by Jeremy Manczuk-
As we are all likely aware (due to the recent commemoration of the event on SIUE’s campus) 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. The St. Louis area was, to some extent, a small-scale version of the nation’s larger narrative. Though the state of Missouri never joined the seceding Confederate states, many Missouri citizens sympathized with the South. Indeed, Missouri was an intense battleground that reflected the nation as a whole. Part of the state adhered to the slave-holding tenets of the South while other Missourians believed slavery was morally, or at least economically, wrong; Much of the state was rural with an agrarian-based economy while other areas (specifically the St. Louis metropolitan area) was part of a burgeoning industrial nation. In order to celebrate and observe this anniversary, the Freedom’s Gateway group “was formed in 2008 to facilitate awareness, interest, learning, and participation” in a number of events held throughout the area over the upcoming year. The group’s first event Camp Jackson: The Tipping Point was held last weekend (April 29 – May 1, 2011) at Jefferson Barracks County Park. Since the event included two reenactments (and since I have been critical of these events without ever actually attending one) I attended.
Saturday was the Camp Jackson Affair–an “incident of civil unrest” culminating in the killing of several dozen citizens by Northern troops. This reenactment–especially since it had to be held in a wide area to accommodate a large crowd–was hard to follow. With little prior knowledge of the event, I was relatively clueless as to the proceedings. From my viewpoint, soldiers paraded about in formation, 19th century ethnic slurs were exchanged, and, eventually, the whole affair devolved into a frantic mess of faux mob violence. Sunday’s “action” was a more conventional reenactment of the Battle of Blackwell–a skirmish that originally took place some 40 miles south of St. Louis. This event was much less confusing and even, to my surprise, somewhat entertaining. I still stand by my original claims – that reenactors are, for the most part, minutiae-driven bores with little to contribute to a historical dialogue – but I have to admit, it was kind of fun. Rather than merely snicker at their ceaseless maneuverings and over-dramatic death plunges, I found myself slightly (sorry, but this confession will only go so far) intrigued. While I am unwilling to concede the importance of their genuine musket powder pouches or fancy mustaches I will go so far as to say it was not a complete waste of an afternoon – I may even go to another reenactment. Someday.