Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pretend Soldiers

"We have a strong appreciation for history. Everybody, including myself, is very passionate about American history. The civil war, I think, has a special interest for a lot of Americans because, the brother against brother, Americans killing Americans, is a concept that's intriguing." -- Participant at the reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek in Middletown, Virginia.

November 11th is Veterans Day in the United States, and the date is observed as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in many other parts of the world.

Originally, it commemorated the end of fighting in World War One. Hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany officially ceased at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. But today the observance honors all those who have served as soldiers in all wars. In the United States, that includes participants in the American Civil War.

An estimated three million Americans took up arms during the war between northern and southern states that raged from 1861 to 1865. The conflict ended with the Union victory over southern secessionists, the end of slavery, and the strengthening of the national government.

The Civil War is long over, but some of the issues that prompted the southern states to leave the Union remain unresolved. Many Americans still disagree over how much power the federal government should have, and how it should be distributed between Washington and the states.

The passion endures for this defining period in American history, and on many weekends, re-enactors can be found retracing battlefield maneuvers on the anniversary days of major encounters, dressed in civil-war-era clothes, riding horses, sleeping in tents, and firing vintage rifles and cannon (without the cannonballs) at each other. In this video, we meet some of the participants in a reenactment of the 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek, in which the Confederate Army surprised the Federal Army with a dawn attack, but then lost ground when Union troops retaliated.

What’s different on this day, of course, is that all the men, women and children who’ve come to replay this moment in American history know that they’ll be heading back to their homes, schools, jobs and other occupations after the last shots are fired.