Battle of Olustee

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Battle of Olustee Reenactment, Olustee Battlefield State Historic Site, Florida

An orange line of spray paint had been painted in the grass, near a field, in a forest. This line draws the Reenactment stage for the largest and bloodiest Confederate victory in the southeast states, the Battle of Olustee. A rope was draped near the orange line, behind which spectators sat in folding camp chairs. They also sat in bleachers flush against a forest of uniformly spaced pine trees. Some spectators wore elaborate period costumes of the 1860s, but most wore regular clothes. They waited for the show, for replica cannons to pop, and for the first man to stumble forward, clasp his chest theatrically and cry “I’ve been hit”. Children with Confederate buttons leaned on their parents knees and prepared their fingers for their ears. Michael and I crouched, and remained crouched, near the rope line as per the request of many signs. And on the intercom, an announcement about a lost boy, "He has a wooden sword."

Not that it means much, but some academic, somewhere, had something cynically elevated to say about these events and their patrons, the “mostly white, conservative middle class."

"Battle re-enactments 'are nothing but mere titillation, meaningless amateur dramatics promoting the postmodern simulacrum, a hazy image of a manipulated and trivialized past,' Kevin Walsh writes in 'The Representation of the Past: Museums and Heritage in the Postmodern World'" (NYTimes, 06/05/04).

This "simulacrum" was pretty neat though. It smashed a history lesson with a stage performance, with a spectator event. And isn’t this just as in step with the ways in which Americans already consume history and wars, in movies and sensationalist network news? Here at least, the men can sweat puddles through wool and the women can attempt to use the bathroom in hoop skirts and no one mistakes this folly for fact.

After the battle, the reenactors headed with gun-powdered faces toward the tents, music, and food. I stood on the path and one man tipped his hat to me and asked "Miss, how did you enjoy the battle?"

Hannah Pierce-Carlson, March 2008

 

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Photographs by Hannah Pierce-Carlson and Michael Julius

Battle of Olustee