military impressions  these are known as Civilians and the roles can be as varied as life was in the 1860's. For military, infantry is the most common and least costly to portray. 

Most units are run like clubs.  Some have formal organizations and may be  incorporated as a non-profit corp.  Others are loose associations.   The units usually portray a regiment that actually existed during the Civil War.  They have state affiliations,  regimental numbers and a company letter designation, for example the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company F.  Its best to find a unit the operates close to your home.  The events they participate in should be within  a reasonable drive of where you live to ensure you have many options to participate.   All units have a schedule they follow, ask to see one.  If you have family that wants to get involved, ask the group what they allow.  Some groups are military only and do not allow civilians. Others allow women and children as long as they are dressed authentic.  If your a female and you want to do a military impression, again the rules vary among groups.  Some allow and some do not. 

Amongst groups there are different philosophies for reenacting.  If a group calls itself "Campaigners" or "Hard Core", these are typically military only groups, who do not allow any modern conveniences for the duration of an event. "Mainstream" or "Family Groups" typically allow civilians, and the military can use tents they would use for garrison duty.  These groups will allow modern conveniences but must be concealed, such as a cooler, or a cot to sleep on.  Both types of  groups have much to offer and its important to ask what they expect of members before you join.

To find a group, best way is to attend a reenactment.  Being living historians, most are eager to talk to you.  Ask for information.   Some operate websites, or have newsletters.  Check these out and ask the all important question, how do I get started?   They may invite you to join them.  No doubt purchasing the uniform and equipment is a major investment, and some groups have "loaner" gear available, that is gear you can borrow for the weekend.  I strongly recommend you borrow gear first, rather than purchase.   You need to make sure the hobby is for you.  You will know within the first couple hours whether or not you want to continue to participate.   Being a military reenactor can be physically demanding. If you have health conditions its important to tell the group your with what issues you have. If you have a condition that precludes you from participating on the field they are many ways you can participate.  There are other less demanding impressions you can do, its big hobby based on a big topic with dozens of impressions.  Have fun with it. 

If you find a unit that seems agreeable to you, accept the invitation to participate.  Show-up and be prepared to cooperate, have a great experience, and also have a lot of fun.  Find out what the schedules are and be sure your in camp and ready to go during group activities which will include morning role call, dress parade, drill, safety inspections, and any number of different activities planned, usually leading up to the battle.  Much goes on before you take the field for battle, and you  must be prepared.  The non-coms will teach you all you need to know and give you guidance, they will also teach you safety.   At first you will be overwhelmed, but everybody has been there, and they will help you through.  As you go through this process, gauge how you feel about the unit.  Do you like them?  Are they helpful?   Are these people you can get along with?  All important questions, because if you decide to get involved, you will be spending time together and its important that you enjoy yourself as well.  If your not happy with your experience, find another unit and give them a try.  If your experience is good, and you want to join the group and become a regular member, ask about the membership process.  Most groups have a probationary period where you participate in a set number of events, they may have an application, and there may be a voting process to become a member.    Most have dues of some kind, usually $10.00 to $20.00 a year to help fund unit activities.   Be sure to ask about membership requirements.