Text by a Los Angeles-based journalist gives an inside view of Civil War enactments which enhances the reader's appreciation of them, although they are magnetic enough on their own with their realistic uniforms and gear and the effort the participants put into them. While a Los Angeles-based photographer and filmmaker specializing in wet-plate photography, the main process during the time of the Civil War, has created many photos for seeing the uniforms and details of them and other Civil War articles.
As the reader learns, there are two kinds of enactments--public, which are usually advertised, and others known as "immersions" where participants go out to unpopulated, relatively remote areas for days to recreate the daily life and combat of Civil War soldiers as closely as possible. Civil War enactments actually started during the Civil War as recruitment aids. The scale, location, and degree of authenticity of reenactments can vary widely--from small groups to small armies sometimes including cavalry; from local parks to actual Civil War battlefields; from use of store-bought imitation clothing made of synthetics to uniforms and weapons from the Civil War. Though describing the variety of reenactments, the book's interest is mostly authentic reenactments and immersions replicating Civil War military units with officers leading and participants using weapons and equipment from the Civil War or the era as much as possible. To replicate the experience of the War as much as possible for the enjoyment of the participants, other figures such as wives, surgeons, and reporters and at times famous generals and occasionally Abraham Lincoln himself are represented with clothing, mannerisms, and actions to match the circumstances.
For readers, Elson's wet-plate photography like that in use at the time helps to recreate the atmosphere with the many darker-toned photographs of the time with reenactors in period garb and typical poses of the period. In the photos, varied uniforms, civilian wear, and gear and accouterments can be appreciated and in some cases details picked out. The reenactors take the full-length, somewhat formal poses familiar from mid-nineteenth photographs of individuals, though they lack the solemnity and tenseness seen in individuals in genuine Civil War photos, appearing more relaxed and in a few cases, smiling slightly. Elson provides too some color photographs so the reader can see different colors for some of the uniforms and terrain of the locations of the reenactments.
Readers will appreciate getting background on and going through the photographs on the reenactments which are a combination of recreation, entertainment, and education.