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The Civil War was a horrific four years for the nation. When it was over, more than 620,000 Americans had died from battle and war-related causes. American had fought against American and in some cases, brother had literally fought against brother. Yet, Americans and people around the world continue to be enthralled with the American Civil War. And yes, every year thousands of people relive the war by participating in reenactments. No doubt about it, Americans love remembering an era you might think we would like to forget.

Francis Brownell
Francis Brownell
Perhaps one reason for our fascination is that the war is in many ways still near to us, both in time and in its underlying issues, such as the proper balance between governmental authority and freedom, that still perplex the nation. The last meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Union veterans of the war, was held in 1949 and the last meeting of the United Confederate Veterans took place in 1944. Plus, the war was the first conflict to be captured in photographs, making it so much more real and present than conflicts we know about simply from writings or paintings.

Of course, not everyone who is enthralled with the war is consciously aware of these issues. With its stirring music, elaborate dress, and noble soldiers on both sides, the war appeals to our sense of romance and adventure.

Fort Totten
Fort Totten

Every year thousands of people, both the historically-minded and the adventure-inclined relive important battles by reenacting them.

These reenactments are a one-time lark for some, similar to going to a Halloween or other costume party, but for others they are an all-engrossing hobby. The majority of re-enactors are men in their thirties, although sometimes whole families participate; some hard core re-enactors are adamant that women should not participate as soldiers on the battlefield, though there were numerous women who disguised themselves as males and actually fought in the war.

Civil War reenacting began in the 1920s with the actual veterans of the war seeking to commemorate their fallen comrades. World War II squashed some of the enthusiasm for reenacting, but it again resurged during the 1960s Centennial celebrations, only to die down during the late 1960s and the 1970s. Since the 1980s the movement has grown stronger than ever as more people have the leisure and money to participate. Some of the larger reenactments are sponsored by national parks as educational events and tourist draws.

Though only a minority of enthusiasts will ever participate in reenactments, our fascination with the American Civil War seems unlikely to die.

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