Last week I learned of the retirement of long time Robert E. Lee impersonator, Al Stone. Mr. Stone plans on using the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House as the backdrop for his final performance. I’ve noticed an uptick in stories from around the country that plan on using this particular anniversary as the final roll call for local reenactments. Check out this story from Keokuk, Iowa. Not too long ago I read that a large group of veteran reenactors was going to lay down its arms for good at Appomattox in April 2015.

You can still read stories about young men and women who are entering the hobby, but I have to wonder whether the end of the sesquicentennial will, for all practical purposes, mark the end of Civil War reenacting. For now I am referring to the large events organized for the anniversaries of Antietam, Gettysburg and other high profile battles. With the aging of the centennial generation it should come as no surprise that interest in reenactments is on the decline.

I’ve always seen the centennial generation as the last direct connection or one connection removed from the Civil War generation. As we approach the end of the sesquicentennial it’s worth reflecting on what will be lost as battlefield reenacting becomes less a staple of our Civil War memory and what will be gained as well.

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20 comments add yours

  1. You may be right. My grandmother (aged 92) is a granddaughter of a soldier who served in the 4th VA and surrendered with Lee at Appomattox. We enjoyed a reenactment at Winchester twenty years ago, but I didn’t see that as sustainable entertainment back then.

    However, my family greatly enjoyed the reenactors at the Gettysburg sesquicentennial. Those southern boys took their unit history seriously.

  2. It will be interesting to see whether some of the Confederate reenactors will actually stay to “surrender.” At the 125th event in 1990, a number of them packed up and left rather than participate in the surrender ceremony.

    • As a member of Chamberlain’s 20th Maine, I was there at the 125th Appomattox event. It was a most thrilling, memorable, and emotional event that ever occurred. The rebs marched up, laid down their arms, wept as they surrendered their flags, many kissing their hallowed tatters, most in tears. We were all moved. There was no exuberance or gaiety, each of us in blue knew just what it took for them to be present, to surrender those arms, and return home. It was hard to see our old foe an enemy now, so scantily clad, so much skin and bone, so much loyalty for ‘Marse Roberts, that they obeyed and stepped forward in turn, to say, “no more.”

      I cannot, for an instant, imagine the 150th to have 1/2 of emotion or pathos, of that event long ago. But for those rebs who think it too much to surrender, you have not experience the full measure of the Confederacy until you join the ranks of those who laid down their arms 150 years ago. THEY were MEN to obey and to recognize it was time to go rebuild the South. Their affection for their leader was enough to admit it was time to lay aside hostilities and to rejoin the Republic. May the South yet have men of honor who recognize the value of full service to the end.

  3. Reminds me of the guy in Confederates in the Attic who lived about 45 minutes east of Appomattox but had intentionally never been there, because to visit the surrender site would mean having to acknowledge that it all was truly over. 🙂

  4. I know a number of veteran re-enactors from both sides who have been in the hobby since the 1970’s and say that the 150th of Appomattox will be it for them as far as the hobby is concerned. They will still maintain a high interest in the Civil War period and maybe meet in a diner to reminisce about the good times they had- “Remember Chickamauga in 1993? Man, did it rain buckets!” like old veterans. They may give up the camping, re-enactments, marches and other things associated with it but it will be hard to get the experience out of their blood. And maybe it’s for the best- it just is not believable to have a gray-bearded, 60 year-old portraying a soldier in an army whose average age was 24, and that new generation of young guys (the few of them) can carry on the oft-times strange but well meaning hobby of Civil War re-enacting.

    • Remember that “mud-march?” I recall how the river that separated the camps from the cars continued to rise until they cut the bridge for safety, standing those trying to cross. Efforts to walk resembled the Keystone Kops as we slid all over the wet grass.

  5. I’ve been involved with reenacting since 2004 (though I stopped for several years before getting back into the hobby last year). I’ve participated in ceremonies, parades, living history demonstrations, encampments and large scale battles. For me, it has all been a very rewarding experience and I’ve seen some really neat things take place. Of course, everything is not for everybody. But in most cases, when I tell people I’m involved in Civil War reenacting, they are very impressed and seem to enjoy what I share with them. I see myself as something of a tour guide at a living history or battle event and I learn a lot with every new experience.

    I’ve heard it said that many people may get out after the Appomattox 150th. Perhaps this will happen. I don’t know of anyone who is planning to do quit next year, however.

