How Do Reenactors Know When They’re “Shot?”

I get this question a lot from people who are curious to know: During a reenactment, how do reenactors know when they are supposed to ‘get shot’?  It’s a good question.


Hint: This is not it.

In fact, the answer(s) is (are) really pretty simple,

Depending on the unit, there are three common factors that can go into deciding when you get “shot”:

  • Sometimes a unit will draw straws or cast lots in order to determine who fall down during a reenactment.  The most inauthentic way, but it is also a way to get the newbies (somehow the short straws always end up in the new reenactor’s hands)
  • Sometimes you are asked to fall if you run out of ammunition.  This makes sense.  After all, you’re firing three shots in a minute.  You might show up to the reenactment with a bag full of rounds, but they go quickly.  Between skirmishing, reenacting a battle, and doing drills, you run through black powder like water on a hot day.  When you run out, there is nothing you can do but fall.  Most reenactors, if they don’t ask for additional rounds from friends nearby, will fall.
  • Sometimes, and especially when the weather is scorching hot, you are told to fall if you get overheated.  As a safety rule, a reenactor will fall when they are just too exhausted from the heat to go on.  Let’s face it; we’re in wool uniforms, regardless of the temperature, and we are firing explosives from rifles which get hot when used frequently (muskets don’t have cooling mechanics like modern firearms).  We’re surrounded by other people, in very close proximity, we’re moving constantly across a battlefield, up hill, moving at the double-quick, charging, with equipment.  It’s a pretty hardcore thing we do.  We’re going to get hot, tired, bruised, and sweaty.  A person needs to break sometimes.

Additional factors play into the decision as well.  Reenacting is a hobby, and it is fun; but reenactors tend to have a passion for history.  They want their portrayals to feel historical and not look like a hobby.  If you know you’re going into an event that portrays a battle where a lot of soldiers die, the reenactor has incentive to drop.  During the reenactment of Pickett’s Charge, for example, most confederate reenactors will drop when they start seeing muzzle flashes and get within a certain range, for the sake of keeping authenticity.   We’re there to give you, the viewer, an accurate interpretation of the battle; at least to the best of our ability.  So if you see someone aiming at you, if you feel particularly generous, you might fall.

During a reenactment back in 2006 at Eckley Miner’s Village, my confederate unit was skirmishing with a few groups of Union infantry.  We took up positions in some brush and during part of the engagement, I rushed forward and aimed.  One Union reenactor saw me and rushed toward me.  I fired.  He went down.  To the spectators, it looked authentic.  We had done our jobs.  Later during that same battle reenactment, we were ambushed by the remaining Union infantry while we were ‘surrendering’ and I decided to fall (I made it look good and did it with a vengeance, don’t worry).

I hope this answers the question.  If any of my fellow reenactors have anything to add, please do!

So remember dear readers, when you see a reenactor, they’re doing this for you (mostly).  Be sure to thank them.


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