What is the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg? Which nations fought
in the War of 1812? When were tanks first used in battle? If you know the
answers to these questions, or want to know, you are a potential military
Military history enthusiasts study military history with a desire to find
out exactly what happened and why.
"It's fun. You find things you don't expect," says Dave Love.
Love says military history buffs don't glorify war. They're not fans of
death and destruction. Rather, they try to understand war. After all, those
who forget history are doomed to repeat it, Love points out.
"History, if you work at it properly, can go a long way to breaking down
biases. It helps you consider alternatives," he says.
Let's consider the above examples. What is the significance of the Battle
of Gettysburg? This battle was one of the bloodiest of the American Civil
War. Led by Confederate commander Robert E. Lee, it was also the furthest
north the Southern Confederate troops ever got.
The South was defeated by the North's superior firepower. With the loss,
the Confederacy lost the chance of ever gaining recognition from foreign powers
for their union. And from that point on, Confederate troops had only the strength
to defend themselves, not go on the offensive.
Was this the turning point of the war? Did this lead to the creation of
the U.S. as we know it today? Only military history buffs know for sure!
Which nations fought in the War of 1812? This war was fought between British
forces -- in what is now Canada -- and American troops. The events leading
up to the war are complex and varied -- even Napoleon was involved! It involved
issues of borders and shipping blockades.
One of the reasons it is significant is that the war -- a series of battles
-- was both the first and last time the two nations took up arms to defend
their borders against each other. Is this why North America is a leader in
the world today? Some military historians argue that it is!
And what about those tanks? Armored tanks were first used in battle by
the British in 1916. Did this technology change the outcome of the war? That's
something for military history buffs to figure out.
Military history buffs don't study everything to do with military history.
That would be impossible! Instead, they tend to specialize in periods, regions
or wars. What you study is up to you. So why not study something close to
"Most towns in North America have some sort of interesting military legacy,"
says Brian White. He is the volunteer director of the Halifax Citadel Regimental
Association. At the very least, every town has a war veteran to talk to.
Lynn Berkowitz in Detroit has specialized in the study of Jewish Americans
during the Civil War.
"A number of years ago I read an article mentioning General Grant's 'Order
Number One,' which was an expulsion order for Jews living in the area of his
occupation. I'd never heard of this and I wanted to get into it," she explains.
Military history buffs work alone or together with others in historical
societies. They may also be members of a historical "round table." These are
volunteer, nonprofit groups whose members share an interest in a particular
Some enthusiasts collect historic artifacts associated with a certain battle
or war. Extensive collections have been built out of weapons, bullets, pins,
medals and belt buckles dating from a particular historic period.
Some buffs even recreate history! They dress up and perform in re-enactments
of historical events. Using authentic clothing and equipment from a war or
military campaign, they act out battle scenes with other enthusiasts.
Some 250 re-enactment groups, with 5,000 members, helped stage the battle
scenes in the movie Gettysburg.
Chris Wattie is a member of a military re-enactment group. He's a private
in the Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada. The group recreates the War of
1812. He got involved by attending one of the re-enactments.
"[I worked] up the courage to walk up to one of the guys and ask them about
what they were doing. I've always been a history fan and 1812 was one of my
favorite periods, so before I knew it I'd signed up and found myself marching
around an actual War of 1812 battlefield -- it was so much fun I couldn't
Re-enactments help history buffs understand their subjects.
"Every now and then it's possible to get a real feel for what it must have
been like for the young men and women involved in the events of 1812 to '14,"
"There's a real thrill being on the same patch of ground where General
Brock repelled the Yankee invaders, or where the redcoats mounted their bloody
assault on Ft. Erie."
How do enthusiasts know so much about history? They work at it by doing
research at museums and libraries. Both are sources of great information at
little or no cost.
History enthusiasts also travel to the sites of famous battles. Civil War
history buff Dave Smith says it's deeply moving for him to stand in the fields
in Lexington, Kentucky, where Americans fought Americans in 1862.
"That holds a fascination for many Americans. I think that's why there
are so many visitors to Gettysburg and so many of those parks."
An interest in military history prompts thousands of North Americans to
visit First and Second World War memorials in Europe each year.
Enthusiasts estimate there are tens of thousands of people who are more
than casually interested in the military events that shaped their country
and the world.
There are about 200 round table groups across the United States with thousands
of members studying the American Civil War alone! Several military history
magazines are also being published.
Enthusiasts predict that the number of military history buffs will grow
over the next 10 years as the population ages and the idea of sitting around
reading starts to seem appealing.
"There aren't a lot of 23 year olds at round tables," says Smith. "People
find us when they are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s."
It doesn't cost a lot to get into military history. Much of the material
you need is free for the borrowing at your local library. However, Sidney
Allison says many enthusiasts start collecting military history books and
end up with a private library worth several thousand dollars.
"It's not all bang-bang," says Allison. "The study of military history
is social history, political history and the study of families."
Anybody can become a military history buff. All it takes is an interest
in the subject and the dedication to learn more about it. The only physical
requirement might be a pair of reading glasses!
Some military history buffs can turn their interest into income. Some are
published authors. Berkowitz has written one historical novel and published
two non-fiction articles. Allison has written a book called The Bantams, the
untold story of various regiments in the First World War.
Many battlegrounds have interpretive guides. This is the perfect job for
a military history buff who wants to share his knowledge. Others organize
tours to historically significant military sites in their area or abroad.
Military history buffs may also consider getting a teaching degree to teach
history to others.
The best way to get started as a military history buff is to head over
to your local library. Check out the military history section. Then curl up
with the book of your choice and start reading.
"Go to the public library or archives and ask the local librarian for information
-- books, articles, etc. -- on topics related to the local history. For example,
World War veterans from the local area," suggests White. This way, you can
educate yourself about your own hometown and its history.
"From there, contact a local legion," he says. "Most have youth groups
and programs and can probably put [you] in touch with a veteran."
This is what historians call doing "primary research." Allison interviewed
dozens of First World War veterans and their widows for his book, The Bantams.
He found that women are an important resource in any historical article
because they remember who went where, who married whom, and where to find
"Read everything you can get your hands on. Read a history book, then check
the bibliography at the back and look up those books," suggests Wattie.
"But also, visit some of the hundreds of historical sites.... The staff
just love answering all your questions."
Think about joining a military history club. Look for contacts through
your local library and museum. You can also check with the chamber of commerce
and veteran's legion. Or contact one of the groups below.
Last but not least, rent a movie! There are lots of good historical movies.
Just be warned -- not all are historically accurate!
Texas Historical Commission
1511 Colorado St.
The History Net
Daily quizzes, and a good place to start general research
American Civil War Home Page
Everything the Civil War military buff ever wanted to know
Military History Institute
A great research tool, and a link to the U.S. Army War College
Victoria Cross Reference
The highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face
of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces