The South rose twice today, as it did yesterday, at the Duncans Mills Civil War Reenactment, which is billed as the largest reenactment West of the Mississippi. Every July, for the past 9 years, Civil War Reenactors have gathered at Duncans Mills, California (near the Russian River), to set up shop, to make camps, and to re-fight four large Civil War skirmishes (two and Saturday and two on Sunday). We stumbled across it accidentally last summer and made a determined effort to attend it this summer.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of these reenactor events but, if you haven’t, you should try to get to one. They are marvelous. There is no one more knowledgeable than the amateur fanatic. These people, who range in age from 14 to God only knows how old, live and breath the Civil War. They are obsessed with period perfection, whether it’s their clothes, their weapons, their wagons, their beds or their food.
I spent a half hour today with a woman who sewed the most exquisite 1860s dresses you’ve ever seen, although she confessed to using a simple modern machine in order to make the corners neater. She carefully walked us through her costume: the five to seven layers of chemise, corset and multiple petticoats; the built-in bodice stays; the double and sometimes triple linings; the handmade piping; the kick front at the bottom of the skirt (so that her own shoes don’t soil it from the inside); and the special band around the skirt’s bottom so that, as the skirt trails the ground, the fabric doesn’t fray were only some of the details she showed us. Although she doesn’t use this pattern brand, this link will show you the kind of costume she made — although it can’t give you any idea of the beauty of her work.
What impressed me so much was the attention to detail. A lot of women at Duncan Mills were wearing costumes that looked decent from afar. When you moved up close, however, you realized they were a bit jerry-rigged — which is precisely how I would do it if I were making a costume. Nothing was beautifully finished. This gal’s stuff, though, just blew me away.
Meanwhile, as my daughter and I oohed and aahed over the dresses, my husband and son spoke with her husband, who carefully explained skirmish tactics, weapons development and artillery techniques. Her husband also told us that children who are exposed to a lot of living history tend to do better in school. That’s no surprise. My children, thanks to their two visit to Duncans Mills, have a fund of accurate historic information that far outstrips anything their peers learn in school. Next year, when my daughter’s history classes cover the Civil War, she’ll be able to see the battles in her head and imagine the people as if they are real.
Here’s a video someone made of last year’s reenactment at Duncans Mills:
I was going to make this post longer, since I was so impressed with the reenactment (as I was last year), but I’m simply too tired. It was a long day, and one that culminated with a big party to wrap up the end of the season for my daughter’s swim team. I’ve also got ants by the thousands and tens of thousands, and that’s despite having my house completely barricaded with Grant’s ant stakes. I feel beseiged by these black bugs. Blech!
BTW, if you want to read about another amazing reenactment site, check out the Fort Bridger Rendezvous, another living history event we stumbled across purely by accident.
I’ll catch up with you all tomorrow, although it might be a wee bit later in the day, since I’m picking up a dear little relative from the airport tomorrow for a week’s visit. I’m hoping that her thoughtfulness, good manners, and intellectual discipline will rub off on my children, but I’m not sanguine. Indeed, I’m a little more worried that, after a week here with my children as role models, I’ll be returning a hellion to my poor in-laws, which would be a pretty rotten exchange.