Photographs by Allison Stewart
There are over 50,000 registered Civil War reenactors in America. On weekends all across America they romanticize the most horrifying war in American history; a war that brutally divided our country and claimed over 600,000 American lives. There is very little discussion of slavery at Civil War reenactments and very few African-American reenactors. The discussions focus on states rights, battle plans, uniforms, and weaponry. The reenactors regard themselves as Living History Educators, but what version of history are they teaching?
Most of the photo documents from the Civil War have been proven to be false. Timothy O'Sullivan and Alexander Gardner, working for the Matthew Brady Studios, famously moved corpses at Gettysburg for visual effect. They created iconic images that have become symbols for the cause, fusing together the cause and the event in our collective history. These are the images we teach as historical documents. The reenactor has learned how to die from these images and they recreate the false document again and again, romanticizing the role of the hero soldier and validating their version of history. This keeps the mythic war alive and creates a culture that romanticizes the revisioned history of long dead world.