For many Civil War re-enactors, events like the 151st Battle of Gettysburg commemorations are a family affair. And that family includes both biological kin and friends made around the campfires after the guests go home for the night.
Take the Davis family, who first took to the fields 15 years ago after their son, Andrew, became enamored with the idea of re-enacting at age 12.
Andrew Davis, now a 27-year-old lawyer, said the hobby has become a way for the family to avoid the iPhone, Facebooks and other distractions of the modern world.
“It’s really nice to go away and not be bothered,” he said.
When he was old enough to take part in the battles, his parents decided to join him. The family has since taken part in numerous re-enactments, from Gettysburg to Bentonville, North Carolina.
One of the things that keeps them coming back year after year is the friends they make. Re-enactments are filled with people from all walks of life, said Andrew’s mother, Kathleen Davis.
She gestured toward some of their friends at the Confederate living history village: one is a fire fighter, one is a deputy sheriff and another is a small animal veterinarian. In the real world, she is an accountant, and her husband is a retired law enforcement officer.
Another friend, Dwight Dorr, is a retired Disney worker. A seven-year veteran of the re-enactments, he said the fellowship with people like the Davis family keep him coming back year after year.
“The fighting is fun, but to me, it’s secondary,” he said.
On the other side of the Confederate village, 21-year-old Ashley Heisey said she also appreciates the time with family and friends at the re-enactments. She attended this year’s event with her mom, Alice Shenberger; her aunt, Catherine Switzer and her aunt’s fiance, Bruce Lindsay.
Together, this family has years of battlefield experience and no shortage of stories to tell. There’s the time when Switzer fell down a hill and almost knocked down the flypole holding up their tent, or the time when Shenberger threw the apple she was eating because a spider was crawling on it.
They’re small stories, but they’re the kind that make for fond memories after they return to life off of the battlefield.
Like the Davis family, Heisey and her kin have plenty of friends in the village. People here, she said, are less judgmental than they are in the real world.
For example, she has no problem running to the outhouse at night in her pajamas. Whereas people in other situations might judge or tell her to get dressed, she said, her fellow re-enactors either leave her alone or gently tease her in fun.
Her aunt, Switzer, agreed that the re-enactments have a uniquely welcoming atmosphere.
“You look down here, and we’re all the same,” Switzer said, gesturing to the women in their long dresses and men in their wool jackets. “We have a chance to be who we are and enjoy ourselves.”
Switzer’s fiance, Lindsay, described the living history village as the kind of place where people can leave out their belongings overnight knowing they will still be there in the morning. Everyone, he said, has his or her own role to play in keeping the company running, and they often do so with a smile.
“We’re a unit,” he said. “And we become a family.”