02 May 2009 by Published in: Rants 10 comments

Today, I made my annual trek to Mansfield, Ohio. Mansfield is about 50 miles north of Columbus, and is a pretty non-descript place. However, the second largest Civil War show in the country is held there the first weekend in May each year. Every year, I go and visit my network of friends and book vendors who gather there, drool over antique weapons that I can’t afford, and look for a CDV of Ulric Dahlgren, which are, evidently, few and far between. For the first time in years, I didn’t spend a dime today.

I actually had intended to. I got an order for a copy of my second book, “We Have It Damn Hard Out Here”: The Civil War Letters of Sergeant Thomas W. Smith, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, a couple of weeks ago, and I am out of copies of it. Traditionally, and for years now, the Kent State University Press, which published the book, has had a table there, and I figured I would buy a couple of copies directly from the Press at my author discount so I have one to fill the order and an extra in case I get another order. I made my way back to the building where the KSU Press has always had its table, and was stunned to find that the entire building was filled with World War II stuff for sale.

That wasn’t the only portion of the show dedicated to World War II stuff. Dealers selling World War II stuff were thoroughly interspersed among the Civil War dealers all throughout the show. There’s always been a certain amount of non-Civil War stuff at the Mansfield, show, but it’s always been 95% Civil War stuff and 5% other stuff. Today, it was about 67% Civil War stuff and 33% World War II stuff.

I have no issues with people buying and selling World War II memorabilia and books, to be sure. Let’s be quite clear about that. Likewise, I understand that the economy is largely in the toilet (given that Susan got laid off from her job in January, I am painfully and constantly aware of that unpleasant reality) and that desperate times bring about desperate actions. I’m all for people trying to make a living, and I similarly understand that the show promoters have an overhead nut to crack, and that if the participation of Civil War dealers is down due to the economy, they need to cover that nut somehow. I get all of that.

At the same time, there’s a time and a place. This show is called the Civil War and Artillery Show (artillery reenactors give demonstrations there every year), not the Civil War, World War II, and Artillery Show. I surely didn’t expect to find nearly 1/3 of the stuff for sale being completely off topic, but there it was. If they want to open up the show so that it covers more than the Civil War, then fine. However, if the plan is to do that, then for Pete’s sake, change the damn name of the show so that people aren’t deceived as to what to expect.

While on the way home, I told Susan that I am seriously considering not going next year because I was so disappointed by the offerings there–specifically with the many missing regular dealers and with the overabundance of material that was completely off-topic to the theme of the show. If I don’t go next year, it will be the first time in about 15 years that I will have missed the Mansfield show.

I think that the promoters need to decide what they want their show to be, to promote it that way, and to keep it on-topic. It surely wasn’t this year.

Scridb filter


  1. Chris Evans
    Sat 02nd May 2009 at 5:46 pm

    It seems that some of World War II popularity to students of military is starting to crowd the Civil War field a bit. There are huge shelves of books on World War II at the major book outlets especially compared to books on the Civil War. I like studying both but agree when you call something ‘Civil War show’ that it should not be ‘Civil War and World War II show’. It must have something to do with the amount of movies and popular books that have come out relatively recently and that the veterans are dying out that has given rise to increased attention to the popularity of items on World War II. That’s just my opinion.
    Thanks for the interesting rant,

  2. Mike Peters
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 12:27 am


    Yeah it was strange seeing all the 101st Airborne reenactors.

    Mike Peters

  3. Dave Powell
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 7:14 am

    You’re not familiar with the 101st’s brilliant defense of Chattanooga in 1863, when they were isolated until Grant relieved them?

    I believe they told Bragg “Nuts”

    One of my favorite book Dealers, Bruce Herrick from Hooked on History (http://www.hookedonhistory.com/) is local, and I visit with him from time to time. He makes all the shows, and has always gone to Mansfield.

    He tells me that in general, his WWII stuff is selling more and his ACW stuff less, and he’s also getting a number of ACW collections offered to him as people weed out their own shelves.

    Sign o’ the times, perhaps…

    Dave Powell

  4. Sun 03rd May 2009 at 9:44 am

    Dave – I hear the same thing from dealers I know – though everyone hopes a properly promoted and marketed sesquicentennial will change things. We’ll see…


  5. Sun 03rd May 2009 at 9:45 am

    We see the same thing in the miniature wargaming hobby – lots of WWII gaming these days, and the most popular new rules set over the past 4-5 years is Flames of War, a WWII set. In recent shows, there are perhaps 10 times as many WWII games being played than Civil War.

  6. Mike Peters
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 10:27 am


    Bruce took some of my CW money for a JEB Stuart Horse Artillery book and a Morgan’s Raid reference. Would have been more if he still had the Arthur MacArthur bio.

    Mike Peters

  7. dan
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I’ve always found reenacting strange. When will have Vietnam War reenactors, or Somali “Black Hawk Down” reenactors? How about Operation Desert Storm folks? I’ve been to several CW reenactments and the casualties always died “clean”. I don’t blame them, the uniforms are expensive. But it’s not real. And it tends to give a more romanticised portrayal of an ultraviolent and horrific event. Battle is messing and disgusting. Reenactments are not. When the Vietnam War reenactors come to town, I will not be in attendance.

  8. Kent Dorr
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 10:46 pm

    I was at the show helping man our SUVCW Mansfield Camp table and most of the comments I heard were positive about adding the newer conflicts to the show. I can tell you that for whatever reason attendance on Sat alone in 2009 was higher that both days combined in 2008. Vendor attendance as well had been declining until this year. The building where the bulk of the WWII stuff was this year wasnt even open last year due to lack of vendors. I do agree that a change in name of the show should reflect the addition of later wars.

  9. Chris Evans
    Mon 04th May 2009 at 10:19 am

    There are plenty of Vietnam reenactors on the web just google it. I don’t really know what to think on 20th century war reenactors. But past wars especially 19th century and earlier ,I believe, reenactors can be helpful. A person is able to see what a Civil War uniform looks like on a real person and see how artillery and musketry are loaded and worked. It is a hobby for people and I don’t think it always has to be put down. Their should be a Civil War movie that depicts the carnage of battle correctly but even that would not come close to the real thing. But the Civil War as horrible as it was is much different than 20th century conflicts. People went into battle waving flags and riding horses and wearing colorful uniforms and they didn’t march into waves of machine gun fire. This war has a different element to it that I think only the Napoleonic wars can compare in colorfulness.

  10. Tue 05th May 2009 at 10:38 am

    I will say the World War II films, of late – especially Band of Brothers about the 101st airborne, was as realistic as they could get on film. It does Not in the least glorify war, and the acting is terrific in my opinion. Although I am a Civil War author, I don’t have an interest in reinacting, but those guys are very knowledgeable and dedicated.

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