5 Types of People You’ll Meet at Civil War Re-enactments

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.

 

civil war reenactment-33

Pardon us while we slip this milk carton under the table.

 

  • 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).

 

civil war reenactment-05

Kids living the dream.

 

  • 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!

Further reading:

DRESSING FOR THE WAR

GERMANS RE-ENACT THE CIVIL WAR!

CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTING UNITS

 

Fiction: Overshadowed

Fred’s expensive cigars, the way he shot, and the way he rode when taken out for a race impressed a few of the young officers. Though his cocksure attitude provoked the more experienced commissioned men and the privates who were the victims of his superior words and actions, he had a small coterie of loyal followers within a few hours.

Buck sat with his parents under the Markhams’ porch pretending not to notice the foolish men of the fort following Fred toward the house and their chatter about the little horse race Fred had just won.

“Say, Buckie, come here, will you?” Fred called at a safe distance.

Buck waved him off, but Margaret said, “Oh, Buck, be nice to Fred and see what he wants.”

Buck grumbled, but rose to his feet, dizzy in the heat. He walked out, hands in pockets, and Margaret called after him, “Stand up straight and stop slouching!”

The soldiers laughed. Fred shoved one of them.

“What do you want?” Buck asked.

“That’s no way to be with your brother! Listen, if you’re not too busy with Bible study maybe you’ll come with us tonight—to town—we’ll have a good frolic and no one need know. I understand that you want Father and Mama to think that you’ve reformed.”

The men exchanged amused grins.

“It’s nothing to do with reputation, Fred. You know I’m not much of a drinker …”

“Oh, go on! Have ginger beer for all I care. Just come.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“What are you afraid of? Your newfound piety not holding up in town? How do you expect to test yourself if you stay in a cocoon? I knew this religion bunk was just that—bunk. Jesus Christ himself ate and drank with tax collectors and other low lives. But I guess your faith is weak.”

Buck shifted his weight. He hated the way his brother spoke to him, but he’d always been a part of Fred.

“Fine, I don’t mean to make light of your religion. I’m happy if it makes you happy—really I am. It’s just—well—I miss our good times.”

The other men laughed. Fred turned on them. “Shut up, you ass-licks, if you still want to come out on my tab.”

“Well, I’ll come just this once,” Buck said glancing toward the missionary tents.

“That’s it, boy! Enjoy life a little. There’s no harm in it. Just come for a small drink and I’ll hire a Mexican to drive you back. They tell me it’s hardly dangerous if you move fast enough—and you’re not scared. Are you?”

“No, I’m not.”

Fred chuckled. “I guess God will be your fortress. I’m serious—why do you look at me like that?”

Buck’s gut churned, but he ignored it. Maybe he could use this opportunity to share the gospel.

After taps when the last pink of the sky faded, and the air cooled just a trifle Fred came bustling into his brother’s tent, clean-shaven and hair slicked. “Buckie, the chap I hired out will be long gone if we don’t meet him now.”

“Fred, I …”

“I won’t hear of you staying in. I realize you’re a little shy with your face and all, but I’ll take care that no one so much as looks at you.” He flashed his tiny Derringer and glanced in the little mirror, happy with himself.

Buck, rolling his eyes, pulled his blouse over his head, and grabbed his jacket. They skulked through the shadows. Buck heard Thankful’s lovely singing voice, the deep, sad Irish voice of Fahy, and his mother playing the violin:

 

Of all the comrades that ere I had, they’re sorry for my going away,

And of all the sweethearts that ere I had, they wish me one more day to stay,

But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise while you should not,

I will gently rise and I’ll softly call, “Goodnight and joy be with you all!”

 

Buck longed to join them for a quiet night, but Fred pushed him along in excitement.

A teamster with a wagon snoozed just outside near a sentry.

“Fred, where are the others?” Buck asked.

“Oh, I was bored with them after an hour, though I managed to bargain a few bottles for us to take on our drive. Looks like it’s just the two of us then.”

“Oh.” Buck’s heart sank. “There’s really nothing to do in town … just a disgusting brothel and a saloon full of …”

Fred grinned and took a long slug of cheap whiskey before leaping into the wagon and pulling Buck in beside him. Buck prayed that the night be cut short as he half listened to the driver and Fred exchange ridiculous sexual conquests.

“Fred, how is Miss Turner?” Buck asked.

“Oh, Rosie’s fine, I guess. But it’s nice to have a break from the inane conversations—if you can even call them conversations. She’s still pretty as a picture though, and her family’s got all the right military and government connections, which I intend to take full advantage of. Stick with me, Buckie, and see if I can’t get you something.”

Fred would probably be president one day. Suddenly Buck’s big ideas about missionary work seemed not only feeble but also impossible. What had Buck ever finished without depending on Fred? How would he ever catch up to Seth Kenyon? Even Kenyon wasn’t famous anyway.

