On the hot South Carolinian field, the Union soldier stands outside of a tent above which perches a wooden sign: "Chief of Castramentation."
"What do you think that means?" He asks, pointing upward.
"Oh, I think you know what I think it means," I think but do not say.
He then explains to the small crowd that has formed around him that the actual term is "castremetation" and that it involves the correct laying out of an encampment, the selection of camp lines, the acquisition of a water source, the placement of troops, etc.
I hold back and do not ask if, as lead "castramentor," he is in charge of unwanted cannon balls. I am respectful and ladylike and I do not laugh at "Castramentation" jokes...at least not out loud. Besides, this is war time or make-believe wartime and that should merit some kind of respect.
I'm attending a Civil War re-enactment with my friend Claire who has recently relocated from the Bay Area to Charleston with her husband, Matt. Claire loves history and so do I, so here we are at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Secessionville. The actual Battle of Secessionville originally took place at James Island, but for today's purpose the back field of Boone Hall Plantation makes for a great stand-in. Boone Hall is best known as a one-time indigo plantation, a sometime pecan farm, and the location where goodly-sized portions of The Notebook were filmed (it's the rich girl, Allie's home). It also holds the distinction of having some of the best preserved slave houses in our nation. And today, it's playing host to Secessionville.
One of the strangest aspects of the reenactment is not the actual reenactment itself, but the crowd it attracts. There are quite a few toddlers. One is even in a hoop skirt, which must be hell to crawl in. There are also quite a few older children. One boy, about 9 years old, is in a complete gray Confederate uniform, hat, saber, tassels, and all. There are also numerous women in full Civil War-era clothing. Holding their iphones and parasols, they make quite an anachronistic sight.
Because the cannons are so loud, I decide to move slightly back from the field towards the field hospital. Excellent placement to watch a demonstration of what medical treatment was like during the Civil War. Let me tell you, the only thing more awkward than watching someone die of a gut wound, is watching someone pretending to die from a gut wound.
Truthfully, I am saddened by this sight. So much so that I have to fight the impulse to grab a stick and step in and reenact a scene from Harry Potter. "Vulnera Sanenteur!" I would cry and all would be amazed to see the soldier spring to his feet and declare, "I feel much better now, thanks! Cheerio." Because my magic has not just saved his life, it has turned him British. But, I fight the impulse and the soldier "dies."
The doctor turns to the crowd which has formed around the dying man, many of whom are taking quite a few pictures, myself included. "There is nothing we can do for any wound below the shoulders or above the pelvis. Most of the time we just give these boys a shot of whiskey and put them out underneath a tree, so they can die in peace." Remind me never to end up under the dying tree, fake war or not. They put a blanket over the "dead" soldier and we all pretend not to see the blanket rise and fall with his non-existent breath.
"Who is this Matthew Broderick you speak of?" I want to ask, "This is 1862 and I've never seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
For faux Shaw, reenactments are a way of life. He does them regularly and it is clear that he is very knowledgeable and passionate about them. Claire, an innate matchmaker, winks and nudges me right at the moment he explains that he has a fiancee who lives in Mississippi and she actually has a battle field in her backyard. Well, ladeedah, I didn't want to marry you anyway. I'm actually relieved because if being a soldier's wife is rough, being a fake soldier's wife must be excruciating.
We head back up to the home and the slave quarters. We enter these small brick shelters and realize that hundreds, if not thousands, of people lived and died in these spaces, but oddly, no one is reenacting their lives today. The thought does strike me that perhaps some of the soldiers down on the field should volunteer to reenact the life of a slave once in a while. But, perhaps I can't judge. We all reenact. Every holiday is a reenactment, and so are all wars. Most movies are reenactments of other movies (except for Indiana Jones 4, that thing is just an abomination). I know people (myself included) who've been reenacting the same fights, relationships, and breakfast orders for decades now. It could be argued that I've done a pretty solid job of reenacting the life of Emily Dickinson. The less exciting and talented part, but a reenactment none the less.
Claire and I leave Secessionville. The Battle is done for now, but it will rise like the mythological phony phoenix next year. Reenactments are always being reenacted.