Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with J. R. Sharp, July 9, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introducing J.R. Sharp, who portrays a Confederate colonel

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Partial Transcript: This is an unrehearsed interview for the Living History Reenactor Oral History Project. My name is J.D. Carruthers.

Segment Synopsis: J.R. Sharp talks about portraying a generic Confederate colonel in a reenactment of the battle of Ball's Bluff, which took place near Leesburg Virginia in October 1861. Sharp talks about the organization of Civil War reenactment groups including a mess, company, and battalion. He says his group has existed for 25 years and represents an actual Confederate unit. He says the reenactment organization helps with planning and authenticity standards. He speaks of "personal driven scenarios" which emphasize the personal experience of the individual soldier as much as the larger engagement.

Keywords: 1st Tennessee Company B; Authenticity; Ball's Bluff; Battalions; Brigades; Companies; Company; Confederate infantry; Copperhead Battalion Provisional; Corps; Division; First person voice; Leesburg (Va.); Mess; Personal driven scenarios; Regiments; Senator Edward Baker

Subjects: Civil war.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:05:36 - Lifelong interest in being a living historian

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Partial Transcript: Okay. How did you--how long have you been doing this? How did you get your interested started?

Segment Synopsis: Sharp says he was born into reenacting since his father recruited him at a young age. He talks about his father's participation in reenactment and his own. He describes the activity as a hobby and he talks about the youth of many Civil War officers. He talks about the influence and education he received as a reenactor.

Keywords: Boy Scouts of America; Buffington Island Battlefield Association; Hobbies; Hobby; John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail; Ohio Trail Commission

Subjects: Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history

00:09:43 - Authenticity and experiential learning

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Partial Transcript: Um, I want to go back to something you mentioned a, a moment ago, which is one of the core issues I want to focus on.

Segment Synopsis: Sharp talks about how a living history is only an approximation of the past at best. He discusses a variety of reasons why living history is limited, and how those practical limitations provide the motive for increasing quality and accuracy in living history. He describes authenticity as a "sacred duty." He notes that people of the past were not deities, but regular humans with human flaws. He lists several schools or viewpoints on authenticity including "farbs," "mainstreams," "progressives," and "authentics," and discusses the differences between them. He talks about the use of social media in living history. He talks about "campaign impressions" which involves authentic marches using appropriate material culture. He refers to "killing my time trip" as an anachronism that ruins the impression. He says that the infighting he has seen among reenactors is not constructive.

Keywords: "Farbs"; "Stitch Nazis"; Army of the Ohio; Authentic; Authenticity; Campaign impressions; Copperhead Battalion Provisional; Cosplay; Mainstream; Ohio Village; Participatory history; Progressive

Subjects: Civil war.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:20:51 - Evolution in the living history movement

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Partial Transcript: Well, and that's, uh, something I'd like to touch on, the, uh, events. I mean, you been in this activity, this movement, this hobby for--

Segment Synopsis: Sharp talks about the changes he has seen in reenactments during his twenty years of involvement in the hobby. He describes "tension" between Confederate and Union reenactors who tried to embarrass each other during events in the past. He says events need to generate revenue from the public, so he has come to view this tension as undesirable. He talks about his relationship with a Union reenactor in an organizational leadership role named Bob Minton who worked to improve events by building trust relationships with Confederate reenactors. He talks about the administrative and planning tasks involved in reenacting events and organizations. He describes the tension as residual of historical tensions, and expresses satisfaction that he has seen a new age of respect among groups. He talks about expecting to retire from the hobby, and he wants to leave a positive legacy. He talks about improvements in reenacting based on cumulative research opportunities available through electronic sources.

Keywords: Army of the Ohio; Battle of Gettysburg; Bob Minton; Confederates; Costumes; Gettysburg (Pa.); Hobby; Lewis Armistead; Ohio Village; Preservation; Research; Symbiotic relationships; Uniforms; Wargames; Winfield Scott Hancock; Yankees

Subjects: Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history

00:29:37 - Original and experiential research

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Partial Transcript: Well, that's, uh, let's, let's touch on that for a moment 'cause one of the things I'm interested in is how, how is this grounded in history.

Segment Synopsis: Sharp talks about how living history reenactment is based on interpretation of original research. He estimates that 25% to 45% of the presentation is based on fact, and the balance is based on "conjecture" and "educated guesses." He mentions period photography as a good primary source for material culture such as uniforms. He discusses how photography also helps with periodization and gaps in archival records. He talks about using surviving textiles as original sources, but that lower quality examples did not survive. He discusses how archival records can be pieced together and modern digital tools such as databases can be applied to extend research possibilities. He talks about obtaining quality and authentic reproductions from different suttlers and vendors. He talks about obtaining fabrics from the same company that has existed for over 150 years. He talks about how experience with authentic reproductions produces a realistic interpretation, even where the archival record is silent. He emphasizes how experience is a useful source to understand human activities.

Keywords: "Farbs"; 1st Tennessee Regiment; A.W. Hainsworth Textiles; Army of Tennessee; Artifact manufacturing; Atlanta Depot; Authenticity; Burlap; Cemeteries; Circumstantial evidence; Columbus Depot; Herringbone weave; Historical interpretation; Knapsacks; Rations; Research; Rock City Guards; Sutlers; Tabby weave; Tailors; Textiles

Subjects: Experiential learning.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history

00:39:59 - Authenticity and realism

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Partial Transcript: Related to the question of authenticity of costuming, I, I know, I was looking at this fellow across the, uh, road here...