Buck took a slug of the whiskey, but it so offended his senses he could not drink it and spit it over the wagon side. His military training and the enthusiasm he had always had for it seemed so far away before Fred had come out to visit, but now the idea that Fred always outshone him bothered him as it always had.

Buck’s excitement over the Bible in this moment was a vapor in the wind. The future oppressed him.

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5 Facts About Opioid Addiction After the Civil War

How many soldiers come home with secrets? How many with scars? Morphine, opium and laudanum, despite being blamed for much heartache, were in the 19th Century seen as miracle drugs. The medical calamity of the Civil War was made  more bearable by the massive use of painkillers.

OPIATE USE DURING CIVIL WAR:

 

1.White Southerners were far more likely to become addicted to MORPHINE and LAUDANUM than their Northern counterparts. [1]

After the Civil War southern men returned home to a ravaged world. Defeat, poverty and the loss of 1 in five men made for lonely, miserable times. Did some of these men seek solace in addiction? Of course.

 

2. The Union Army used approximately 10 million opium pills and nearly 3 million ounces of opium powder and tinctures to treat almost every illness from uneasiness to causalgia (a painful syndrome that sometimes occurs after amputation — and there were approximately 60,000 of them!) [2]

60,000 amputations?! At a time when manual labor was what most veterans had to look forward to, the loss of a limb made them “invalid.”

newport

3. Old Soldier’s Disease was the euphemism given to veterans addicted to narcotics.

Did you know that veterans, if found to be addicts, were denied pensions? This is one of the reasons my character, JOHN WELDON, hides his addiction. After the war he stays in the military and is terrified that his addiction will shame and destroy his young family.

 

4. The late 19th century opiate epidemic was probably not caused by careless doctors over-prescribing miracle drugs. [3]

While it would be in the soldier’s best interest to hide an addiction for the reasons stated above, there is little evidence that the opiate epidemic of the Gilded Age was caused directly by the Civil War. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that the US saw a rise in opium importation. Citizens could easily purchase over-the-counter opium-laced curatives.

 

5. More women were addicted than men. [4]

After the war women were more likely to be addicted to opiates than men by a ratio of 3:2 as opium was used to alleviate painful “female complaints.”

 

 Was the Civil War a ready excuse for the opiate epidemic of the late 19th century? Maybe so, but war’s pain lingers for generations. Gone men, broken men, some still plagued with incurable venereal disease and anxiety … these wounds bleed out into all of society.

 

House on Tenafly series

When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his best friend’s new boots with a stash of morphine, laudanum and some new British-made syringes.

 

How do we view opiate addiction today? With compassion? With disgust? How do we deal with pain? These are questions running through my mind. What do you think?

LINKS:

CIVIL WAR VETERANS AND OPIATE ADDICTION

THE OPIUM HABIT 1869 by HORACE B DAY

US MILITARY STRUGGLE WITH OPIOID ADDICTION

BOOKS I’VE KNOWN AND LOVED

Featured Image: The Malingerer by Winslow Homer

The Passing Train

On the Departure Platform

We kissed at the barrier; and passing through
She left me, and moment by moment got
Smaller and smaller, until to my view
She was but a spot;

A wee white spot of muslin fluff
That down the diminishing platform bore
Through hustling crowds of gentle and rough
To the carriage door.

Under the lamplight’s fitful glowers,
Behind dark groups from far and near,
Whose interests were apart from ours,
She would disappear,

Then show again, till I ceased to see
That flexible form, that nebulous white;
And she who was more than my life to me
Had vanished quite . . .

We have penned new plans since that fair fond day,
And in season she will appear again –
Perhaps in the same soft white array –
But never as then!

– “And why, young man, must eternally fly
A joy you’ll repeat, if you love her well?”
– O friend, nought happens twice thus; why,
I cannot tell!

Thomas Hardy

LINKS:

TOP TEN RAILWAY POEMS

RAILWAY MAPS

 

 

Featured Image: The Passing Train by Marianne Stokes

Fiction: Faith

The doctor led Thankful and Buck through the short, cool hallway to the adjacent room reserved for hopeless cases. There lay the lieutenant asleep.

“He’s not dead, is he?” Buck asked from the doorway, craning his neck to see.

“No, Buck,” the doctor replied and turned to Thankful. “You may want to say your last goodbyes—just in case.” The doctor left them alone.

Buck squeezed Thankful’s hand. “We must try to have faith.”

Thankful glanced his way. He brought her to the top of the bed and spotted a chair around the other side to sit in himself.

“He looks perfectly well, doesn’t he, Buck?” Thankful asked and ran her fingers along his face. “What shall we do?”

“I guess we could pray or something,” Buck suggested, his color rising.

Thankful looked up at him in surprise. He shrugged in embarrassment.

