New book explores Civil War re-enactments in Michigan

Aug 20, 2014

American Civil War re-enactment
American Civil War re-enactment
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Michigan embraced the Union cause before the first shot at Fort Sumpter was ever fired. And Michigan soldiers and sailors were involved in virtually all of the campaigns and battles of the Civil War.

A new book looks at the ways Michiganders were a part of the Civil War through photographs of some of the 10,000 Civil War re-enactors in Michigan.

It's called "American Civil War Years: The Michigan Experience (The Reenactors' Telling)."

“We really wanted to pay tribute to these people who are out there in 100-degree weather in wool,” said iMichigan Productions’ Donna Ullrich, the editor of the book.

Ullrich said the book does not focus on the names of the re-enactors, but on the characters themselves. The re-enactors would even talk in first person of the people they represent to help capture the imagination.

John Gibney is a historian and essayist for the book.

He is also a re-enactor, and has been since 1960. He said that even as a boy he loved history, but the books were boring. To re-enact those moments was a great way to really find out what life was like.

“To actually go there and sleep there and the cannons going off, the ground shaking, all of that – this is something that needs to be explained to everybody,” Gibney said.

Gibney said there are three aspects to living history.

There is first person, where you take on the persona of the character. There is third person, where a lecturer talks about the history. And finally there is second person, where you have the public touch, feel, and don the clothing of the time to give them a sense of what it was like.

“The authenticity, it’s insane. Right down to the underwear. Right down to the socks. Right down to the boots,” said Gibney.

One of the largest Civil War re-enactments is the Cascade Civil War Muster, happening August 23 and 24 in Jackson. You can get details here.

You can find out more about "The American Civil War Years: The Michigan Experience (The Reenactors' Telling)" here.

*Listen to the full interview with Donna Ullrich and John Gibney above.