(8/23/12 Web Exclusive Civil War News Book Review)
Man of War: My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactment. By Charlie Schroeder. 282 pp., 2012, Hudson Street Press, http://us.penguingroup.com, $25.95.
Reenactors are perhaps some of the most interesting people whom psychologists have yet to study. Dressing up in “strange clothes” on weekends, shooting blanks at each other, and enjoying a comradeship that few outside of their units understand, they truly are a band of brothers bonded in history.
Only a few books, most notably Confederates in the Attic, have studied the unique phenomenon; most reenactors constitute a close-knit group that shuns outsiders who portray them as a bunch of weirdoes hanging out in the woods.
In an interesting new book, Charlie Schroeder, better known as a character actor from Sex and the City and as a sports writer, takes an amusing look at America’s obsession with historical reenactment.
Describing his participation in a Roman Legion event, driving around the plains of Colorado as a Nazi storm trooper, and running around the woods of Virginia as a Vietnam-era grunt, Schroeder’s work is an interesting, sometimes comical adventure in the world of reenacting.
After gaining the trust of the different groups he follows, Schroeder follows each unit around for a weekend, trying to understand why the members do what they do. While participating in a World War II event, his dedication to authenticity includes receiving a Hitler-like haircut as a prelude to shooting blanks at Soviet reenactors while riding around in a refurbished tank.
Next he joins a group of Roman reenactors as they battle blue-painted Celts with felt swords. The members quip at each other in Latin mixed with broken English.
Other events involve Viking raids, the American Revolution and the Civil War. Schroeder explores the world of reenactors, often white, middle-class, hard-working men who seek an escape from their modern lives by donning costumes and attempting to reenact the past with varying degrees of authenticity.
Finally he travels to the woods of Virginia to reenact the Tet Offensive in a thrilling narrative that reads like a fight with “Charlie.” The experience makes him feel somewhat ashamed at the way reenactors portray modern wars with “white guys” portraying Vietnamese and the lack of minorities in “the hobby.”
He concludes, “Reenacting shrinks the broad subject of history to a personal scale, away from days and ideas to something to which we can all relate, a human experience.”
This is an interesting and very readable study of one man’s experience with reenactors. Written in a witty, fast-paced narrative format, it is recommended for reenactors and those who want to understand more of what goes on in the world of historical reenactments.
Because the book is written from the perspective of several different time periods, it gives more understanding of those who portray periods other than the Civil War.
From April to December, Robert Grandchamp can occasionally be found in the ranks of Co. H of the 7th Rhode Island Volunteers in various spots across New England.