Charleston Under Siege: Confessions of a First-Time Civil War Reenactor

Charleston Under Siege: Confessions of a First-Time Civil War Reenactor

Guest post by Sarah Falter, History Press Publicity & Marketing

Wisps of smoke floated through the crisp November sky towards the palmetto trees that framed the battlefield, and then curled casually towards the bright Charleston sun. With the stench of gunpowder in the air and the boom of the cannons ringing in my ears, I braced myself.  I had read the history of Secessionville in preparation for my first reenactment, and (spoiler alert) knew it would not end well for the Union soldiers.

Suddenly, a cluster of eight men in blue sprinted towards the Confederate barricades, screaming “Remember Butler!” The Confederates responded by raising their rifles and firing off numerous rounds at the charging soldiers. Men fell left and right, some dramatically spinning or clutching their “injured” body parts, all staggering back as General Henry Benham hoarsely shouted to retreat. I pretended not to notice the slightly less well-versed reenactor, a young Union solider who had been shot and had “died”—he was lying on the ground and texting on his cell phone.

 “General Henry Benham hoarsely shouted to retreat.”

While wearing a hoop skirt presented certain challenges, I found myself immensely enjoying Boone Hall’s commemoration of Secessionville.  It felt like I had stepped back in time. From the field hospital demonstration, to the tour of the grounds and historic mansion, to dancing the Virginia Reel (and other period dances such as the broom dance), the reenactment vividly brought to life scenes from history books I had only imagined. Soldiers tipped their hats politely at thousands of spectators, and the plantation grounds teemed with knowledgeable, friendly and passionate history enthusiasts.

Most importantly, the event brought people from all walks of life, and all ages, together to remember one of the most critical battles in Charleston (Union forces suffered 700 casualties, among other serious setbacks). Seeing the Battle of Secessionville visually unfold gave me a deeper awareness and appreciation for the sacrifices our ancestors made during this trying period in our nation’s history. 

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” -Marcus Garvey

Historian and Civil War artist Ken Vrana portraying Maj. General Don Carlos Buell.

Grey and blue uniforms.

The field hospital demonstration.

My dress, courtesy of seamstress Marilyn Brenner.  She specializes in historic fashions and may be reached at thesewingbelle(at)gmail(dot)com.

You may also enjoy:

Charleston Under Siege

South Carolina Civilians In Sherman’s Path

Lee in the Lowcountry

Hidden History of Charleston in the Civil War

Browse the full Civil War Sesquicentennial list here.
*The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the History Press, Inc.


  1. avatar John M says:

    This is great stuff, Sarah. Vivid descriptions of the scene… especially the “dead” soldier using his cell phone.

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