“You lead us. I’d feel, well, idiotic,” Buck said.

Thankful took his extended hands. “Buck Crenshaw, you begin to worry me,” she said, regarding him with skepticism.

They bowed their heads. Buck concentrated hard to keep his head from spinning.

Thankful began, “Dear Lord …”

“Jaysus! God almighty! What’s all this?” Fahy suddenly shouted.

The Crenshaws jumped and Thankful screamed. “Oh, dear! We thought you were sleeping! Oh, lieutenant, this is awful!” Thankful cried. “Don’t you dare go and die on me! I’m going to have your little baby. I was saving it as a surprise, my sweetheart!”

For a second, Fahy forgot himself and a flush of excitement coursed the lines of his weather-beaten face until the reality of his situation came back. “But, Thankful, you wanted lots of children …”

“No, dear, that was you. You’re all I need. We’ll be all right. How are you feeling?”

“I don’t feel a damned thing,” he said. “I’m fucked in a cocked hat.”

Thankful kissed his forehead. “I wish you would mind your language, Mr. Fahy. You’ll always be a hero to me—the hero who saved my brother!”

Buck spoke. “Well, Fahy was drunk when he did it, and really, we were fine.”

“Buck Crenshaw!” Thankful cried.

“What is he doing here? Haven’t you done enough damage?” Fahy shouted.

“Only as much as you’ve done yourself!”

“Buck, now’s not the time!” Thankful sobbed. “Poor Mr. Fahy—Willy and Buck have been immature and reckless. Please don’t judge them harshly. We must focus on getting you well.” Thankful took his hand in hers and kissed it.

“Thankful, where’s your ring?” Fahy asked.

“Oh, it’s not important.”

“Of course it is!”

“Where is it, sis?” Buck pressed.

“Lieutenant, the ring you gave me … well, it was stolen. Of course no one believes that you had anything to do with it. When the men from the 24th Infantry came into camp, an officer from Fort Sill recognized the ring as the very one taken from his wife only last year.”

Buck whispered, “Fahy, you scoundrel, you said it was all the way from Ireland!”

“Yes, yes! It was! That’s what I was told—when I bought it!” Fahy said. “Thankful, please, believe me.”

“Buck, you’re behaving shamefully! Of course I believe you, lieutenant. I don’t give a fig about expensive things.”

Fahy glared at Buck. “You bastard.”

“Seems the army knows about the fixed scales and such,” Buck said. “I’m sure nothing will come of it though.” He stalked off. His first venture out of bed brought him into struggle and strife.

Thankful turned to Fahy. “Oh, I had so hoped that Buck had changed. I’m sorry I ever let him come visit you. I suppose I thought he might be inspired by you—a real and true officer.”

“You’ve thought too much of me, lovey. And now look—I’m useless. They say I’ll never walk!” Fahy cried.

“Never?” Thankful gasped, but regained her composure. “My sweet, we’ll make do somehow. My father will help. We’ll go back home.”

“No! How can I meet your family this way? And you with child and starting to show! They’ll figure what we’ve done and they’ll blame me.”

“Buck knows, and he’s still speaking to me—after the initial shock …”

“You told Buck? When?”

“Before …”

“Does anyone else know?”

“Well, William—”

Bill Weldon knew before me?”

“Miss Peckham, I think, told him.”

Miss Peckham knew? For Christ’s sake! When were you going to tell me?”

“You were distracted by Miss Peckham and then your trip. I wanted it to be special—so I waited.”

“Well, now it’s goddamned special, isn’t it? I can’t support you or a child! Why did this have to happen to me? Why do I always get the short end of the stick?”

“Oh lieutenant, but I love you.”

“You don’t love me! You never have. If you could, you’d escape but for the baby.”

“Pierce Fahy, don’t dare say it! Don’t lie!” Thankful began sobbing.

“I have nothing to offer you now.”

“But surely the army will take care of you.”

“A lieutenant’s pay at half is nothing … and the scales—those bloody scales!”

“Scales? You make no sense,” Thankful said.

“Those damned savages had it in for me from the start! Now they accuse me of fixing the scales—it’s that missionary Kenyon’s doing. I know it!”

“Mr. Kenyon?”

“He’s dodgy, Thankful. Kenyon’s turned everyone against me. Sure, he’s admitted to all sorts of perversions and crimes. But he puts people like your William under his spell. I only tried to help Bill out the other night—to get him from under Kenyon, but in the end they were all against me.”

“Please, quiet down. You must stay peaceful. No one wants to hurt you—you’re just upset—rightly so. We must believe in miracles.” She wiped his brow “You’ll be healed.”

“And how many other spontaneous healings have you been witness to?” Fahy asked tenderly and wept.

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“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

 

 

Featured Image: Edward Burne-Jones – The Beguiling of Merlin