Now that the backdrop to reenacting has been established, now let's go to the typical event and look at the various sights at a typical event. Before we get started, here's a site that is geared to the spectator side of the hobby, and lists the different battles to attend.
Part 2 - Anatomy of an Event
Most spectator events are typically divided into four areas; the two opposing camps, the battlefield and sutler row. Some events might have an area that has a living history set-up for the public, especially if the reenactor's camps aren't readily accessible.
Living history events many times omit one or more of the areas since the empathsis is more on the more 'passive' events surrounding the landmark or historical happening being reenacted. Immersion events are similar, but typically retain the opposing camps, which oftentimes are mobile.
The opposing camps
Most events, especially ones that are spectator-driven, tend to keep camps open so that you can see the reenactors recreating camp life of the period. More often than not, these camps usually miss the mark by varying degrees. Most reenacting camps would probably been prevalent in the first months of the war, especially before any of serious campaigns. Any time you see a large wall tent, or the smaller wedge tents, or the even smaller dog tents, then you're looking at things that would've been tossed from the get-go. Mainstreamers camp in this fashion, because superficial 'looks' are acceptable to their concept of authenticity, and the military air that neat rows of wedge tents and defined company streets offer is appealing.
A camp with 'shebangs' (dwellings that are made from dog-tent panels and anything else to make a shelter), or just gum blankets and blankets is a bit closer to the truth. If you see this type of camp, you'll see the "campaigner" reenactors who are looking at the realism aspect. But the real truth is probably more sparse. Historical soldiers slogged on with a minimum of equipage, mainly because they were their own transport. When you walk a long day, any weight tends to drag you down. But since most reenactors are creatures of the present time and age, a little comfort goes a long way in enjoying the hobby.
This is the attraction of many events for reenactors, but is also problematic for the hosts. As a rule of thumb, most battle events do not happen on the actual grounds they occurred, with some exceptions.
The National Park Service is usually the most stringent regulator of battlefield space, and for good reason. Most NPS parks are the large battlegrounds that hold a significance to more people than reenactors, and want to make sure the grounds remain as undisturbed as possible. Some reenactors chalk this up to snobbery, but I personally see the point. The NPS does allow some groups who have authentic impressions to do living histories, if done within NPS standards.
Since it's hard to plan battles on nationally maintained parks, the usual benefactor of reenactments on historical grounds are the state- and county-owned properties. Although they also have rules for use, they are also usually less stringent about reenacting, seeing such events as a boon to draw people to often under-visited places. A few of these places also have their own living history programs in place, and use the reenacting events to mesh with them, so you'll see most Civil War living history events happen at these places.
Many events happen on private property, or publicly-owned non-historical land. Usually, the large "mainstream" battles are reenacted on private property, as with most "campaigner" type events. The mainstream events shoot for properties that have been largely cleared to facilitate mass troop movement and to give spectators the best view of the event possible. At times this is taken to extremes, especially if the battleground is small. The campaigners usually shoot for the opposite - land that is as untouched or terrain rich as possible to facilitate smaller unit actions more suited to the actual numbers of reenactors. If spectators are allowed, then they might be relegated to watch from vantage points, or a public battle may be planned that meshed with the tactical nature of the event.
One big attraction of most battle events is sutler row. Civil War reenacting relies heavily on cottage industries to produce most of the clothing a gear needed to do an impression, and the sutlers sell it. Normally these days, a sutler is usually a mail order business for reenactors, but some also cater to reenactors and spectators alike during events.
Within reenactor circles, Sutler Row is both welcomed and loathed. Depending on the sutler, you can either buy authentic stuff, get stiffed by crap, or both. Many authentically aware groups make sure that their new members are chaperoned through the sutlers to make sure any purchase is worthy. For spectators, the rules are a bit different. Typically there's plenty to buy for the kids and some stuff for the non-reenacting adults, although I'll warn you if you intend on joining a group, don't buy from the sutlers until you know what you're looking for.
Sutler Row is also strategically placed. It usually resides between spectator parking and the battleground.
Next: The Players