Beyond the battlefield, there’s the story of civilians that largely goes untold. It’s the story of the men and women who were living in the towns when armies came through, forcing them to be uprooted.
At the Battle of Perryville re-enactment, these individuals are brought to life through the Living History Village, a community of tents filled with civilian refugees.
“We’re here to demonstrate and give people an appreciation for the way things were,” said Amy Clark of Raymond, Miss. She, along with husband James and children Shaun Patrick, 1, Sarah Grace, 4, and Ashland, 7, participated in the Living History Village at the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.
“There’s so much more to history than what you read in history class,” she said. “When it becomes tangible, it becomes interesting.”
That’s why Clark and other re-enactors in the village strive to bring that history to life. They do so by operating as 19th century community.
Outside the community aspect, the re-enactors spend a great deal of time researching various areas of life in 1862. It becomes a gateway, leading the participants to learn more and more about the time period.
“It becomes a whole way of life,” Clark said.
The Masciale family from Chicago echoes this same thought.
“It becomes your birthday presents, your Christmas presents,” said Elise Masciale. The family first became involved when her brother started participating with a Boy Scout Adventure Troop. John, her father, decided he would start re-enacting, too, since he was taking his son to the events anyway.
Perryville is like a special reunion for the family, as it was John’s first national event and the time when the mother-daughter duo decided they would like to try re-enacting.
“We came here 10 years ago. At that point, when I saw the scale that it can turn into, and I saw the pretty dresses … I started thinking, ‘Well, maybe there’s something to it’,” she said.
Her parents have expanded from re-enacting, to forming their own time-period-based band. They often visit schools in their area, teaching the students about the music and the instruments. The couple also teach Victorian dance.
Elaine¿Masciale, Elise’s mother, tells stories of women from post-war era who were entering hospitals with food and clothing to help with wounded, sometimes bringing all they had.
“I wonder, would I have responded as well?” she said, explaining that many of these women did it without knowledge of how they would feed themselves or their children as winter set in.
There are many theories among the group as to why it is not as common for young adults to participate. They range from speculation about the cost, as it can be expensive, to the younger generation being too “wired.”
“With our generation, we’re the generation that grew up with TV, cell phones, air conditioning …,” said Megan Katz from Nebraska. Katz is 24, making her unusual in the realm of re-enacting. “Life isn’t geared as much to survival.”
Like the Masciales, she also found re-enacting to be a gateway hobby.
“Everytime you go, you see something new and different. It snowballs,” Katz said.
Understanding how people lived 150 years ago, and how much that has changed, keeps Katz deeply invested.
Many re-enactors found some lasting relationships through the activity.
“I met my husband at a re-enactment in Georgia,” Joni Lloyd, of Atlanta, said. She has met an “incredible friendship of women.” Perryville was her first large-scale event in 2006, which she attended with her dad. Lloyd believes there’s much to be learned and treasured through re-enacting.
“It’s a lifestyle that is quickly becoming extinct. People just don’t have the historical curiosity,” she said, emphasizing that “it’d be a true shame if we lost that.”