For the McWilliams family of Munford, their choice of family adventure looks more like a blast from the past as they don their best 1860s attire and embark to the various locales in the world of Civil War re-enactments.
Member of the 48th Alabama Infantry Regiment Phil McWilliams first brought up the idea to his wife, Tawana McWilliams, in 1999 not long after he had started participating in reenactments.
“I told her I would like her to go with me and watch one of these (re-enactments),” he said. “Her initial answer was, ‘Why in the world would I want to go watch a bunch of rednecks wave a Confederate flag?’ I finally talked her into going and she was very impressed.”
It only took one re-enactment for Tawana, who works as an assistant in the Munford Library, to be hooked.
“I love history, so I love the historical aspect of the re-enactments,” she said. “It’s like stepping back in time. It also helps the unit is very family oriented.”
Before their son Seth McWilliams could walk, the McWilliams family indoctrinated him into the re-enacting way of life.
“We took him to his first re-enactment when he was six months old,” she said.
Seth, now 11 years old, fondly talked about his experiences while attending the re-enactments with his family.
“I enjoy visiting all the places and seeing it all unfold like it’s really happening,” he said. “It’s great to be able to step back in time and visit all these wonderful places.”
Tawana noted the experience has been great for her son and attending the events has enabled him to become “well-versed in Civil War History.”
Having an ancestor who served during the Civil War played a role in Phil’s desire to become involved in re-enacting.
“It’s just fun to go back and represent history,” he said. “When you look back and see how the scenarios played out and things people went through during that time, it makes you appreciate what your ancestors went through.”
A typical re-enactment leads the McWilliams family to predetermined locations throughout the Southeast, typically during the anniversary of a significant battle in the Civil War.
“We’ll typically leave for a re-enactment around Thursday or Friday,” Tawana said. “Once we get to our camp, my husband sets up our tent — a reproduction of an 1860s tent. Then on Saturday and Sunday, they’ll have the battles, sometimes on the original battlefield.”
According to Phil, the children attending have a chance to participate in popular games from the 1860s and the mothers engage in a “Ladies’ Tea” social event where they learn to write Civil War Era letters to their husbands while the buildup to the battle begins.
“We’ll go out to the field to practice some of the maneuvers or we’ll run through our different alarms,” Phil said. “That keeps us busy for a couple of hours. We break for lunch and follow that with a weapons inspection before we march into battle.”
The close of the first day of battle typically marks Tawana’s favorite event of the reenactment.
“Saturday night, there’s usually a ball,” she said. “All the women wear dresses from that period while the soldiers wear these best military outfits. There’s music played from that period and dancing.”
The final day consists of a Sunday church service before the concluding battle of the re-enactment.
Phil opined the endeavor serves as a great escape from electronics and outside distractions of life.
“The camaraderie around a campfire is one of the most fun things as a seasoned re-enactor,” he said. “You can enjoy the moment sitting beside friends and just talking.”
Tawana noted the family’s hobby surprisingly doesn’t take too much of a chunk out of the pocketbook.
“The average re-enactor spends around $1,000 to $1,200,” she said. “A good portion of that price comes from having to purchase their weapon. For the women, the cost comes out to several hundred dollars, but once you have your uniforms or dresses, you’re pretty much set.”
Her interactions with fellow re-enactors also altered her initial opinions of the practice itself.
“You would be surprised at the occupations some of our re-enactors have,” she said. “In our unit, we have several principals, an attorney and a doctor. Re-enacting attracts a broad group of people from all walks of life.”
Contact Shane Dunaway at firstname.lastname@example.org