How do re-enactors know how to die?

In an ongoing effort to further educate the public on what we affectionately call Civil War Re-enacting we answer this often asked question. This is one of the most frequently asked questions by Civil War event spectators.

The following was copied from the April 2009 issue of the Camp Chase Gazette.

Schools of the Civil War Re-enactor
By Thomas R. Fasulo: 37th Iowa Volunteer Infantry

One of the many questions spectators often ask re-enactors is:
Question: “How do you know when to die?”

Answer: “We go to dying school.”

Actually, the proper name is School of the Dead, but usually we just call it Dying School. This school is held at most major events, but slots fill up quickly. This is one of the reasons most Civil War re-enactors preregister for events up to a year ahead of time. Most never commit the faux pas of registering at the last minute, or just showing up on the first morning of the event (walk ons).

At dying school, students are taught how to die according to the various projectiles. There are separate courses on Rifle Balls, Solid Shot, Shell, Canister, Grape-shot, and others. Until a re-enactor has a basic certificate from dying school he or she is not allowed to die in a re-enactment. If someone without a certificate dies, and is caught, they are punished by being immediately transferred to a cavalry unit or to Brigade staff, as no one is ever allowed to die in those units.

Once a re-enactor has learned to die alone, he or she then moves on to the final course required for the basic certificate from the school of the dead. This is the ever popular “die in a bunch” course.

Some hardcore re-enactors take additional courses at dying school and receive an “Advanced Certificate” from dying school. These courses cover dying from diarrhea, heat stroke, starvation and that famous cause of so many southern deaths- “a high cholesterol heart attack”.

Graduates of the first advanced course have the right to wear stains on the back of their trousers. They wear these stains as a badge of honor. The advanced course on high cholesterol heart attack is becoming more popular as it permits re-enators to die in garrison or in camp anytime they wish to without having to wait for a shot to be fired.

There is even an advanced course for officers. This is called the “I just tripped over my sword again so I might as well lie here and let people think I did it on purpose” course.