Demonstration and Q&A with the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment

After reading Tony Horwitz’s amusing journalistic account of civil war reenacting titled Confederates in the Attic, the “Politics and Practice of History” class spoke with some actual reenactors to see if the book squared with local conditions. Neil Coddington, Kathleen Coddington, and Marrianne Phifer, are reenactors with “Northampton county’s own” 153rd Volunteer Regiment. Their unit visits schools, participates in battle reenactments, and does various forms of educational outreach. Most of their activity, to the class’s surprise, is not related to guns, battles, or nostalgia, but to education about the everyday lives, subjectivity, and material culture of Americans who lived through the Civil War–even non-combatants. The class learned about the foods soldiers ate (condensed milk, canned pork & beans, hard-tack, and other goodies). We were also informed that, by the standards of the 1860s, class members were immodestly attired for our session. Marrianne, Kathleen, and Neil answered questions about the current state of reenacting, queries about life way back then, and discussed the legacy of the Civil War and race relations today. Many of us arrived, based on our reading of Confederates in the Attic, expecting to meet gun fanciers and trivia buffs. Instead, we found out that reenactors also engage in serious historical research and share our own commitments to evidence-based research and trying to understand the present by exploring the past.