Civil War themed night brings traditions to life

Geneseo Late Knight partnered with the Reenactment Company of Geneseo to provide a vicarious trip back to the Civil War era through traditional costumes, food and dance. (Elizabeth Jacobs/Staff Photographer)

History came alive at the Knight Spot on Friday Jan. 27 when the Reenactment Company of Geneseo paired with Geneseo Late Knight to hold their first Civil War Ball.

Men in uniforms and women in dresses paraded around the Knight Spot in outfits that were a replication of what people would have worn when attending the dances in the Civil War era. The attractions of the event set the historical ambiance, while a live string band played throughout the night.

Era-accurate food completed the atmosphere, which included potatoes and lemonade—the latter being a personal favorite of Abraham Lincoln’s. Men in Confederate and Union uniforms huddled around a life-sized chess board, devising their moves with war strategies one would expect from soldiers of the period. 

Civil War trivia ensued as well, as the Reenactment group happily assisted participants with the more difficult questions. There was even a photo booth where you could wear Civil War costumes and pose with soldiers from either side of the war.

“We have to be representatives of both sides, from captains to sergeants,” political science major sophomore Wesley Ebersole said. 

By far the most appealing attraction, however, were the reenactors themselves. They were all assigned military ranks and names, which they announced proudly when called upon. The actors rarely broke character all throughout the night, and when they did, it was to teach participants facts about the Civil War—or to hold a digital camera for the photo booth. 

“It’s a good opportunity for people to take a step back in history,” Geneseo Late Knight Graduate Assistant Molly Cole said. “It’s almost like a time machine.”

Civil War balls and dances proved just that for the soldiers on both sides in the 1860s. They became ways for the tired soldiers to forget about fighting—if only for a night. These dances have an interesting history and there is less information on them than the war itself; instructions for era-traditional dances, for example, exist solely through dance manuals of the time and hand written notes. 

The event served to enlighten participants to Geneseo’s historical ties to America—to remind attendees that there was more to the culture of the Civil War than bloodshed. 

History and psychology double major and founder of the Reenactment Company sophomore Julian David-Drori—or as he introduced himself at the Civil War Ball, Captain David-Drori—agreed. 

“Our job is to educate the public about history through living history,” David-Drori said. “The entire subject isn’t just about war.”