Recently, I began a brief series of posts with interviews with some of the Civil War reenactment community here in York County, Pennsylvania. More than 5,000 soldiers from this county served in the Civil War. Perhaps the most famous regiment raised in York County was the 87th Pennsylvania, which served from 1861 until the end of the war. A few companies were from Adams County, but the majority of companies represented York County.
The 87th saw its baptism of fire at the Second Battle of Winchester during the Gettysburg Campaign from June 12-15, 1863. The regiment later served in the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign, and fought with distinction at the July 1864 battle of Monocacy near Frederick, Maryland.
In modern times, an active reenactment/living history organization based in York County keeps alive the memory of the 87th Pennsylvania. The members attend various Civil War encampments in the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as marching in parades, performing re-dedication ceremonies for monuments and graves, attending balls and social events, and giving living history demonstrations at Gettysburg, Monocacy, Cedar Creek, and other battlefields.
Here are the thoughts of Ty Dasher, a long-time member of 87th Pennsylvania living history group. He participates along with his wife and son, Thompson.
- When you were a kid, do you ever play army or dress up in any way as a soldier, cowboy, Indian, pirate, or some other historical character? Please give any examples.
A – I vaguely remember playing Cowboys and Indians, Marines vs. Japanese, Patton vs. Nazis, etc. as a kid, but I doubt that I did it more than the average boy and I don’t think it relates to my interest in reenacting.
- What was your favorite military toy as a kid? Please describe it and how you enjoyed it.
A – I had the usual amount of toy guns as a kid, but again…these don’t really relate to my adult interest in reenacting, and to equate a child’s interest in “playing war” with an adult’s interest in reenacting is a HUGE stretch.
- What or who do you now portray? What is your personal connection to that organization or person?
A – I am currently a sergeant in Co. C 87th PA Volunteer Infantry. I have no known ancestors who served in the 87th My great great grandfather on my father’s side was an Andersonville survivor who served in the 125th PA and 55th PA, and two great great uncles (one who was wounded and captured at Chickamauga and died in Andersonville) on my mom’s side served in the 77th PA. The only connection I have with the 87th is that I live in the area where the 87th was raised.
- In your opinion, are you more of a reenactor (sham battles) or a living historian, or both? Which do you prefer?
A – I strongly prefer the living historian label to the sham battle label. Most of the battles we do are really “dog and pony” shows for spectators and do a poor job of recreating actual battles. There’s no possible way to safely and accurately recreate a Civil War battle. The spectators seem to enjoy the battles, however. The average reenactor is also much older and much fatter than the average Civil War soldier ever was, but that’s another issue, I suppose. I think most people would learn much more about the war and its soldiers by attending a smaller living history event, checking out our camps and equipment, and just hanging out and talking with us. The huge battle events are more of a spectacle than a learning experience.
- How did you get started in the hobby?
A – My son started with the 87th when he was 12 or 13, and my wife and I took him to all the events. Eventually, it occurred to us that since we were at all the events anyway, we might as well make it official and join. My wife portrays a vivandiere. I’ve always been a history/Civil War geek, but I doubt that I would have ever taken it as far as reenacting if my son wouldn’t have become involved.
- How much does it cost to be a reenactor or living historian? Please give some examples of the typical costs for various pieces of equipment, uniform parts, civilian attire, etc.
A – It costs a lot. You might be able to find a used rifle in the $500-$600 range if you’re lucky. New ones are more like $800 and up. A uniform can run from a cheap Pakistani-made version at about $350 total to handmade high-quality reproductions that can cost you as much as you want to spend, literally. Throw in a few hundred more for leather goods, shoes, tents, and any other equipment you might want. It’s very hard to come up with a total, since no two people will want the same items (or the same quality of those items). At a BARE minimum, it probably costs between $1200 and $1500 to get started, but it’s like any other addiction…the more you get into it, the more you will spend.
- What is your most memorable event in which you participated, and why?
A – A visually impaired couple attended a living history event where my wife and I were participating. They said that they learned so much more from us than they ever could at a museum, because we would allow them to touch our equipment, wear our uniforms, check out our tents, and experience all sorts of things they could never experience at a museum or large battle reenactment.
- Have you ever stopped at a gas station, grocery store, etc. while in full attire? What was the reaction of onlookers?
A – It happens all the time…most people might give you a bemused look, but that’s about it. Occasionally someone will ask you if you are going to Gettysburg, because most people think that’s the only place you could possibly be going dressed as you are. Once in a while someone will try to be funny and berate you for driving a car rather than riding a horse, or cracking a dumb joke if they see you with a cell phone in your hand…because they are obviously the first person who ever thought of something so funny. Whatever….
- What is the strangest or funniest thing that you remember from one of your events?
A – The funniest thing happens quite often…an older gentleman who buys a general’s uniform and walks around a reenactment expecting people to salute him. Come to any large reenactment and you’re guaranteed to see a minimum of four Robert E. Lees, three George A. Custers, and a Grant or two.
- A lot of people talk about the friendships and sense of community that you get while participating in living history events or reenactments. Please give some personal examples of how the hobby has impacted you.
A – I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever made through this hobby. We are all a little weird and crazy. Most of us come to events as much to hang out with our friends as for anything else.
- What advice would you give a newcomer to the hobby?
A – Check out a smaller living history event and see what camp life is all about. Every unit has a different personality, and there are enough of them out there that you’ll probably find one that suits you.
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