I am sure that most, if not all, of you have heard about the events at the 153rd Cedar Creek, or were there yourself, so I do not wish to give a lengthy recap of those events here, but rather focus on the lessons that we can learn from the events on Sunday. While we do not know much about the events surrounding Saturday’s incident, I think this is the perfect time for us as reenactors and living historians to show not only our patriotic resolve to resist those who wish to intimidate us, but also to show the country that we can come together as a nation, as groups of people who have different points of view and different beliefs.
Many of you, I’m sure, have seen the Facebook post from my personal page about the Cedar Creek incident. Unlike many of those who are loudly shouting about knowing who to blame, I was at sutler row when the device was found. As it turned out, we were walking past the vendor probably at the exact moment said device was found. Unlike those who immediately took to the internet to start pointing fingers, I claim no special knowledge of the device or the motivations of whoever left it. There is so little information to go on, and the item was left in such a public and neutral location, that there really is no way we can say with any certainty who to might be to blame. One can easily blame any variety of groups, usually the group these people blame align with their personal agenda, but also blame the opposite. Was it Antifa? Was it the KKK? Neo Nazis? Green Peace? How about PETA for being angry at us for wearing leather and wool? Everyone is to blame, and no one is to blame. Herein lies the opportunity and danger of this incident.
Humans have an innate desire to seek connections and assign blame to whatever group or ideology they disagree with when something happens that defies simple explanation. I had barely got home when I started hearing about people blaming this group or that group, or claiming to know special details from an unknown, unidentified, or easily doubted source. As someone who was there and was kept very well informed by the reenacting leadership as to the course of events (as confusing as they were in the US camps), none of these claims made sense or bore any relation to the reality I had experienced. While on Sunday we the participants had a sort of unity meeting after the brief battle where we chanted USA, USA, USA, and reaffirmed our desire to continue the hobby; people who weren’t there embarked on a witch hunt to blame their favorite scapegoat. This, I think, was the exact opposite of what the spontaneous unity meeting was about.
After the battle, Union and Confederate reenactors took turns playing and singing their favorite songs. US musicians played “Dixie,” and CS musicians played “Battle Cry of Freedom,” then both sides played “Star Spangled Banner”. Confederates ran over to the Union lines to have their photos taken with those of us holding the national colors, and Unionists ran over to the Confederates to take a picture with the Stars and Bars, and Southern Cross. Regardless of what we all personally believe about the wide variety of political and social issues facing our country today, here we were shaking hands, hugging, and get photos with fellow reenactors from the other side. While comradery between reenactors is very common, I have never seen such a profoundly honest, meaningful, and excited display of comradery and unity in all my seventeen years of reenacting! Hearing hundreds of reenactors, blue and gray, chanting USA, USA, USA, made all those present smile, and sent a chill of pride up the back. This, I think, was the exact response the event of Saturday warranted from us.
I remember worrying about the future of the hobby in the wake of the threat of Saturday, from a variety of angles. Event organizers could become hesitant to hold events, and reenactors could become worried about personal safety. I also remember thinking that the only thing that could prevent such a thing from happening—aside from finding the guilty parties—was how we as a hobby responded to this occurrence. As reenactors we needed to demonstrate to the outside world and to ourselves that we weren’t going to let such cowardly acts scare us into giving up a hobby we enjoy. While I don’t think reenacting and living history is the end all, be all of historical education as some do, I do believe that it has a place in the wide spectrum of teaching and educational outlets available to the public at large and educators.
The danger in all this is, as I have laid out, the tendency of some to prefer some sort of conspiratorial explanation, to be the first to point fingers, event before the participants have even had a chance to say what they saw. This tendency of immediately going on a witch hunt is a very dangerous path to go down, and is one that we as reenactors united in our shared desire to preserve and teach history need to put a stop to if we want to continue having good quality events. We don’t know who left the “device” in question, but it is safe to say that dividing and sowing confusing and suspicion in our ranks could very well have been part of their motivation. We cannot let this happen. As living historians united in a shared mission we have to show not only the guilty parties that it didn’t work, but, more broadly, the country that we can come together behind a shared vision no matter who our political beliefs and affiliations.
Reenacting and living history is something of a microcosm of America. In my seventeen years as a reenactor I think I have met someone from virtually every profession, and from all socioeconomic and educational levels. I had met college professors, business owners, lawyers, millionaires, mechanics, unemployed people, current and former military, pastors, priests, police officers, government officials, former state senators, grocery store clerks, doctors, park rangers, superintendents of parks, teachers, and so, so much more. I have met people who had to save for weeks to be able to afford to go to an event, and people who dropped thousands of dollars on gear in an instant without a second thought. I have met high school dropouts, college graduates, people with master’s degrees, PhDs, and even multiple doctorate degrees. I’ve done events with people from Australia, Canada, England, Wales, and Germany. The point of all this is to say that we come from all walks of life, and indeed from all over the world, but share a common passion for history and recreating it for our own edification and that of our audiences. As with the United States as whole, our strength lies in our component parts and how we come together as one group. We have the perfect opportunity, now that our hobby has been challenged, to take the demonstration of unity on Sunday at Cedar Creek and make it a hobby-wide endeavor. Let’s take this moment to reaffirm our nation’s motto and move forward not just as reenactors, but as Americans and remind the country that we can work past our differences and work towards greater good that works for all. – E Pluribus Unum