Re-enactors brought the American Civil War to life in Beekmantown recently.
John Dodge appreciates the time he spends sleeping under a tent in full Confederate gear.
When he steps outside, he breathes in the smell of gunpowder as the fog of war slips over the field.
As he hid in the woods and prepared for battle, he smiled under the bright sun and motioned to the men on either side of him.
“There is a sense of comradery here.”
Dodge was one of many re-enactors from the North Country and Canada who gathered in Beekmantown this past weekend to bring the American Civil War to life. This is the fifth year the event has been held, though this year it relocated from the former Plattsburgh Air Force base to Beekmantown.
“We wanted to find a more permanent space,” said Matt Hewson of Plattsburgh who organizes the event.
He explained that those gathered were trying to provide spectators with an example of what camp life was like for military men. The fighting was not based on any particular battle, but more a representation of what it would have been like for soldiers.
“We are trying to cultivate living history in the area,” said Hewson, who also reenacts WWII.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) was instigated when 11 southern states declared secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy felt the federal government was becoming too strong.
Other factors that contributed to the war included states’ rights, slavery, party politics, abolitionism, Northern nationalism, expansionism, sectionalism, economics and modernization in the Antebellum period.
The Confederacy surrendered after four years of warfare, mostly within the Southern states, and slavery was outlawed.
It remains the deadliest war in American history, claiming the lives of roughly 750,000 soldiers, as well as civilians. The death toll has been estimated at 10 percent of Northern males 20-45, and 30 percent of Southern white males 18-40.
“The Civil War was one of the most heart-wrenching moments in American history,” Hewson said. “It was a defining moment in our country, and the end result was a more unified nation.
“If you want to understand how things progressed, you have to understand what came before.”
America Civil War reenactment is most common in the United States but also occurs in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Italy.
It began before fighting had ended when veterans recreated battles to remember comrades and teach others about the war.
More than 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans attended the Great Reunion of 1913 to celebrate the Battle of Gettysburg and conduct reenactments.
Reenacting’s popularity grew during the 1980s and 1990s, and the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg near the original battlefield is considered the largest re-enactment ever held in the world, with between 30,000 and 41,000 re-enactors.
The number of Civil War re-enactors was estimated at 50,000 in 2000, though those numbers dropped to roughly 30,000 in 2011.
Dodge began re-enacting eight years ago through the Battle of Plattsburgh and it mushroomed from there. He also participates in Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, Spanish American War and WWII re-eneactments.
“We have so much history, and I want to get people interested.”
“This brings an element of realism no book could ever do,” added Hewson. “You get to engage and interact with a part of history that is being brought to life.”