|Miss Loree - Christmas 1864 - Photo by Eric Huebner|
Doing novel research by living history…this is one place that I get my inspiration to write about the Civil War.
Last week I went to the doctor for my allergies. As this new nurse checked my blood pressure and took my temp, she asked me what I was there for. I replied, “My allergies are acting up, and I have a reenactment coming up.
She looked at me and asked, “Reenactment?”
“Yes, I’m a Civil War re-enactor.”
“OH, YOU'RE ONE OF THOSE.”
I smiled and shook my head as she left the room. Just what exactly did she mean?!? “OH, YOU'RE ONE OF THOSE.”
~ Civil War Reenacting 101~
Most of you know that I’m a mainstream Civil War re-enactor. I do this to teach and promote the history, to honor those who fought during this difficult time in our nation’s history, and for my own research purposes for the novels and articles that I write.
The people (THOSE) among my reenacting units and friends come from all different walks of life and occupations. We have a lawyer, several teachers, two pharmacy techs, a scientist, a professor, an appraiser, a chef, a couple of college students, a lab tech, a social worker, a behavioral specialist, a mechanic, writers, a preacher, and a policeman. We have several retired military personnel. We all have that kindred spirit…that love of the era and the history that brings us together.
The word re-enactor means exactly what it says…ACTOR.
Now you will probably never see me grace the silver screen, but there were a few times that I could be in the running for an Oscar…let me explain.
Of course, it’s fun to get all dolled up in my hoops and skirts, go to a ball and dance with my handsome soldier hubby, or spy for the Union, (yes, I’ve done my share of fanning my face while passing written reports of troop locations and numbers from my skirt pockets) but there is another side of my acting abilities…
|Corporal Eric and Miss Loree - Christmas 1864 - a tearful goodbye|
Now you may say that this sounds more like a soldier than a proper 19th century lady…well, I do portray both.
Frequently, I portray a soldier because they need numbers on the field. Believe it or not, women did fight in the Civil War. Some fought for the same reasons women serve in the military today—because they felt the call to duty to defend their country. Many rural women could shoot as well as their brothers or fathers.
Some women found themselves in hard times if their spouse went off to war…so some of those ladies went to war with their husbands. If he left, there was nothing but starvation or being a burden on relatives—another mouth to feed during the difficult times. Some of these ladies worked as laundresses in camp, others became “a brother”…a real soldier in the army. I could go on and on here, but I will save that for another blog post.
|Private Lars in the Union trenches - Spring Hill, TN - Photo by Eric Huebner|
Back then, it was easy to fool the government. There was only a rudimentary physical exam to join the army. They looked at your teeth much like they would examine a horse. You needed teeth to bite a cartridge. They also examined your hands. That was about it. No gender checks, stress test, blood pressure, heart rate…it you looked healthy, you were in. There were many women who cut their hair and joined up. (I tuck my precious locks up under my hat)
When I tote a musket, I portray Christian soldier, a boy soldier (that’s what they called them…no facial hair) who is really a woman, fighting for the Union with her husband. I know, I know, it sounds like a Victor/Victoria plot.
I did want to say that when reenacting, in your mind you know you are not really shooting people, and that you really won’t be shot or killed yourself, but it gives you a clear impression of what it felt like to live it and struggle with it. I’ve cried many times after leaving a battlefield, or reenactment. My emotions touch on the lives of those who gave so nobly. I always pray for them.
The tale of Private Lars ~
My character’s story is that she left and chose to fight for the Union out of patriotism, and she couldn’t stand to be parted from her husband, so she joined up with him. My hubby, Eric, and I pretend to be a married couple, pretending to be brothers in the war, Lars and Sven. (I’m not even Swedish! I told you it was acting!) Yes, I share a tent with him…he is my husband after all. Are you keeping up?
In the war, women who were caught as soldiers were sent back to the state that they were mustered in at. Some large re-enactments I’ve attended have a policy of any women caught in ranks will be sent out of camp. I’ve never been caught yet…ah hem, although I was at a reenactment a few years back with about 500 re-enactors. I had been in drill, marched, and been in a battle in the morning, and was back in camp when I took off my hat. My braid fell down and the colonel came over to me. He looked mad. He said, “Soldier, have you been in the ranks all day??” I stood up and said, “Yes, sir!” The captain of our unit looked very nervous, of course, he knows I’m a woman. The colonel looked me up and down and said, “With your hat on, you give a fine impression.” He handed me my hat and said, “Well, I’ll be.” He walked away and didn’t kick me out. That was the most awesome, AND yet, devastating moment in my reenacting career. I passed all day as a boy soldier in the ranks…what does that tell me?!?!? Heh heh. I visited with that same colonel that night around that campfire. Most of my comrades nearly fell over as my hubby and I waltzed over from the ball. I was dressed in my lace and hoops, and the boys couldn’t believe that I was the same person that had been in the ranks with them during the battle. Lars and Miss Loree had become two different people. Anyway…
|Private Lars - Battle of Spring Hill, TN - Photo by Eric Huebner|
I want you to take a look at the posted pictures. Also, scroll down to the very bottom of the blog for another picture. I live the history and know it well. That picture above, (not my prettiest moment) I’m facing Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry at a National reenactment in Tennessee…ask me if I was scared. Even though it was a reenactment, I was petrified! I can still taste that red earth and gun powder in my mouth.
What kind of research do you do for your writing? What kind of unusual research have you done for your writing? I would love to hear from you.
Between you, me and the gatepost,
~ I leave you with a quick video of Private Lars below. Yep that’s me, arm in the air, Gunner # 4, pulling the lanyard, firing the cannon at a reenactment in Kentucky. I’ve got to work on my masculine, soldiers voice, "Gun number 2 ready"…haha. Thanks for allowing me to share this with you. Have a great week!
Video shot by Eric Huebner