Whores, Thieves and Militants of the Civil War
I may have mentioned before that I love men in uniform (I think because my father was in the army and then became a police officer but who cares? Men just look great in tailored outfits). So when my best friend’s husband suggested I come with him to the 140th Re-enactment of Antietam for research for my novel, I jumped at the idea.
Someone lent me hoops, a corset and a fantastic day dress and I was hooked. All of the reading in the world could never replace the smell of campfire in my hair and the way it felt to flirt with soldiers while wearing truly feminine clothes. I learned a lot about Enfield rifles( too heavy for me to ever try to use) and about human nature.
Civil War Re-enactment Types:
- SNOBS I think this is what I expected to find more of: people who talked about blouse button accuracy and looked scandalized by a soda can peaking from beneath a canvas tent. I personally drew the line between kids and adults. Kids were being dragged to these events and forced to wear weird clothing and hang out with weird adults who lectured them about civics and states’ rights. The occasional soda did no harm. On the other hand I wanted to time travel and fully immerse myself in the period. Plastic milk containers and talks about television spoiled the mood sometimes. Most people were exceptionally kind and understanding.
- ECCENTRICS The leader of our hospital unit was a toothless old lady who refused to be called by her real name–ever. Her modern bank account even sported her Civil War persona’s name. She really thought she was a surgeon. She really thought we were nurses. The men were afraid of her but loved lying in the shade and having their foreheads dabbed with cold water by the nurses. “Doc” also fantasized about her nurses dressing as whores in the evening. She wanted to be our pimp. She said she didn’t want a partner because she knew how to sexually satisfy herself. Thankfully my kids were too young to understand much of what she said.
- MILITANTS “Doc” was also a militant — as was the head nurse. Towels had to be hung in an orderly way. Children had to use proper slang. “Doc” once lectured my son about his period incorrect hair and his period incorrect use of the term “mom.” Not all militants were bad. All of the men I met — without exception — had a healthy respect for period correctness and some were quite militant about it but they seemed to always have more fun around their campfires at night than we nurses who were forced to sing Grandfather’s Clock and be in bed by nine. (Many overly militant people — even in missionary work — have this weird desire to control other people’s bedtimes).
- THIEVES One thief arranged for our unit to “star” at a National Park living history event and pocketed the money for herself. No one realized it was a paid event. This same person lost her real job. My husband at the time found her a job at his very modern company as receptionist. It was discovered that she was stealing cases of soda and modern chips to bring to re-enactments and then to her home (along with food we all brought to the events). She was fired from the job and kicked from the re-enacting world.
- FLIRTS Okay, so this was my true role. I found that as soon as I put on those dresses I couldn’t stop flirting. Many of the militant men couldn’t help flirt back. Once a man I knew from a Union unit stopped me on the lane and gushingly said I was “positively glowing.” My kids have never let me live that down. A surprisingly fair amount of affairs took place in tents at Gettysburg and Antietam — or so I’ve heard. I may have flirted but I never cheated. Once “Doc” warned me not to break a lost puppy of a soldier’s heart. I told her he needed to man up if he wanted to re-enact (I’ve always been more the Scarlett than the Melanie). “Doc” wanted to keep us ladies for herself and said as much.
Admittedly my time at re-enacting doing “research” didn’t do much for my failing marriage but it was a lot of fun.
How about you? Any unusual hobbies or methods of research that led to meeting interesting people? Let me know in the comments!