AGSAS > History
History of the Atlantic Guard
Soldiers Aid Society:
The Atlantic Guard Soldiers Aid Society (AGSAS) and its affiliated military unit, the 16th Virginia Infantry, were established in 1995 by a group of reenactors who had previously been together in the 6th Virginia Infantry, part of Longstreet's Corps. The new unit affiliated with the Fifth Battalion (Now called Pridgeon's Shenandoah Legion). Currently, AGSAS is an independent civilian unit, with no military affiliations.
In our more than ten years of existence, reenacting has changed considerably as research has expanded the knowledge base. One of the key inspirations in forming a more authenticity-focused unit was that clothing historian Juanita Leisch gave a presentation to our predecessor unit before her seminal book Who Wore What was published, detailing the findings of her extensive statistical study of original period images. The conclusions were a shocker to a lot of the membership -- we'd not been dressing like REAL 1860's people at all, but like reenactors!
Since that time, the Internet has made a wealth of information more accessible to reenactors, as have improved opportunities to view original clothing both online and in person. We consider ourselves a progressive unit. We do not pretend to be perfect --- but we are always focused on making PROGRESS in our impressions, seeking to improve our authenticity on all fronts, clothing, knowledge, first and third person interpretation, etc., and to not get tangled up in "reenactorisms" but instead to rely on research.
When AGSAS began in 1995, there was a severe shortage of reenactors portraying the average, working people of the 1860s. The natural tendency to romanticize the era meant a surplus of officers' ladies and famous personages and belles of fashion relative to their percentage of the population, whereas average folks were badly under represented. To help redress this imbalance, we decided to focus our core impression on lower middle class / yeoman farmer and artisan class types, predominantly from rural areas and small towns, given the agrarian nature of the South in the Civil War era.
In the intervening years, however, reenacting has progressed considerably and there is now a large and growing group of authenticity-oriented civilians focusing on this portrayal, whereas there is a severe shortage of authentic reenactors portraying the upper middle and middle classes .This has created yet another imbalance in what the public sees at reenactments. For that reason, a number of us as individuals have decided to develop an impression as upper-middle and middle class individuals. This is useful as many of the events we attend have a wide variety of roles. However, it is not necessary for new recruits or those seeking to minimize expenses to go beyond our original core impression (rural lower middle / yeomanry class). In fact, the clothing required for this core portrayal will enable you to portray everything from the very poor to the rural middle-middle classes with very little modification.
Another area in which we have tried to help the civilian hobby as a whole to progress is in developing immersion-focused events that offer civilians something more than the traditional "battle, tea party and ball" scene at the large mainstream events. As past civilian coordinators for McDowell, and participants at New Market and others, we are proud of the impact events like these have had in increasing the number of civilians who enjoy immersion first person and semi-immersion.
We also focus on learning the crafts, domestic and social skills of the era, as well as learning and using the correct material culture items. Past workshops have included basketry; shortages and substitutes; games and amusements; floorcloths; millinery; making a cage crinoline; applique and quilting, and period packaging and tableware. In addition, we have participated in several events involving making soap and candles, open hearth cooking, textile dyeing, spinning and weaving. Several of our members are talented and well-researched knitters, and we have adapted a number of period knitting patterns to modern needle sizes and shared these with other reenactors.
We've come a long way in the past years. We've recruited a number of new members along the way and several of our original members have taken a break from reenacting or gotten involved in other units. We've all learned a lot in these years, but perhaps the most important thing we've learned is that we need to try to keep learning all the time!
NOTE: Please note that our use of the term "civilian" in this article is in the modern context to describe the segment of the reenacting hobby focusing on the non-military. During the War era itself, this term referred only to men not serving in the military and the generic term applied to the overall population of men, women and children would have been "citizens" or "townspeople" or "local residents". However the term "civilian is used in this article and elsewhere on this website for purposes of clarity in decribing this portion of the reenacting hobby.