I suspect that, like me, many of you are fascinated by history. But how many of us pursue that interest actively—more than merely reading about it? One of our Fellows actively pursues his passion for history. Chris Lattin frequently attends Civil War reenactments and is a member of two organizations dedicated to the study of Napoleon and the Napoleonic Era.
Chris has been interested in the Civil War since reading Bruce Catton during the Civil War centennial in the 1960s. Chris interested his wife, Pat, in Civil War history and now they read Civil War books out loud to each other instead of watching TV. After moving to Virginia, Chris had many more opportunities to study the events first-hand. About a week after settling in, he and Pat went to the July 4, 1991 reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. They've been going to reenactments and living history events throughout Virginia and neighboring states ever since. There is a steady diet of such events—with several held every week in the Mid-Atlantic area during the summer, as well as a number in the spring and fall. Chris and his wife also attend Civil War conferences, go on tours sponsored by Civil War educational societies or the Smithsonian Institution, and attend a monthly Civil War Round Table. They have also visited a number of Civil War museums. Some of their favorites include the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Pamplin Park National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Petersburg, Virginia, and the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia.
At a Civil War reenactment at Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, the promoters decided to reenact a predawn attack. Chris and Pat drove to the site at 3:00 a.m. and were surprised to find quite a traffic jam, as several thousand spectators came. It was not only dark, but also quite foggy. They parked in a large lot and went to the visitor area. Without warning, and uncomfortably close to where they were standing, a tremendous artillery barrage opened up. At that instant, in the stillness of the night, the spectators heard the noise of one hundred car alarms going off due to the concussion. That was something Generals Lee and McClellan did not have to cope with during their surprise attacks.
| ...in the stillness of the night, the spectators heard the noise of one hundred car alarms going off ...That was something Generals Lee and McClellan did not have to cope with during their surprise attacks. |
Chris has recently been outfitted as a civilian of the 1860s—with a vest, bow tie, and long coat. He thinks it makes him look like a riverboat gambler. One day he may get a soldier's uniform, although the equipment and accoutrements are not cheap. The uniforms are wool, which sounds hot on 100-degree days, but actually breathes well and wicks off the perspiration. He notes that if you came from Virginia, your uniform quickly degenerated during campaigning into an odd assortment of patched pieces, frequently gleaned from the battlefields.
Because he likes learning about history, and about the struggles that people in the North and South went through at home and on the front lines, Chris is also interested in helping to preserve the historical sites and the hallowed grounds for future generations. Chris is a member of the Brandy Station Foundation, the Civil War Preservation Trust, Colonial Williamsburg, the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, the John Singleton Mosby Museum Foundation, the Mosby Heritage Area, the Museum of the Confederacy, and the Civil War Society.
Chris's interest in Napoleon also began in childhood. He always admired "underdogs" who achieved great things. About 15 years ago he saw an advertisement for the Napoleonic Society and decided to join. The Lattins now belong to two Napoleonic organizations—The Napoleonic Society of America and The Napoleonic Alliance. Each society has one annual meeting, and also sponsors an annual tour to a location that figured prominently in the Napoleonic saga (France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Egypt, etc.). Some of the members also participate in Napoleonic reenactment units, and periodically hold reenactments of Napoleonic battles.
For most of the past 10 years, Chris has been able to attend at least one of the annual meetings. These are generally centered on the presentation of papers or talks on a wide variety of Napoleonic topics including the wars and campaigns, prominent individuals of the Napoleonic Era, Napoleon's extended family, art and architecture, cuisine, and fashion. The venues are frequently in cities with French backgrounds, or with historic points of interest such as Québec, Williamsburg, or Boston. In 2003 they met in New Orleans to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon and the subsequent exploration of the area of by Lewis and Clark. The 2005 meeting was held in Charleston, South Carolina, where Chris and Pat were able to combine their Civil War and Napoleonic interests.
When he is not studying the Civil War or the Napoleonic Era, Chris Lattin is a consulting actuary for Towers Perrin.