Segment Synopsis: Sharp talks about how some reenactors use original artifacts such as muskets, but that there is a greater risk of loss due to theft or damage. He talks about the different levels of quality in reproductions. He mentions how one of the reenactors in his unit uses an original bayonet as a candle holder. He says it is not unusual to see a mix of original and reproduction artifacts in living history presentations. He talks about how the social relations developed during living history activities simulates the relationships that people of the past would have enjoyed.

Keywords: Bayonets; Material culture; Museum artifacts; Muskets; Tombstone (Ariz.)

Subjects: Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history

00:44:52 - Living history reenactment organizational structure and leadership

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Partial Transcript: I want to go back, uh, a little bit to--on the, uh, organization such, I, uh, I know that you were talk--

Segment Synopsis: Sharp talks about the organizational structure of living history reenactor units. He states the organizational structure replicates the military units of the period, but smaller in size. He says officers are often elected, much as they would have been during the Civil War. He adds that contemporary units also have bylaws and are sometimes incorporated. He talks about some of the leaders he knows in the reenacting movement.

Keywords: Army; Battalions; Bob Minton; Brigades; Captains; Colonels; Companies; Corps; Divisions; Generals; Platoons; Political appointments; Regiments

Subjects: Civil war.; Heritage Village Museum; Living History Association; Reenactment history

00:48:00 - Reenactment schedule and events

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Partial Transcript: Um, the schedule, I, I know that this is, at least for Civil War reenacting it's, it's very much a seasonal thing...

Segment Synopsis: Sharp talks about the reenactment seasonal schedule, with business meetings during the winter months and field events during warm weather. He talks about camping in bitterly cold weather which he describes as "Perryville weather." He says that no matter how bad the reenactors' experiences are, the original experience was probably worse. He refers to accepting discomfort during reenactment as "embracing the suck." He also referred to it as "Zen reenacting." He describes different types of events, including a living history encampment, a battle reenactment, tactical demonstrations, and tacticals. He says tacticals are the most realistic and do not involve public observers. He says tacticals are more for "authentic" reenactors rather than "mainstreams." He says that recreation of actual battles is urged by the hosting venue for promotional purposes with the public.

Keywords: "Authentics"; Ball’s Bluff; Battle of Gettysburg; Battle of Perryville; Battle of Shiloh; Battle reenactments; Business meetings; Experiential Learning; Franklin (Tenn.); Gettysburg (Pa.); Heritage Village Museum; Living history encampment; Mainstreams; Perryville (Ky.); Perryville, Battle of, Perryville, Ky., 1862.; Research; Scheduling; Shiloh (Tenn.); Shiloh, Battle of, Tenn., 1862.; Staff walk; Stones River; Tactical demonstrations; Tacticals; Thunder in the Valley; Weather

Subjects: Civil war.; Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:55:48 - Original sources in reenactment and historical accuracy

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. How ‘bout, um, uh--I have a copy at home of, uh, uh, "Hardee’s Tactics."

Segment Synopsis: Sharp says that he learned the original source material "Hardee's Tactics" by reading it multiple times and transcribing it. He refers to "reenactorisms," which are historical inaccuracies that have been repeated so often that they are now commonly accepted as fact. He gives the example of the drill order "by file right, by file left" which is often misspoken as "by files right." He also says that the correct order is "fix bayonet" rather than "fix bayonets." He says the goal of progressives is to help mainstreams and farbs learn about these nuances and improve historical accuracy.

Keywords: "Reenactorisms"; By file left; By file right; Commands; F Troop; Fix bayonet; Hardee's Tactics

Subjects: Civil war.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history; Research--Methodology.; Research.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:59:52 - Funding for living history events

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Partial Transcript: The, the funding is always a, a key to anything.

Segment Synopsis: Sharp says that reenactors pay to attend events where they perform. He says the funds they pay are used for preservation of historical sites or to support hosting venues. He says he collects dues at the beginning of the season and any residual left at the end is donated to preservation. He says no one in his group is paid other than occasional performance as extras in films. He says he is sometimes annoyed by first person living history interpreters who are commonly paid for their appearances. He questions whether first person interpretations are accurate for battle reenactments. He talks about an occasion when reenactors portraying high ranking officers expected military courtesy but did not receive it. He talks about tension between reenactors and first person interpreters and how first person and third person living historians should work together to ensure historical accuracy.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; Dues; First person voice; Grants; Historic preservation; Jefferson Davis; Payroll; Personas; Registration; Veterans' cemeteries

Subjects: Civil war.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history

01:09:49 - Gender in reenactments / Favorite memory from a living history event

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Partial Transcript: So we were talking about, uh, the--that war was hell for the soldiers but also hell for the women as well.

Segment Synopsis: Sharp talks about gender roles and civilian involvement in the Civil War. He talks about how the civilian spirit is contrasted from attitudes today. He talks about his father's retirement from living history reenacting and how it affected him.

Keywords: Children; Communications; Family relationships; Homefront; Jenny Wade; Widow Henry; Wilbur McClean; Women

Subjects: Civil war.; Heritage Village Museum; Reenactment history; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.