Recent reenactments and the media

Posted on January 23, 2011 by

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We’ve seen a couple reenactments lately, and they haven’t been reenactments of battles.

The slave auction reenactment, I think, was high impact. It continues to make an impression on YouTube, but honestly, there are a couple of videos available, and the best is one (=>see a post from a few days ago, in which I embedded the video) that adds historic images, and, in my opinion, an essential connection between the reenactment and a key component of the story behind slavery.

I see these non-battle reenactments as a potentially good thing, and I say “potentially” because I don’t think we’ve seen that most of these have taken advantage of the opportunity to provide deeper educational value.  No, I’m not talking about adding some academic lecture series or something like that, to supplement the reenactment. Those are important, but frankly, they aren’t going to reach out to the largest possible audience… and that’s where more effort should be focused during the Sesquicentennial.

But, when it comes to these reenactments, I do wonder about how the media is reaching out to the largest possible audience.

Let’s take a look at events at both Fort Pulaski (=>surrender of Fort Pulaski) and Augusta, Ga. (=>surrender of the Augusta Arsenal). What is it, exactly, that spectators are walking away with, at least from the perspective of the media?

I couldn’t find a great deal about Fort Pulaski, but it appears that a local television station made it out to cover the event. This =>piece from WSAV in Savannah starts off…

The South came marching in to Fort Pulaski at the 150th anniversary of the seizure of the fort by Georgia military.

Indeed, nothing quite like media coverage… eh? I love the “The South came marching in” part, since, well, further in that same sentence, it was actually not the South, but Georgia troops, who took the fort. Of course, I suppose that Georgia troops = “the South”, and eventually “the South” would = “the Confederacy”. Sure…

Comments from two of the spectators struck me as equally interesting. I can’t quite help it, but the “people shucking off the stars and stripes and saying they are going to go out on their own” comment smacked of, well… you know… modern disdain for big government. Maybe that wasn’t the way it was intended, but that’s the first thing that came to mind when I read this, especially since the opening of the sentence began with “when you really think about it happening for real”.

As for the spelling of “secession” in the brief article… well, I’ll just leave that alone…

So, thinking back, again to that comment about “shucking off the stars and stripes”… I wonder if an opportunity was lost to tell about how those who sent those troops out to Fort Pulaski were part of a greater effort to undermine the people of Georgia; => misrepresentation among secession delegates, fraud in the voting process, etc., etc. While the comment at the reenactment may or may not be reflective of modern disdain for big government, I believe that the common man in Georgia had plenty to be fed up about… but not necessarily with the Federal government. I’d say that it merits even more than a footnote, but it appears it didn’t make the cutting board.

FYI, see 1) images from the reenactment at Fort Pulaski =>here, 2) Bob Pollock’s post regarding the lowering of the U.S. flag over Fort Pulaski, as part of the reenactment, => here, AND 3) =>this recent post by Craig Swain about the fall of Fort Pulaski).

As for the reenactment in Augusta, Georgia

From what I see in =>this piece from the Augusta Chronicle, I’m again left wondering about the overall value of the experience. Yes, as in the case at Fort Pulaski, they had a chance to see people dressed-up, in a reenactment of the surrender, but did they get anything more than just a visual of reenactors going through the motions (as reenactors interpreted the affair in their motions)?

Was there any mention of the fact that Arnold Elzey, commander of the arsenal, resigned from the U.S. Army in April, and became a major general in the Confederate army? What about Lieutenant Armistead Lindsey Long, who was also serving as part of the U.S. force at the arsenal? Long also resigned, and became a brigadier general in the Confederate army (not to mention, the author of the Memoirs of Robert E. Lee).

I know that space in newspapers can be an issue. So, maybe there’s more to it than the newspaper story reveals. Maybe they could only report on the surface, but I’m left wondering if, as in the case of the Augusta reenactment, this was a lost teaching moment.

Was there any mention of the possibility that Elzey (a Marylander) may have been reluctant to resist because of his sympathies? Or was it really just a wise decision based on a matter of numbers? Was Elzey a Unionist prior to Lincoln’s call for troops, or was he supportive of the concept of secession even as he surrendered the arsenal? Did he side with the Confederacy after Sumter… or after Lincoln’s call for troops? What about these same questions applied to Armistead Long?

Probably too much information for the short piece. So, just stuck to the basics, I suppose.

I continued to search the Web for more information about the reenactments, but didn’t find much more. I did, however, happen across =>this piece, from the Augusta Chronicle, about David Twiggs… a native of Augusta, Georgia. I thought that maybe, just maybe, this was a chance for the media (indeed, the same paper that covered the Augusta reenactment) to redeem itself in its coverage of local history. Maybe in this more focused piece… I would find something of value!

Alas, more disappointment…

At the end of the piece, Twiggs, as U.S. commander of the Department of Texas, is praised for evading war in Texas by surrendering in February 1861, while Robert Anderson is slapped with the blame for starting the Civil War by refusing to surrender his command at Fort Sumter.

Once again, there seems to be nothing quite like the media delivering history.

Funny to see that the reporter for this story seems to ignore the fact that these Federal properties, placed for the protection of the states, were still Federal properties… and that the states had no claim to them. Apart from the actual acts of seceding, the seizing of these properties were the first real acts of war, not Anderson’s refusal to surrender his post.

So, once again, more teaching moments lost?

I know, it’s not the business of newspapers to teach history, right?

So, back to reenactments. I think maybe… just perhaps… Augusta missed yet another teaching moment. January 6 marked the 150th anniversary of something that folks in Augusta, back then, felt quite significant. Wouldn’t it be moving to watch a reenactor take the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, and give everyone a chance to reflect on a connection to President Woodrow Wilson’s father, =>Joseph Ruggles Wilson in => this sermon?

Indeed, quite the teaching moment in a reenactment, and well worth the media coverage.

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