The Alternate Reality of Civil War Re-Enactors

The Photo Blog
May 30 2013 2:00 PM

The Alternate Reality of Civil War Re-Enactors

Untitled (2)
Untitled (2)

Anderson Scott

What do you do with your boombox when you’re off to battle in the Civil War?

That paradox between modernity and authenticity was something photographer Anderson Scott found fascinating while photographing Civil War re-enactments in the South. His photographs would eventually become a book, Whistling Dixie, published by Columbia College Chicago Press.

Scott started the project after stumbling onto a re-enactment. A native of Montgomery, Ala. (his ancestors co-founded the city), Scott had “plenty of ancestors who fought for the South” but added that his family isn’t preoccupied with their roots and he “hadn’t given the Confederacy much thought until (he) started going to re-enactments.”

Advertisement

Over the period of a few years, Scott took thousands of pictures of re-enactments leading up to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011. Although he admits he at first found them to be somewhat silly (“female re-enactors use handicapped-accessible Porta-Pottys because the extra width accommodates a hoop skirt”), he soon realized there was a wide range of beliefs about the Civil War for the participants, and many held views that made the re-enactments seem much darker than just a harmless hobby.

Untitled (2)
Untitled (2)

Anderson Scott

Untitled (2)
Untitled (2)

Anderson Scott

Untitled (2)
Untitled (2)

Anderson Scott

“I slowly came to realize that a sizable number were dead serious in their belief that the South should rise again, presumably with all that entails, including slavery.”

Scott continued:

“At the benign end of the spectrum are those that participate because of the re-enactments’ social aspects or those who enjoy firing a replica cannon. I am not willing to let them off the hook however, as they participate in events that routinely include venerations of people such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was a slave trader before the Civil War and helped found the Ku Klux Klan after.”

Scott said racism, and a desire for history to have taken a different course, is prevalent during these re-enactments.

“I found a population that seriously entertained the idea that this world would have been a better place had the South won,” Scott wrote. “This population routinely acts out its beliefs in elaborate alternate-reality events, not just re-enactments but also many other public and private functions that combine implicit racism with political magical thinking, ‘If I wish hard enough, the values of the Confederacy will return,’ and with personal magical thinking ‘Here I am, the dashing Confederate officer I rightfully should be rather than the low-level functionary that I am at work.’ ”

Untitled (2)
Untitled (2)

Anderson Scott

Untitled (2)
Untitled (2)

Anderson Scott

Whistling Dixie contains 55 images with an essay by Scott describing his experience during a Battle of Selma re-enactment. Although he wanted a narrative structure, Scott said he wasn’t trying to tell a literal story with the pictures, something many of the re-enactors might be hoping to achieve.

“… the Civil War is more important to many contemporary Southerners than it is to most Northerners. Northerners seem to have moved on; a lot of Southerners, not so much.”

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?