DEC 2013/JAN 2014
by Jolene Polyack
images by Frankie Leal
Civil War Reenactments (CWR’s), began even before the Civil War was finished. They started when veterans would reenact battles as a way to remember their fallen comrades. They grew in popularity, with a major catalyst being the 50 year reunion of the war, where veterans from both the Confederate and Union sides came together to remember and honor those who had lost their lives. In the 1960’s the reenactments began to gain in popularity and now today, have swelled to thousands of events per year throughout the United States, Canada and even Great Brittan.
CWR enthusiasts will give a variety of reasons for their dedication to this place in history. For some, it is the camaraderie they feel when they are with their friends at the events. One group interviewed at Fresno’s recent CWR had traveled from the Bay Area. They attend twelve to fifteen CWR’s per year. Another group said they love history and enjoy imagining what it would be like to have lived then. Still others say it is the joy of teaching that brings them to these events; they like to see children’s faces light up when they actually see history coming to life. There are young and old alike who are equally passionate about the reenactments. Entire families will set up camp, portraying characters in a variety of ways over two or three days.
Kingsburg native and former teacher Neil Nuotio played Walt Whitman at the Fresno event, reciting poems and letters from the late writer. Nuotio has been involved in CWR’s for 15 years. He got started because of his interest in both acting and history. His love for history does not just stay with the Civil War era, however. His business, Silhouettes of History Comes Alive! offers his interpretations of other famous historical people such as Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.
Friends Andy Atkins and Cameron Manuszak, both of Kingsburg, participated in the Battle of Gettysburg on the Confederate side this year. Manuszak became a CWR enthusiast ten years ago. From the time he was in 6th grade, he would attend the annual event and hoped one day to be a part of it. He always had an interest in history. Seven years ago, he talked his best friend, Atkins, into joining him. As Confederates this year, Atkins played a Captain and Manuszak a Private. The two have “kits” which include both Confederate and Union attire, plus civilian attire from that period. They have reenacted the war from both sides, in a variety of roles, sometimes as specific people and sometimes with just a general impression of the specific event. They have been participating long enough that they no longer need to study history to know what their part will be in any given battle.
It takes tens of hundreds of volunteers to create the Fresno event each year. Fresno’s is known as one of the biggest and best in the region. But it’s not a matter of simply showing up to the event. Prior to the public CWR, the reenactors have training days and they have to pass safety and artillery tests. Physically, they have to practice marching, maneuvering and firing prior to each reenactment. Hours of preparation goes into the production that the public witnesses.
Atkins and Manuszak belong to the Civil War Reenactment Society (CWRS) which is based in the Central Valley. The organization not only participates in CWR’s like Fresno’s but also holds their own event at Mooney’s Grove Park in Visalia. Their next CWR will take place next February 28 through March 2, 2014. According to their website the volunteer group “reenacts important aspects of the era, using closely-authentic weapons, clothing, tools, tents, language, customs and ideals of the people of that time. If we can share with you and peak your interest in the American Civil War, we have accomplished our mission.”
The group also travels to schools where they teach students about living in the Civil War era; what it would have been like to receive medical attention back then, cook, blacksmith, make candles, weave material, etc. If you are interested in joining the local group, or would like for them to recreate history at your school, go to www.cwrs.info for more information.