Reviewed October 2015
U.S. Civil War Cavalry Reenacting brings people, like-minded in their interest of Civil War history, together to recreate for audiences some of the battles that occurred during the war and to demonstrate how soldiers and civilians lived during the 1860’s.
Our reenacting unit represents a company of U.S. Regular Army Cavalry, and a company of Confederate Virginian Cavalry, that were active during the Civil War. We read essays, letters, diaries, commentaries, pictures, reports, maps, memoirs, documentaries, biographies, muster rolls, regimental returns, and anything else that educates us about the cavalry during this period. We take care to look right by wearing and using well-made reproductions of original uniforms, weapons, equipment, and other items used at the time. We adopt military courtesies and learn and use the drill and tactics of the period.
Prepared in this way, we participate in battle reenactments, living histories, and tactical events and campaign rides. Battle reenactments and living history events usually occur over weekends, where we set up and live out of static camps. Tactical events and campaign rides can last several days, often in very austere conditions. We also sometimes support parades and films. Below is a description of the activities that our hobby can encompass.
These are the events for which reenactors are most well known. Event organizers often try to plan these events on or near the original battle site, as close to possible to the historic date of the action. Reenactments can vary in size, hosting a handful of mounted troopers at small local events, to several hundred at the most well known battles. Reenactments are most often combined arms events where Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery are all present on the field, though some of our events are Cavalry only. Small or large, combined-arms or cavalry-only, they put our knowledge of drill and tactics to the test. The scenarios are scripted and the outcome is usually well defined, but the activity itself can be a real blast. We've taken part in events with anywhere from 50 to 20,000 total participants who come from all across the U.S., sometimes from Canada, and for the “really” big ones (Gettysburg 150th for example), sometimes the United Kingdom and Australia. At the larger reenactments, in addition to the battle demonstrations, sutlers often set up mobile shops to sell clothes, equipment and other items with a Civil War theme.
Most frequently done in cooperation with the National Park Service, this is where we demonstrate mounted drill and tactics common to the cavalry in the 1860’s, and re-create cavalry camp life. These events focus on education rather than battle demonstrations. We are blessed with a strong relationship with the National Park Service (NPS) at Gettysburg and Yorktown, who regularly invite us to portray Civil War Cavalry as part of their scheduled educational programs. Sometimes ours is the only unit present, and other times the NPS might invite other units, such as Infantry or Artillery, to demonstrate their impressions also. At a typical National Park Living History, we’ll perform 4 or 5 mounted drill demonstrations over the course of a weekend. Sometimes we engage in lighthearted competition by “Running the Heads”, a test of skill where troopers gallop their horses at targets – in our case, apples – trying to hit them with sabers. It’s harder than it looks! We welcome visitors to our camp, and our troopers along with our families and unit members portraying civilians recount what life was like for camp followers and others connected to the military. Besides the NPS, we’ve done presentations for schools, state parks, bed & breakfasts, and the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Tactical Events/Campaign Rides:
These events can last from a few days to a week and because we’re living out of the saddle and on the move, are not usually open to the public. They are frequently based on an actual event that occurred during the Civil War and can be somewhat scripted, though each side’s leadership often develops strategies and takes unplanned actions aimed at surprising and besting their opponents. Campaign rides give us an opportunity to experience, if only for a few days, how the cavalry lived. We ride out across country, tackle varying terrain, sleep on the ground, take the weather as it comes, and live largely with what we can carry in the saddle. Afterward we’re dirty and smelly, sore from riding, sore from sleeping on the ground, and in absolute awe of what a cavalry trooper endured every day he served.
Ceremonies and Parades:
We also occasionally participate in parades or historic ceremonies, bringing the Cavalry to Main Street America. We’ve recently participated in parades in Yorktown, VA; Philadelphia, PA; and Washington, DC.
Films and Documentaries:
Finally, we sometimes support films and documentaries with our cavalry impression. Some of our membership helped make the documentary “Averell’s Raiders and the 35th Star” (averellsraiders.com) and "Gift from a Yankee" (2016).