Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Civil War Reenacting: Safety

By Matthew Pizzolato

Safety at a civil war reenactment is a point of concern that encompasses more than just firearm safety, and it is the primary focus at every event.

Although the rifles that we use are replicas, they can be live fired. However, at the reenactments, all we do is burn powder in them.  No projectiles of any kind are permitted at an event.  All weapons are inspected before each battle to make sure they are in good working order and to make sure they are cleared.

Even though there are no projectiles, burning black powder still shoots a spout of flame from the end of the barrel.  All firing is done at an elevated angle and never aimed directly at another person.  Weapons are also never fired within 25 yards of the opposing forces.

Cannons also add another element of danger and some events feature pyrotechnics to simulate the blast of a cannon ball, but those areas are always away from where the reenactors and are clearly marked off.

The other risks are the same kinds of things that are inherent in any outdoor activity.  Sometimes people step into holes marching across a field. Reenacting during summer months raises the risks of dehydration. Threatening weather always shuts down an event because we don't want to be carrying rifles or swords while lightning is striking.

Some reenactments feature cavalry battles and there's always the chance of a horse being spooked.  There are always EMTs on hand in case something does happen.

Taking hits during a battle is usually done at the individual's discretion, but care is taken when falling not to land in an ant bed or to fall in someone else's way. 

Hearing protection is worn a lot of times using flesh colored ear plugs that can't be seen or by using pieces of cotton because everything has to be as historically accurate as possible. 

As reenactors, we are portraying something that was originally done with deadly serious intent, yet we strive to be as safe as possible.  Sometimes accidents do happen, but they are few and far between.

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print.  He writes Western fiction that can be found in his story collections, THE WANTED MAN and TWO OF A KIND as well and the novella, OUTLAW.

Matthew is the Editor-in-Chief of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western. He can be contacted via his website or on Twitter @mattpizzolato.


  1. An ant bed, LOL... I would be so unlucky. Sounds like re-enacting is fun!

  2. I thank you. So many only want to have fun and not take safety into account. We use blanks and black powder in some of our murder mystery shows and as director they get tired of me reiterating about safety. People just don't realize how someone can get hurt with blanks or unplanned and rehearsed fight. Doris

  3. Matt, I never considered all the safety issues the reenacters face.
    Good post.

  4. Very interesting, Matt, as always! I would never have thought of all these safety issues. I would probably be the one ending up in the ant bed. LOL

  5. Who knew reenacting could have so many pitfalls? Not me. Very interesting, Matt.

  6. Heck, I thought it was all fun. Never realized that so much attention to the gritty details were so much a part of it.

  7. Matt,

    It must cost a lot to be a reenactor.

    The logistics do sound complicated.

    What about someone getting upset and actually causing a real fight?

    Never was a group person, but seeing reenactors' in movies and TV is interesting.

    I guess the Civil War, a time in history that tore our country apart and pitted brother against brother, will never really be forgotten.

    Good that you are keeping the history of this time alive and as you say, "originally done with deadly serious intent".

    Charlie S.

  8. Thanks for all the comments, everyone.

    Yes Charlie, there are quite a bit of logistics involved, but everything is planned out before hand. I've never seen anyone cause a real fight. The battle are all planned out beforehand so that everyone knows what to do?

  9. All you've got to do is look at the Hollywood fatalities that came about because of foolishness or misinformation.

    Boring repetition of the safety rules is a small price to pay.