History and Reenactments

Brooksville Raid – 2020

Since I’ve started photographing battle reenactments, I have only had the opportunity to shoot Revolutionary War events. A few weeks ago I had a chance to step into the mid-19th century at the 40th anniversary of the Brooksville Raid, a civil war engagement in central Florida. I came home with 3 filled memory cards, some new friendships and some images that made the trip worthwhile!

In many ways, there is little difference between photographing a Revolutionary War event and one that depicts the Civil War era. In both cases, the reenactors, their camps, their families, the animals, and, of course, the battle, all provide some excellent photographic opportunities.

The differences lie in the technology and battle strategies of the two periods. The difference that was most apparent right from the start was that it was much easier to photograph a canon blast in Brooksville, than it is in a Revolutionary War event. 18th century canons were fired with a fuse. So there is a lapse in time between hearing the order to “fire” and seeing the canon blast.

By the time of the Civil War, that time lapse had disappeared. I will leave it to others to explain the process and technical differences. From a photographer’s standpoint, it is simply a matter of seeing an artillery commander’s arm drop as signal to fire and squeezing the shutter.

Confederate Canon blast at civil war reenactment. Brooksville, FL
Confederate Canon Blast
Brooksville Raid
January, 2020

Of course, photography had been invented by the time of the Civil War. We have all seen iconic images made in countless battlefields or in the makeshift studios of itinerant photographers who travelled with the camps, making portraits to send home to loved ones. There are some gifted photographers doing that same sort of work today, creating wet plate images (tintypes) with the same processes used on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam.

digital tintype portrait
Digital portrait, processed in a wet plate style.

I would love to learn that process and one day I hope to be able to have that opportunity. In the meantime, I will continue to work at creating images with that look with the digital tools that I use. No, it’s not the same. I don’t pretend that it is. But I am generally pleased with the effect, as are my subjects. Or so they say!

The picture on the right is an example of another observation that I have about my own photography at these events. I find myself drawn to the individuals, as a result I find myself taking a lot of portraits. Even in the battle, I am less drawn to the broader scene than I am to the tiny vignettes that play out within it. In my larger gallery you will see couple of specific instances of that: hand to hand combat (more specifically, rifle butt to face combat!), a soldier dying, a nurse or chaplain attending the fallen.

I have included another dozen of my favorite images from the event below. Should you like to see my larger gallery, click here. I’ll warn you, it’s big! Part of the reason for that is so that I could include pictures of as many reenactors as was reasonably possible. I am happy to make digital copies available to them, free of charge. It is a small way of contributing to the hobby and to those who are eager to teach history to the rest of us.

I hope you enjoy these images. Click to enlarge them.

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