"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Doing novel research by living history...

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.”
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
I’m not the authentic campaigner (hardcore) type – one who stays in character (in the bubble) the entire event - barefoot, eating rotten apples and salt pork. And I’m not the fresh fish – a newbie wearing my jeans and hiking boots into battle instead of wool and brogans. I’m the kind who is right in the middle. I wear the proper uniform or clothing, but I fall in and out of character, have a stash of bottled drinking water and Cheetos in my tent, and eat Campbell’s soup (a present day luxury) cooked in a mucket over fire. I carry my cell phone (turned off, of course)
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


Melissa K Norris said...

I love this, Loree. What a fantastic way to get into character. I've always loved this time period, but never thought of doing what you do.

And your book idea is a unique take on the Civil War period. I've never read about the heroine joining the ranks.

I like that you do both the ball gown and the soldier. I'm a girl who feeds the cows in her blue jeans and rubber boots, but I like to wear my lip gloss too.

Eric J. Huebner said...

Nice job on your post. The guys appreciate that you pitch in when we're short on muskets. I love you in your hoops or in your brogans.

Blythe said...

I've been pulling together my first authentic period outfit (middle class woman middle of the day) to wear in the 'author tent' at the Manassas Railway Festival & Civil War Living History and Weekend Encampment at Manassas, VA 6/3-6/5. It will be my first time dressing in period and I'm really looking forward to it! Appreciate your post about the experience. Any chance you'll be there? (We already 'met' on Twitter.)

Loree Huebner said...

Melissa: Reenacting is a hobby I share with my husband. I've learned so much by doing and can draw on it in my writing. Most of my book characters are civilian women, but I have started a book with a female soldier as the MC. I love your comment - "I'm a girl who feeds the cows in her blue jeans and rubber boots, but I like to wear my lip gloss too." So true! Thanks for stopping by!

Eric: Thanks, babe. Love you back!

Blythe: Enjoy the experience! I would love to see a picture of you in your afternoon dress. I won't be out east then, but I wish you much success there! Keep me posted.

Shopgirl said...

It's so great that you are doing this. There is nothing like being "in the setting" to help you feel the story and the history, I believe. And as a certified tomboy myself, that sounds like fun!

Loree Huebner said...

Shopgirl: Thanks for your kind comments. I wasn't sure how this would go over with some of my blogging pals. I really feel the history when I re-enact. I'm the athletic type so I can fit right in. As always, thanks for popping in!

Jessica R. Patch said...

Loree, this post was so interesting and it makes me really want to read your book. What a wonderful plot. You look beautiful in your hoops and brave in your brogans. I loved every word on this post. As for research, well...you know some of the things I've done. ;) You've read it on my blog! Great, great post!

Loree Huebner said...

Jessica: Thank you. Your comments mean a lot to me. Yes, I know about your research...te he he...I love your blog!! Thanks for stopping by!

troutbirder said...

What a wonderful and revealing post, Loree. Your did good. I've never been to a Civil War reenactment but would like to now. My own feelings on this subject were strongly influenced by a visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Not knowing much about it and not highly enamored of doing the "George Washington slept here" kind of old house visits, I had to be dragged to visit a pre-revolutionary war Virginia capitol There I met and talked to George and Martha, argued with Patrick Henry about Washingtons qualifications to lead the American army and discussed teaching with Thomas Jefferson law professor. They were all very knowledgable in their roles and I was hooked. The whole era came alive to me and we went back for two additional days enthralled.....

Terri Tiffany said...

This was so fun to read! I never talked to anyone who actually did the reenactments before.I can see why you love history:) I also didn't know women fought in the war!

Loree Huebner said...

troutbirder: Thanks. Reenacting does bring the era alive. I hope you can make it to a larger reenactment. I know with the 150th going on over the next 4 years, there will be many. Take the time if you can. You really get an impression of the battles when you attend a big event. Your visit to Williamsburg sounded like great fun! I like that era also.

Terri: Thanks for your comments, Terri. Yes, women did fight back then. I'll save that conversation for another blog post sometime in the future. Thanks for being here...it means a lot.

Tana Adams said...

WOW! You're like my research hero!!!! LOVE the pictures! I want to spend Christmas with you, lol! Too fun!

D. U. Okonkwo said...

Cool post - doing research is hard on any subject, doing it for civil war must be even more challenging. Do you do most of it with the Internet?

Loree Huebner said...

Tana: YOU SILLY!! Thanks for your comments. Someday I'll host a Victorian Christmas for us all!

D. U. Okonkwo: Thanks for following! I do most of my research for the Civil War from reading history books and re-enacting...some Internet. I mainly learn by doing. My hubby is the walking CW history book. He has spoken on the subject at grade schools, high schools, and in a few college history classes. He specializes in the battles, tactics, and the leaders of the period. I know CW medicine, about the women of the period, clothing, and the camp life of a regular soldier. Thanks for coming by today!

Jill Kemerer said...

Loree, this is so cool! My hubby and I can't wait for a traveling Civil War display to hit a local museum in a few weeks. They're also doing a reenactment weekend, even though we're not near a battlefield. Should be fun!

Loree Huebner said...

Jill: Take in the reenactment if you can. It's pretty fun. Thanks for your comments! Nice to see you.

*The Old Geezer said...

Loree, you should be proud to be "ONE OF THOSE." :-)

Loree Huebner said...

Old Geezer: Welcome here and thanks...I am! Thanks for stoppin' in.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I never knew women fought in the Civil War at all!! I'm still in shock after reading this.

My research, since I write contemporary, is mostly done online or talking with someone in my character's career. Nothing elaborate, but I do a learn a lot.

Loree Huebner said...

Eileen: Yes, there were quite a few women soldiers. I'll write a blog on that sometime in the future. I also do research like you...online or talking to people who know a subject. Thanks for stopping in!!