  6. As a young reenactor, I know quite a lot of re-enactors who say claim to be departing the hobby after Appomattox. You may be right about major events. It is difficult to muster the manpower and the younger generation, though enthusiastic, is small. Personally, I enjoy the small living histories more than anything. National events are FUBAR.

  7. Fine comments, all.
    I will participate in Appomattox 150 portraying “Tiger” John McCausland as I do every year at the “Burning of Chambersburg” commemoration sponsored by the Franklin County Visitor’s Bureau. Authenticity is a high priority for all reenactors, and in pursuit of that standard, I will join other Cavalry in “riding away” from Appomattox.
    McCausland’s account of his response to the surrender:
    “My command — by that time a mere skeleton, reduced to not more than 200 men was next to General Tom Mulford (Munford) on a hill above the town…Just at that moment General Fitzhugh Lee came charging by on his horse.
    ‘High, Fitzhugh, what’s going on out there?’ I asked.
    ‘Uncle Bobby has surrendered,’ spurring his horse to speedier flight.
    I turned to Mulford (Munford) and said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’
    We made our way to Lynchburg where we disbanded our forces…”

    McCausland found a lawless Lynchburg overrun by rebel deserters. He and his men quickly worked to restore law and order before he moved onto his home in West Virgina, where he took the oath of surrender. He was forced to expatriate for several years while Pennsylvania endeavored to arrest him on arson charges. “Tiger John” eventually returned to establish a sprawling estate, raise a family and peacefully live his life after President Grant squelched PA’s effort to prosecute him.

    My experience is that reenactors are more concerned with the number (150th vs. 151st, etc.) than are the appreciative audiences that desire to witness a dramatic replay of history. I invite my fellow reenactors to continue with us in an accurate portrayal of history regardless of the anniversary.

  8. I have been a living historian for 52 years on July 4th 2015 I was a child when I started…..every anniversary cycle we think it will be the last……I see no end to this hobby….it lulls at times and then there is a rebirth of interest……see you at the 150th of Appomattox….I would not miss it even if I had to walk from Georgia….my gg- grandfather was a member of the 20th Maine……and I will stand with him. As far as when I will lay down my arms…..Well it will be at the 175th of Gettysburg…..Blessings to all

  9. I have been a reenactor since I was 13 some 25 years ago. I don’t look to giving it up but who knows. I do it for my ancestors in gray and blue. They did so much without. I just wish more young would get involved instead playing on video games and computer. It’s much more realistic that way. The ranks of reenactors are filled with tons of 30-50 year olds when during the war most were under the age of 25. That’s why if anything this hobby might die because the older ones will step out and no younger ones will follow.

  10. I started reenacting in 1997 at the Grant’s birthday celebration in Georgetown, Ohio doing Cavalry. In 2006 I bought a grey horse and began doing a mounted impression of General Lee. Just recently I heard that Al Stone was retiring. I was saddened by the news. I wish him well. I fully understand the need to retire as I have great difficulty mounting horses and know my time is near. Some of my horses are also in need of retirement. My old Standardbred that was my favorite is now 31 years old. I am hoping to do some reenacting this year but a lot of the old events have shut down leaving few choices.

  11. My GGrand father was a doctor with rank of Captain n the first Tenn Confederate Calvary. We have his letters to his sweetheart whom he married near the end of the war. They really knew how to write n those days. I hope to b at Appomattox n a few weeks. Have a safe trip everyone. God bless America

  12. I would hope for the participation in the surrender reenactment to be undertaken and understood by both Blue and Gray as a point in time where history moved forward and courageous men on both sides beheld with reverence how they comported themselves.

  13. Having stood at attention while the Confederate reenactors laid down their arms, I can say it was a solemn event, and both Blue and Gray comported themselves well.

  14. Yes, Appomattox was a tear filled event. I had intended to retire my impression of “The General” with Appomattox. I found it a difficult challenge and then when my wife passed, I felt the call to return to the field on a limited basis – which I’ve done. I continue to travel extensively offering speaking engagements along with the 2 books I’ve written and DVD that I wrote and produced. Will be appearing in Houston in April 2019 among other places. Books are titled “GeneraLee Speaking – my life as a living historian” and “We Have Given You A Republic – if you can keep it”. My thanks to all who have supported the Living History hobby and myself.

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