Re-enactment can be a thrilling hobby for those who have a passion for history and keeping it alive, but re-enactor groups often find it difficult to recruit the next generation to re-create events such as Civil War battles.
A lack of interest in history, the cost of historically accurate equipment and the aging of current re-enactor membership all play into the difficulty of continuing the traditions, re-enactors said.
“We need strong backs to lug cannons around,” said Bob Barry, the recruiting manager and a corporal with Civil War artillery re-enactor group Battery B of the 3rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, located in Boalsburg.
His group has slightly different issues than a regular infantry unit of re-enactors, but still, the relative age of the group as a whole at 50-plus years old illustrates the need to look for young people who have an interest in reenacting.
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“A lot of us are older,” said the 63-year-old Barry, “and I think we have a little more difficulty because (infantry are) carrying muskets and we’re moving around 1,000-pound artillery.”
Battery B is recruiting any time it’s at events, including the rare re-enactments that it travels to down south or to living history events at state parks and during holiday celebrations, he said. However, there aren’t droves of people signing up. Over the past year, Battery B has gained about three new members.
“We’ve had another four to five who’ve expressed interest, but we haven’t heard back from them,” he said.
For infantry unit re-enactors, the cost can be a huge factor, said Lynn Herman, the president of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Company re-enactors in State College.
There’s the uniform and period equipment to buy, which can be pieced together over time and are relatively inexpensive depending on the items. However, the period-specific muskets and rifles that were used by the soldiers of the Civil War can be quite expensive, ranging from about $300 for a modern reproduction to thousands of dollars for an antique authentic item because of its rarity.
For many people, those prices might be prohibitive to participating in re-enacting, he said.
However, as Civil War re-enactors age, other cost factors can arise too, Barry said.
“With the cost of gas and more of our people on fixed incomes, we don’t travel as much,” he said.
But such matters don’t have to be an impediment to young people interested in history and re-enacting. Many Civil War re-enactor groups have women and others who portray civilians during the Civil War, which doesn’t require weaponry, he said. In addition, artillery units don’t need everyone to have their own cannon. And for those interests in music, there’s also a need for re-enactors to portray the musicians that accompanied soldiers into battles.
“Our emphasis is on keeping history alive,” Barry said.