Blue-Gray Alliance Bringing Civilians To The Forefront
By Julio C. Zangroniz
(June 2011 Civil War News)
Terre Lawson of Tuscaloosa, Ala., was recently named “Governor” by the Blue-Gray Association to help coordinate the role and scope of civilian activities at events during the 150th anniversary cycle.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Blue-Gray Alliance, one of the most respected “umbrella groups” in reenacting, elected Terre Lawson “Governor” to be in charge of coordinating civilian matters during its four-year calendar of 150th anniversary events.
Lawson, a resident of Tuscaloosa, has been a reenactor since the 1950s. Her historical interests range from French Settlement of Alabama (1720-1765), American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Civil War and the years and wars in between.
Her area of special interest is “the life and work of the rural lower class, women’s work in general and home textile production, specifically,” says the woman informally known as “Spinster” because of her textile-related work.
Lawson says, “In 1860, our national culture was such that we knew who we were, and repeatedly told our stories — the stories of our grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers, the countries and cultures they came from.”
She says, “I am a much better Civil War reenactor because I know who my people were, and what their lives were like, a hundred years before in the Alabama River delta.”
Lawson’s persona varies with the history being portrayed. Her baseline character is drawn from a girl born at the turn of the 19th century and documented in Pickett’s History of Alabama and Incidentally of Mississippi and Georgia From the Earliest Period.
She is affiliated with a number of reenacting organizations including the Winston Free-State, a civilian group, “so named for a geographic area that attempted to secede from Alabama” and Cleburn’s Division Wagon Corps, part of the Blue-Gray Alliance.
She helped organize a seven-day wagon train that took place last August. She purchased a wagon. “Acquiring that skill is my focus for the 150th cycle. I’ve got a lot to learn, and new things to learn is what keeps this hobby challenging and interesting,” she says.
How did she come to be elected to head the Blue-Gray Alliance’s civilian-oriented efforts?
Lawson says it was “expediency.” She had been doing many aspects of this task informally, first under the old North-South Alliance and then with the Blue-Gray Alliance. “This title simply formalizes what has been happening for some time,” she says.
The job entails working “within the settings and resources available to provide opportunities to accurately depict the life and work of civilians as affected by the course of the Civil War, in general, and by depicting specific occurrences during that war.”
She sees the role and importance of the civilian side of reenacting in a period of ascendancy.
Many reenactors are looking for larger experiences and want to know more about people of the period. Separate civilian events allow them to study and depict life as it occurred when the army was not present.
“For most of the populace, that was the vast majority of the time,” Lawson says. “The war affected daily lives, even when a soldier was never seen.”
In addition, the 150th is luring participants who had left reenacting. Lawson notes many are men beyond common military age and portrayals, who “certainly want to return to the field in ways that are meaningful.”
Their civilian portrayals contribute to the larger understanding of the Civil War. “Not every man was a soldier, but their work was vital to the war effort,” she points out.
Lawson defines a successful civilian experience as one in which participants learn something new about the period and gain insight into period people’s lives and work. And they have fun at the event.
The Blue-Gray Alliance is already planning its major anniversary efforts. Wilson’s Creek in August, Shiloh in March 2012, Vicksburg/Raymond in October 2012, Chickamauga in 2013 and Franklin in 2014.
Lawson and other recently visited Shiloh, Chickamauga and Raymond in order to situate camps, establish logistics and draft event plans.
They review historical records, both Official Records and civilian accounts, “to aid us in attempting to accurately depict the specific military action and the effects of the war on the surrounding populace,” notes Lawson.
For example, at Wilson’s Creek, early in the war on Aug. 10, 1861, in a frontier area, ”the civilian populace experienced the rough side of war in a much more intense manner. Great portions of the army are clad in civilian clothing, with little time to instill military discipline into the rank and file.”
“For each BGA event, we are researching appropriate communities in the area, and surrounding military action, to determine the portrayals,” says Lawson. At Wilson’s Creek the Alliance will supervise the civilian town “Little York.”
Reenactors who prefer family camps to the civilian and military camps have that option.
Robert Orrand will be the mayor of Little York. Lawson says he did an excellent job as mayor of the Town of Dover for last November’s Twin Rivers Campaign depicting the Dover, Fort Donelson, Fort Henry action.
With background in military and civilian reenacting, “his knowledge of military protocol enables us to more effectively communicate and arrange historically documented scenarios with the troops involved, in a manner that is safe and enjoyable for participants,” Lawson says.
Orrand, from Olive Branch, Miss., says, “What we were trying to accomplish at Dover is a progressive civilian camping experience at mainstream events.”
“There has always been a place for progressive civilians at living histories and events,” he says, “But the opportunity at most mainstream events was more of a family/garrison camping.”
Orrand started as a military reenactor in a unit that portrayed the 51st Tennessee and the 16th Wisconsin. He was in the Provost Guard at Mill Springs in 2006. For Charleston events this spring he portrayed incoming militia, which he will repeat at two more events this year.
“When I go as militia, I have civilian garb and have a shotgun as my weapon,” Orrand says.
He will attend First Manassas in July with the 2nd Mississippi. He will also be at several Western Independent Grays events and a few mainstream events with the 15th Tennessee/16th Indiana unit.
Civilian impressions account for half of Orrand’s current events. This impression started when he and his attended the July 2008 Gettysburg reenactment. At some events they are more like spectators.
“We are both history majors, so we just enjoy dressing up and being part of an event. If I am not a reporter, my persona would be a small farmer. It was what my CSA ancestors were before they went to war.”
For information about the Blue-Gray Alliance go to www.150thcivilwarevents.com