PART II - civilian Town of Gettysburg
PART II - civilian Town of Gettysburg
In battle areas, the stress on the civilian population was immense and even in areas not touched by battle, the stresses of war made daily life very different than during peacetime. “The war changed those people at home just as it changed the soldiers fighting so far from home,” says Mrs. Lawson. “With the civilian-only ‘Town of Gettysburg,’ we are really committed to capturing the daily lives of those civilians whether they are blacksmiths, potters, spinners, weavers, seamstresses, farmers, laborers or others in civilian employments.”
Mrs. Lawson emphasizes that most reenactors are very serious, “Many of us sleep in period garments just to keep that sense of ‘immersion’ in the time period.” For those who feel too constrained by the expectations of life in the civilian town, the Blue Gray Alliance offers areas for soldiers-only military camps as well as mixed military/family camps for military units with accompanying civilians. This allows reenactors to find the level of authenticity and style of camping they enjoy most whether it is mainstreamer, progressive, or campaigner.
“We’ve seen the civilian side of reenacting grow through the past few events we’ve had,” Mrs. Lawson explains. “At Shiloh, in 2012, we had about 250 residents in the civilian town, and at Gettysburg in 2013, we expect possibly as many as 400.” Both reenactors and spectators appreciate the opportunity to experience aspects of life during the Civil War era other than military. This is especially true for men who might be beyond the usual military age or might have even retired from reenacting but still want to enjoy a meaningful impression for the cycle of 150th anniversaries. These civilian portrayals add to the larger picture of the war and certainly add quality to the events. “Those who didn’t carry a musket still contributed to society in ways that kept the fabric of society together and made a difference in the war effort,” explains Mrs. Lawson.
Since the 1950s, Lawson has been reenacting the lives of rural lower-class or farming class women spanning a historical timeline of 1720 to 1870 from the French Settlement of Alabama through the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Civil War, and the times of peace throughout each era. Through handspinning, weaving, and period dying, Lawson connects her portrayal to some of the actual activities of the time period she is representing.
“We all have a need to know who we are,” she explains. “In the past, we all knew and handed down to the next generation the stories of our ancestors, their homelands, and their cultures. My impression in reenacting is so much more real to me because I know where I came from, and what my people were like a hundred-fifty years ago in the Alabama River delta.”
Though her portrayal changes based on the time period or the region where she is reenacting, she draws from the experience of a young girl from the early 19th century as described in Pickett’s History of Alabama and Incidentally of Mississippi and Georgia From the Earliest Time.
In the 1860s, it was not customary to find women involved in civil government, so Mrs. Lawson’s role as “Governor” is mainly administrative. The Burgess, or Town Mayor, for the civilian town is Robert Orrand. He oversees the Town layout, enforces safety standards, and works with the military commander when military action occurs in and around the town as it does at least once during a reenactment.
Burgess Orrand’s experience in reenacting spans both the civilian and the military spheres. He began his reenacting career with the 51st Tennessee/16th Wisconsin in a unit portraying either Confederate or Federal soldiers depending on the needs of the event. He also has operated as a Provost Guard and local militia wearing civilian garb and carrying a shotgun for a weapon.
“No matter what impression we’re adopting for a specific event, we always do research and make sure it is appropriate for that time and place whether North, South, East, or West,” explains Mrs. Lawson. “In the civilian town, we expect residents to research their impression, observe others, and be willing to change their mindset so they’re not thinking, ‘Can I get by with this?’ but instead thinking, ‘What can I do to enhance everyone’s experience?’”
The civilian town will make an appearance at other upcoming Blue Gray Alliance events as well including Chickamauga in September, 2013, Red River in 2014, and Franklin in 2014.
Other activities for civilian reenactors and spectators interested in the civilian experience at the 150th Commemoration and Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg include clothing demonstrations of underpinnings, work clothes, and formal clothes, period hair styling lecture, ladies’ tea, and a “make and take” activity where participants can create a period accessory and take it home with them after the workshop. The event will also offer talks by living historians, book signings, period music, sutlers, food vendors, a period church service, a period Catholic mass, and a Civil War Ball on Saturday night, June 29th with music provided by the Emmy-nominated “Unreconstructed String Band”.
Registration is $20. Spectator tickets are $10 with children 12 and under free. Parking is free. Please visit www.bluegraygettysburg.com for more information on the event including a schedule of events.
1st Regiment Kentucky Volunteers, Co E CSA