Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meetings Don't Have to be Boring, Especially For A Reenacting Unit

We recently had our annual period dress fall meeting of the 21st Michigan Civil War reenacting unit members. It used to be strictly a civilian meeting but some in our military began to attend as well, and now it's become an opportunity for both contingencies to learn. While our spring meeting is held in or near my home, we hold our autumn meeting out in the country on the farm of one of the families in our unit, the Schroeders. Since the greater majority of us live in the city this gives us the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle for a day. And how beautiful it is to have the scent and sights of autumn surrounding - no, engulfing us.

Since becoming the Civilian Coordinator of the 21st Michigan back in '06 I have coordinated these period dress meetings to, at first, a hesitant membership ("Really? Dressing up in our Civil War clothing for a meeting? I don't know..."). But now it has grown into something that is nearly an event in itself, and our membership even looks forward to attending them. Part of the charm is that it's just us - no public is allowed. Therefore we can dive in and immerse ourselves into the 1860's in a more relaxed manner. Our hosts really went all out this year in the attempt to give it a more authentic feel by removing as many modern necessities as possible, including their TV set and other appliances, and they are to be commended for this wonderful gesture.
As you may or may not know, one of our consistent projects in the 21st Michigan is to continue improving our 1st person presentation, so we decided to try something a little different: we created a sort of time-travel workshop; upon arrival we seemingly stepped through a portal that took us a century and a half into the past. As soon as we stepped out of our modern motorized vehicles and shut the doors they suddenly turned into carriages, buggies, wagons, and buckboards. How this happened, I don't know. But it was very strange.
Mr. Schroeder makes sure the ladies have all they need before he joined the men
And so the day commenced with visiting opportunities: in this way we would be able to socialize with our friends, albeit in 1861, before the actual meeting itself.
As would have happened in most homes back then, the ladies gathered together in the parlor for sewing, quilting, and other 'craft-filled' necessities. I was not privy to their conversations - nor, as a male, should I have been - so I cannot comment on what they spoke on, but Mrs. Schroeder assured me before-hand it would be period-correct. 

The men ventured out to the yard where we kept our conversations to discussing what we may have spoken about in this fall of 150 years ago: the war at hand and how long it might last, harvest time, health matters, and other similar topics. One adventure that I particularly enjoyed telling of was about my travels to ensure I would arrive there on time that morning. You see, we live clear over in Erin Township, which is north of Detroit, and the farm for our meeting is in Hillsdale; it took us nearly a week to get there in our carriage, so I was able to regale everyone with tales of our traveling experiences, including spending nights in taverns.
While the adults conversed, the children went to the barn and milked the cows.

My daughter had never milked a cow before and picked up on it very quickly.  (I hadn't milked a cow before either and, believe it or not, I did it correctly right from the beginning. It helps to read "how to" beforehand!).

There were one or two of our membership that did not feel comfortable in 1st person, therefore they didn't really try. And that's fine - I don't expect everyone to join in on this part of living history. It's my hope, however, that once they see how easy it is to do and how pleasing the outcome can be when everyone joins in that they'll eventually make the attempt as well.
We ate a wonderful harvest dinner of turkey, stuffing, and many types of vegetables. So good!! Once dinner was over it was announced that we were now back in 2011, and our fall meeting commenced. 
I won't bore you of the details of our meeting except to say we covered a bit about this past year's reenacting season (and the rights and wrongs of it) as well as our plans for next year. There was lots of input from our membership and some "pro-active against farb" discussions ensued.

A very fine meeting indeed.
As I have said before, I believe the period dress meetings truly serve to get membership into the right mode - the right mindset - to help any unit progress to the next level up as living historians. And it amazes me that, as far as I have seen, the 21st Michigan is the only group that does this, at least here in Michigan.



Betsy said...

A great idea, and a great "excuse" to have fun in your period clothing! Why restrict the reenacting to public events? :)

Historical Ken said...


Tiffany said...

I love reading your posts about your unit! I wish my unit did the same as yours for meetings. How fun to dress for the period but not have to worry about fixing food or trying to keep the fire going!

Historical Ken said...

Tiffany -
Why don't you make the suggestion to do so? And if they resist, then maybe just get a few of your closest to join you and do it any way? Then others just might follow.