I was going to post this in the Whine Cellar, but saw that it's for items from which, generally, no good can come. This one starts off that way, but the ultimate intention is definitely to do some good.
Like many of us, I've heard well-intentioned and not-so-well intentioned reenactors misinform the public. "The battle was at Gettysburg because the Confederates went there looking for shoes" is a typical example. Pretty much everybody in both armies was always looking for shoes, especially when the armies were on the move and shoes were wearing out quickly, but that's not why Gettysburg became a battle site. It's just a yarn, a kind of urban myth, that become attractive over time: "Just think, all these people dead just from shoes." That's one type. The other is confusion: 51,000 dead at Gettysburg. No. 51,000 casualties. That's dead, wounded, prisoner/missing.
I'd like to try to clear some of that up before the 150s begin.
I'd like people to spell out the most serious misconceptions or plain wrong statements they've heard reenactors perpetuate in presentations to the public.
Then I'll add a section to an upcoming book for living historians. It will briefly lay out the misconception or misstatement or misunderstanding, and include the pertinent undisputable information to clear the smoke, set it straight, keep it in perspective, whatever.
It's a book in the paradigm of "by us, for us." It's not about history as such. It's about us trying to recreate it. Obviously I'm working up a series of books around the same theme, history and reenacting. "Seize the Day" is out there to give bored same-old-same-old reenactors a reason to go on living in the 19th Century. "The Little Book of Civil War Reenacting" is going to be posted and available any day now, to help recruit. I'm partway through writing "Are you going to EAT that?!" about cooking in camp with 1860s equipment and techniques and living to tell about it. I'm thinking a good book for all of us would simply be called "The Bigger Book of Civil War Reenacting," subtitled something like "How to interpret history and keep your friends in the process." You get the idea. Part of it would be "learn from our mistakes," and what I'm asking right now is for people to help me inventory our mistakes, specifically the ones made in explaining history to the wide-eyed public.
I've certainly spread my share of misinformation. I remember being obliquely set straight by Gary Byrd of the 20th SCVI during a living history. I'd explained something about Confederate rations to the spectators, and got it wrong. A concerned fellow reenactor said nothing to me (it was really South Carolina, obliqueness is a way of life) but he went to Gary, the officer. Gary simply waited until the same question got asked of me that had led to the wrong information, then he jumped in and answered it, and I could see immediately where I'd gone off the rails with what I was trying helpfully but inaccurately to explain. Then he immediately turned back to me and said "Now, go ahead and explain about wool uniforms lasting longer. That was good stuff." That was 1993 and I haven't forgotten: No need for confrontation, no disparagement, no need for "aha, you're wrong," just set the record straight with no loss of face and we all move forward with what that aspect of our hobby is all about, explaining the past accurately to the present.
So that's what we'll do in that part of "The Bigger Book." It's just dying to have a witty chapter name, too, but I'm stumped. All suggestions welcome.
Bring it on.