CIVIL WAR REENACTMENTS JUST AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE. So writes Jesse Marx in an article on the news site TheWeek.com.
While a decade ago, there were an estimated 50,000 living-history enthusiasts in the U.S. devoted to recreating the conflict, according to the article, the number of participants has fallen by half in recent years.
“The old guys are getting out of the game… and the kids aren’t necessarily rushing to take their place,” writes Marx. “Meanwhile, the Great Recession has taken its toll on what was already an expensive endeavor.”
The Wall Street Journal noted a similar trend in a recent article. In fact, the paper reported that interest in the war between the northern and southern states is at an all time low among Americans. And while the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg in 2013 drew thousands, historians and reenactors alike have been dismayed by the public’s seeming indifference to the ongoing sesquicentennial celebrations that kicked off in 2011.
“The whole thing fizzled,” one Civil War buff told the WSJ.
But while attendance at Civil War reenactments may be on the decline, living history events covering other periods continue to grab attention in North America, Europe and elsewhere. Consider these:
• For the past three summers, Canadians have been flocking to historic sites in record numbers to witness lavish War of 1812 recreations marking the 200th anniversary of that conflict. The government of Canada set aside a $30 million fund to help finance the events.
• Second World War reenactments also continue to pull in huge crowds. Fascination with the conflict has surged in recent years, thanks in part to Hollywood and the computer gaming industry. The 70th anniversary of D-Day this past June has only added to the buzz. It’s no surprise that reenactment societies representing both Allied and Axis units continue to thrive worldwide.
• And speaking of anniversaries, this summer’s First World War centenary has fueled growing curiosity for battle reenactments that depict combat circa 1914, particularly in Europe.
Overall, living history seems to be flourishing. In fact, a quick search of Facebook reveals a stunning array of recreation societies in all corners of the globe that portray some of the past’s most famous wars and battles. Consider these unexpected reenactment groups:
‘Nam Flashbacks — According to this article by America’s public broadcaster, more living history aficionados than ever are donning OD fatigues and heading into the bush to reenact the war in Vietnam. And interest in the 50-year-old conflict isn’t just confined to the U.S. British living history groups that focus on the period are springing up as well.
Too Soon? – Then there are groups inspired by even more recent conflicts, like the 1991 Persian Gulf War. One organization, known as “The Jarheads”, puts on displays portraying the two-month long campaign that saw coalition forces drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Interestingly enough, the Jarheads, who play the role of U.S. Marines, aren’t even American. They’re from Poland! Here’s their Facebook page.
The Screaming Eagles… of Hungary? — The 101st Airborne Reenactors Group of Budapest is just one of many living history outfits worldwide that dress the part of the famous American parachute infantry division. Not surprisingly, there are a number of U.S.-based groups that play the unit as well (like this one) and at least one British club.
Imperial Ambitions – The Roman Empire conquered much of the ancient world. Today, Nova Roma, a vast network of reenactors, has its own legions in just about every corner of the globe. Not only are there chapters in Italy, France, Great Britain and Germany (as would be expected), but surprisingly Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Argentina also have member groups.
The Civil War Goes European – While American Civil War groups may be on the decline in the U.S., interest in the struggle between the blue and the grey may very well be on the rise elsewhere. One group in Italy plays the Confederate 14th Louisiana Infantry, while Britain is home to the American Civil War Society, which has both Yankee and Reb outfits. Reenactments of the bloody four-year conflict are also becoming popular in Russia of all places. Still more groups have appeared in Sweden.
The Norsemen of South America? — If Italians, Brits, Russians and Swedes reenacting America’s Civil War doesn’t strike you as odd, what about South American Viking reenactors? MHN was surprised to discover three such groups, Aurok Viking Reenactment and Fight Group, Varmesjord Combate Vikingo, and Cuervos de Odin Viking Reenactment Group, that hail from Chile. Another club, the Hednir Viking Reenactment Project, is Brazilian. Then there is the Asociacion Recreacionista Medieval Escandinava from Argentina. It proves you don’t necessarily have to be from Scandinavia to “go berserk”.
And the Award for Strangest Reenactment Group Goes to… — Perhaps most surprising of all, Japan is home to a sizable reenactment community that focuses on the 1991 break up of the former Yugoslavia. Participants dress as Serbs, Croats and even UN peacekeepers and stage mock battles.
Did we miss any out-of-the-ordinary living history groups? Let us know in the comments below.