A Civil War Political Movement Reawakens — Complete With Capes

A Civil War Political Movement Reawakens — Complete With Capes


Sean Sullivan, another re-enactor, who lives in Greenlawn, N.Y., on Long Island, has an identical tattoo on his left forearm. (The two men know each other, but were until recently unaware they were tattoo twins.) Mr. Sullivan, too, is particularly taken with the Wide Awakes’ aesthetics.

The original Wide Awakes dressed in oilcloth to protect themselves from dripping lantern fuel, but c’mon, Mr. Sullivan said: “They probably just did it because it looks good with the reflections. You know, all the torches, they would march at nighttime, they would shoot fireworks. You read about how the light reflecting off of the oilcloth was really something that they liked.”

In 2018, Mr. Sullivan put together a handful of like-minded friends to do a re-enactment of the Wide Awakes for the Remembrance Day parade in Gettysburg, held annually in mid-November in observance of the anniversary of Lincoln’s famous address. He was a driving force behind a small, private Facebook group of a few dozen who had been planning to march as Wide Awakes this year as well, but the parade was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

When told about the new Wide Awakes, Mr. Sullivan — who wore his own Wide Awakes T-shirt to a Black Lives Matter protest in Greenlawn in June — was delighted by “a movement to help create political and social changes, which is what the original Wide Awakes were doing,” he said. “I think it’s a group that Lincoln could get behind.”

Mr. Sullivan even got into a bar fight defending the original Wide Awakes’ honor at Remembrance Day last year. Two Confederate re-enactors, “good old boys,” he said, spotted the tattoo on his forearm.

“They started verbally attacking me for being pro-Union,” he recalled. “Some of these Lost-Causer re-enactors that feel the war is still going on, you know, ‘heritage not hate’ and all that stuff. They felt the need to get verbally loud with me. And it was a little intimidating.”



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