Interview of a Civil War Reenactor

Matt Woodburn is a Civil War reenactor who lives near downtown Franklin. CWG asked him about the hobby of Civil War reenacting.

1. Are there different categories of Civil War reenacting?

First and most popular is recreating a particular battle of the Civil War usually for an audience and/or film crew. Then there are “living histories” which may not involve a battle, but portray life during the Civil War. You’ll get to see what life was like for soldiers and/or civilians in a particular place or time of the Civil War. Finally there are what’s called Events By Us For Us (EBUFU). They can include all of the above, but are more for the serious living historian that wants to experience life as it really was in the 1860s which in many ways is not politically correct today. These types of event are not open to the public.

2. How long have you been reenacting?

27 years.

3. Is reenacting a popular hobby in Williamson County and Tennessee?

The hobby is very popular in Williamson County. There are several groups in the area that cater to all types of interests and types of reenacting. Tennessee had the second most number of battles in the state after Virginia, so there is a lot of history here.

4. How are reenacting events organized?

Organization of reenactment groups runs from loosely knit hobbiests that communicate infrequently, to groups that have elected leaders, by-laws, newsletters and monthly meetings. Once at an event on the reenacting side, men are grouped into companies, companies into battalions, battalions into brigades and so on just like they would have been in the regular military.

5. How are events chosen?

As a reenactor you may choose to do about any event you want that is listed open to the hobby. Typically there is a registration process so the event planners know how many people to expect. Understand that the largest event in US history had 32,000 reenactors and 500,000 spectators over the course of a weekend. Something that large requires herculean efforts by planners, county government, law enforcement, National Guard, etc.

6. How many events are hosted locally each year? And which are the best to see as an observer?

In Williamson County there are some events well worth seeing. Every five years there is the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin which attracts a few thousand reenactors. This event has been held at Rippavilla Plantation most recently. Every three years, there is a great encampment at Fort Granger just behind Pinkerton Park. And you can find a couple good living histories every year at The Carter House and Carnton Plantation.

7. How would one go about getting started in reenacting?

To get started in reenacting I recommend going to some events as a spectator and asking alot of questions. This will help you find out about the different ends of the hobby, help you determine what you want out of the hobby, and where you will fit in best and be happiest. There is a great magazine that caters to the hobby called Civil War Historian, which is filled with event listings, informative articles, sources for reenacting uniforms, weapons and equipment. It is sold at some of the bookstores in Williamson County.

8. Are reenactors soldiers?

Many reenactors portray someone other than a soldier. This may be a male or female civilian during the conflict, a grave digger or embalmer, a journalist, a foreign military observer, a member of a Soldier’s Christian Aid Society, or a soldier of the support branches of the military like quartermaster, commissary, engineers, etc.

9. Do you have to be a “Civil War nerd” to enjoy reenacting?

People involved in reenacting come from all walks of life, doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, salesmen, bar tenders, teachers, authors, truck drivers, pilots, warehouse workers, realtors, retired and active modern military, the list goes on. People are in the hobby for many reasons, and like most things, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. You simply need to decide what you want out of it.

10. Why do you enjoy reenacting?

Reenacting has given me my favorite camping experiences, my best friendships, a chance to lead, my best laughs, an income, a chance to serve others, continuing opportunities to learn, a chance to write and publish, some of the strongest words of praise and affirmation given to me, chances to travel the country, chances to teach, chances to speak to groups, to hear applause, to receive appreciation….

Reenacting The Battle of Franklin

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One comment

  1. Matt’s interview was very interesting. He had excellent information for each question, and it was great to read. I am always glad to read an article that has real information in it from someone who knows. He would be one we would love to have an our events because he knows his stuff.

    My husband has been in reenacting for about thirty to 35 years himself. A few years into it, he was told so much he looked like General Grant that he bought the gear to portray the general. He has done this for about thirty years and does much to promote the history of this fine land.

    Not only does he travel around telling his story as General Grant but he also portrays a civil war surgeon, a marine, and soldier. He met me and married me, and I have been imitating Julia for eight years. I have portrayed Albert D.J. Cashier, and I understand what it means to feel the part…one at times feels they are in that time period. It is a difficult feeling to describe.

    Reenacting is expensive to get into if you are working towards authentic. I know a woman has to have all the sections of her dress especially if she is Julia. One wants her/his audience to see how it really was at that time, so you try to dress accordingly. A person does not want to deceive her/his audience or dress inappropriately for the period and deceive one’s audience.

    We are reenactors who live in Greene County, IL. Mark directs the Civil War Days in White Hall, IL each year. Our website for that is http://www.geocities.com/gengrant1862/civilwardays.html. Also, he is overall commander at General Grierson Days in Jacksonville, IL. He has traveled to Gettsyburg; Vicksburg; Buffalo, NY; various cities in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Iowa; and many other places.

    We truly enjoyed the interview of Matt Woodburn and hope to continue to have enlightening stories such as this online for all to read. The American Civil War is truly an interesting war to study.

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