March 7, 2013

Advice for Spectators at Reenactments

As the 150th anniversaries of big battles like Chancellorsville and Gettysburg are coming up this year, many people who have never been to a reenactment will be flocking to the sites. Reenactments can be very fun, but can easily become troublesome if you don't know what you are getting into.

As a reenactor, I have seen many spectators who looked completely lost as to what they were expecting when they showed up who could have enjoyed the event a lot more if they knew a couple of things in advance. A reenactment generally isn't the place for high heels, but there's always one woman there who didn't realize that the event was taking place in a field. 

Advice for Spectators:

-Ask someone where the bulk of the battle will be. The battles are typically in the same spots each year so ask around to see if you can get a good spot. It's improbable that you will see the entire battle so if you get a good spot, keep it.

- Bring your own shade. Most events are held in the summer and there is little shade. Make sure you wear hats and sunscreen. If it's really sunny, you may even consider bringing umbrellas. Sunny can be fun but after hours in the sun, sunburn and sweat can easily become not so fun.

-Bring seating. Battles can be up to two hours long and seating is not provided. It's easy to bring a blanket or some beach chairs. Also many events are held on grass with minimum paved roads. Wear comfy shoes and be prepared to walk on hilly fields. Strollers are sometimes more of a hindrance than a help.    

-Pack a lunch. Make sure you bring lots of water and pack a lunch. There are almost always food vendors at events but be prepared to pay high prices and wait in long lines. You could make use of the day and pack a special picnic. Water is very important, make sure you have extra.

-Bring your own toilet tissue. If it's a huge event like the Gettysburg 150th anniversary, you can bet your bottom that there's a good chance there won't be any. Better safe than sorry.  

-Explore the camps in the morning before everyone is exhausted. Many battles start at 1 or 2 PM, explore the camps before the battle so that you actually get a chance to see everything. It's unlikely that the camps will still be there after the battle on Sunday. Many reenactors travel far to attend reenactments so they have to leave early to get home in time for work on Monday morning.

-If you are bringing children, dress them up. The kids will definitely have more fun if they are wearing outfits that they don't normally wear. Dress little boys up in plaid shirts, jeans and a baseball hat. Dress girls in  button down dresses or a shirt and long skirt with an apron and straw hat. It's not historically accurate but your kids won't mind and they'll have a ton more fun. Suitable outfits can be made out of thrift store finds for a few dollars. You may also think about bringing some toys or a card game. Sometimes the battles take a little while to start up.   

General Courtesies:

Remember, reenactors pay as much as you do to go to events, please be respectful of them. Don't touch anything they bring without permission. All items you see are their personal belongings. Most reenactors are more than willing to let you see or even touch anything you ask to but it's much more polite to ask.

If you are a reenactor, do you have any tips on how to have a good time at a reenactment? If you are planning to attend a reenactment this year as a spectator, do you have any questions?


  1. Wonderful idea! I wish they would pass a flier out to spectators before events. It should also add: things on display are not for taking.
    Nice post!


    1. I actually was going to put that but felt that maybe I was pointing out something obvious. People do take our stuff and I don't think they realize that this stuff is personal and expensive. Sometimes it's kids that don't know better but their parents need to be watching.

      Thanks Kristen!

  2. 1. Appropriate summer clothing for spectators is a must. Wide-brimmed hats or baseball caps, sunglasses and shorts. If you plan to explore the camps it would be a good idea not to wear sandals. Wear hiking boots or good sneakers.

    2. Dick's Sporting Goods carries Gatorade tablets that dissolve in water. They are called "G.U. BREW" or something and come in these plastic dispensers. Put the Gatorade tablets in your pocket or purse. You can crumble them up and put them in the water bottles they provide for a free and refreshing drink with some electrolytes. Fizzes up and dissolves to make Gatorade in about one minute.

    3. If you think you may have trouble walking around, flag down a golf cart, or call ahead to notify the event staff you might be handicapped and allowances will be made.

    4. Items in camp and in living history displays are part of individual collections and are not for sale.

    5. Stay out of people's tents, it is a person's home for the weekend.

    6. Don't EVER EVER touch somebody's gun unless they show it to you that it's unloaded and say it's okay!

    7. Don't feed or pet the horses. If a horse is tied up in camp while a battle is going on, it's because it is a new horse who's not ready for battle and may be unaccustomed to loud noises. They could be prone to spook, kick if scared or run if they see other horses running. In general just don't go near them.

    8. Just generally be respectful of who we are and what we do at all times. Don't yell out stuff about "It's the 21st century guys" or "Go home, Yankee!" or other rude things. We are professionals and if you disrespect a reenactor, you're the one that looks like an idiot, not us.

    9. No, the monuments weren't here when the real battle was taking place.

    10. For spectators: If you don't know something, ASK!!
    10a. For Reenactors: If you don't know the answer to a question, keep your mouth shut or say you don't know. Trying to look like you know something you don't could get you in trouble. There's always somebody who knows more than you about something.

    1. "Go home, Yankee!"

      I have to say, that one never occurred to me. Most of the time I hear "You know you guys lose.." ;)

    2. I'm guessing this must happen in the southern states. :)

  3. I think you pretty well summed it up. The only thing I can emphasize is not to be afraid to ask a question. We come out for a reason. We love to talk about what we do. You're actually doing many of us a favor by asking. :)

    1. I agree. It's much easier to talk if you know what they are interested in hearing about.

  4. We have those same questions. Some people can't believe we are actually eating something that is cooked on a fire. Thanks, Mary.

  5. I just went to my first civil war reenactment last weekend (as a spectator) and I am happy to see I didn't break any cardinal rules and that all my interest and questions weren't too annoying. :o)

  6. Hi Tiff! Reenactors love answering questions. But sometimes the questions are really out there. :D Hope you had a great time!


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