Monday, August 9, 2010

Civil War Weekend

Stepping way far back into vanished New York history, Governors Island this weekend hosted a few groups of Civil War reenactors, who transformed the island to its olden days as a base for recruiting Union soldiers and a prison for Confederates. And while it was Governors Island circa 1863, it felt, in odd ways, eerily like Brooklyn 2010.

photos: my flickr

There were musket drills and firings of cannons. There were tents set up in rows, each one outfitted by its owner with personal items--packets of letters, tin cups, tobacco.

Womenfolk baked bread over open fires, in between the washing and drying of clothing. They talked about sewing and the business of handwork. The officers and their wives enjoyed a lavish meal of local foods.

A makeshift general store sold pickled eggs, handmade soap, and plain wooden pencils that brought to mind Field Notes pencils, each of which are stamped with a dizzying description of their virtuous contents: "Lacquer-free Renewable Cal-Cedar Wood Casing, Recyclable Aluminum Ferrule, Enviro-Green Degradable Eraser and Certified Non-Toxic Imprint Inks."

The Civil War reenactors' pencils did not have that information stamped onto them. Still, I couldn't help but think of the artisanal trend, the simple trend, the DIY, seasonal, locavore trend. Everything looked, in some odd way, contemporary.

Aside from those pencils, it reminded me of the Freeman's empire. And of people who pickle things and put them in jars with labels that look old but aren't old then sell them at the Brooklyn Flea, or who hawk hunks of rough-hewn soap at the Renegade Craft Fair.

Maybe it was all those guys with curly mustaches and burly muttonchops, but the whole thing was kind of hipster, except without the irony.


Shawn said...

Oh boy this article really got me worried.

As a WWII buff and re-enactor, we were very kinda nervous "Inglourious Basterds" might make WWII trendy - clothes, style, etc. Like how, after decades of doing so, I had stop wearing my Grandfather's beloved fedora and cartigans now that everyone wants to dress like "Madmen." I didn't want to appear to be H.I.P.+, the disease that affects hipsters.

However, I've been wearing my Grandfather's WWII Army Air Foce uniform jacket around NYC for years and never saw anyone try to copy the look.

Hipsters stay away from WWII stuff!

Jeremiah Moss said...

nah, the reenactors are definitely not hipsters. they are the opposite of ironic.

Streets of Stamford said...

This is so awesome!!! I would've loved to check it out. Where did you hear about it?

Jeremiah Moss said...

i saw it in Time Out. it was great. weird in the right way. i wish they had a battle, though.

KSx said...

"the opposite of ironic"

How refreshing!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine in Brooklyn (Hi Andy Porter!) sent me the link for this article, and wow, do I ever wish I could have been there! I've been a Civil War reenactor for 20 years in East Tennessee and my regiment is the 79th New York State Militia, Co. A - which may well have drilled on those very grounds. I've never even been to New York, but I enjoy studying the history of that fine regiment. Can you folks in New York imagine what it's like to be a Southern country boy and yet portraying a New York regiment in Civil War reenactments all across Tennessee? It can be plenty tough, brother! But the real 79th fought all across this region and distinguished itself at many a battle in Tennessee and I'm proud to wear my New York uniform down here.

Do any reenacting units in New York today portray the 79th? You should come on down here in October for out Battle of Ft. Sanders (near Knoxville TN) and join with your fellow Cameron Highlanders!

Curt Phillips, Pvt.
Co. A, 79th NYSM