Tin cups like those carried by soldiers during the Civil War cost $10 at a shop in Gettysburg.
Tin cups like those carried by soldiers during the Civil War cost $10 at a shop in Gettysburg. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Jason Plotkin)

This story from our 2008 archives looks into the costs of serving as a Civil War re-enactor.

It costs $1,500 to $2,300 to authentically fight, dress and camp as if it's July 1863 and you're an infantryman in the Federal or Confederate army.

Civil War re-enactors are quick to note their hobby isn't as pricey as boating or golfing, but it's hard to argue it's inexpensive.

"The way I look at it, it's like any hobby," said historian and re-enactor John Heiser of Gettysburg.

"If you're into model trains or model boats, you're going to get the best of the line you can get because you want to be 100 percent right."

And getting it right costs money.

Interest in war re-enacting has boomed in recent decades, as has the corresponding number of sutlers -- the merchants of uniforms, arms and equipment.

More than 50 such sellers will populate the Sutler Village at the Gettysburg re-enactment that ends today at the Redding farm, peddling everything from blacksmith wares to Victorian ladies' wigs to leather accoutrements.

Among them will be George Lomas, a re-enactor-turned-sutler who owns the Regimental Quartermaster in Gettysburg.

Lomas started making and selling Civil War-style wares in the early 1960s when they weren't readily available commercially. At the time, many hobbyists made their uniforms by hand.

Today, Lomas said, $1,500 will generally put a beginner re-enactor in uniform and on the field. Period camping gear, tools, weaponry and accessories cost more.

The cash-register total depends on how much you want to get into it, Lomas said. Items vary in price based on material, quality and stitching (hand- versus machine-sewn, for example).

Before making the investment, it's wise to attend a re-enactment, find a unit you feel comfortable with and ask to join them for an event. Borrow their extra gear and see if you like the experience, said Keith MacGregor, captain of the 142nd Volunteer Infantry Company F.

A canteen is $70.
A canteen is $70. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Jason Plotkin)

"It's really a lot of work. Some people make the investment in the uniform or the rifle and they realize it's not for them," said MacGregor, whose unit comprises 60 members from five states including Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The most expensive pieces of start-up gear are the rifle musket (roughly $600) and the uniform.

Federal infantry uniforms run $500 to $600, which is less expensive than Confederate uniforms.

Depending on what state a soldier represents, Confederate uniforms can cost $750 or more because the jacket material is jean cloth.

"Only a handful of people are making proper jean material today in the United States," said Heiser, who works for the National Park Service at Gettysburg and is affiliated with the 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteers.

"So a Confederate shell jacket -- Richmond Depot, for example -- will run $250 to $350, depending on the lining. If you're going to be a Confederate soldier, that's what you should be wearing."

If you wear glasses, as MacGregor does, another expense are antique spectacles with prescription lenses.

"The idea behind re-enacting is you want to keep all modern anachronisms away from the public view," he said.

"You're putting forth an impression of 1860s America, and you want to remain there as much as possible. You don't want to be sitting there with a plastic bottle of soda."

Heiser warns against one-stop shopping. Check around for the best quality materials because you want them to last as long as your interest in the hobby, he said.

(Daily Record/Sunday News - Jason Plotkin)

Also, don't shy from asking suppliers about their research and the original piece that reproductions are based on.

"It helps to visit museums and look at original items," Heiser said.

"I recommend (new re-enactors) read every book they can read, study every book they can study that has photographs of soldiers in the field. Don't always rely on other re-enactors to tell you what the soldier in your unit would have worn. They aren't the experts," he said.

Wannabe re-enactors can also check out publications such as the weekly Civil War News, which lists recruiters for units around the country, or The Watchdog, which reviews catalogue items for quality, manufacturer and price.

When picking a unit, ask about dues, membership responsibilities, commitment level and how often the unit frequents re-enacting events.

Re-enactors tend to fall into two groups in terms of their commitment: The "authentics" and the "mainstreamers," Heiser said.

Authentics sleep in dog tents, speak in 1860s vernacular and wear nothing but the natural fibers available during the period. Mainstreamers might bring to the campsite creature comforts from home such as mobile TVs, cots and their children.

In the end, folks should remember that re-enacting is a hobby -- a show for the public that's not a true re-creation of battle, Heiser said.

"The troop formations are there. The artillery pieces are there. A couple guys mounted as cavalry are there. But in the long run, trying to re-create a battle is almost impossible," he said.

"At the end, people get up, go home, take a shower and have a nice meal. That's not what the soldiers did."

What's it cost?

The basic gear for a Civil War re-enactor costs $1,500 to $2,300 or more, including camping supplies.

Federal infantry

Uniform, $500-$600

Rifle musket, $600

Weapon tools, $20

Equipment belt set (cartridge box, sling and plates), $120-$180

Belt, $40-$50

Bayonet, $100

Bayonet scabbard, $60

Cap box, $45

Haversack, $55-$75

Canteen, $80-$100 (leather sling an additional $20)

Cup/cooking utensils, $25-$30

Toothbrush, mirror, comb, towel, $30-$50

Blanket, $100

Gum rubber blanket or poncho, $75-$100 (rain protection)

Shelter half (tent), $85-$90

Additional dress (optional):

Dress coat (or frock coat), $500

Overcoat, $400-$500

Confederate infantry

Jacket, $250-$350

Trousers, $140-$180

Shirt, $80-$150

Braces or belt, $40-$50

Shoes, $110

Socks, $10-$20

Hat or cap, $100

Rifle musket, $600

Weapon tools, $20

Bayonet, $100

Bayonet scabbard, $60

Belt set (Southern made), $250-$300

Haversack, $65-$70

Canteen, $80-$100

Blanket, $100

Gum rubber blanket or poncho, $75-$100 (rain protection)

Additional dress (optional):

Overcoat, $400-$500


The Battle of Gettysburg took place July 1-3, 1863, and is largely considered a turning point in the Civil War. Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's army defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army, ending Lee's invasion of the North.

About the series

"What's It Cost?" is an occasional series that looks closely at the price of things such as learning to fly a plane, putting your house on the market or publishing a book.

Read more of the series.

More online

--- The Watchdog, www.watchdogreview.com

--- The Regimental Quartermaster, www.regtqm.com

--- S&S Sutler of Gettysburg, www.ss-sutler.com

--- Dirty Billy's Hats, www.dirtybillyshats.com

--- C&D Jarnagin Co., www.jarnaginco.com

--- Memories Past Historical Outfitters, www.memoriespast.net