People ask me regularly if we change during a reenactment, or are just ourselves living like the 1860s. I must confess that try as we might, there is not a way to remove the 21st century from our thoughts or dialogue at times, but we do try.
One of our goals is not just to put on the clothing of the 19th century, but to actually become like those of the 19th century. We learn the speech, the manners, the dialogue, the customs, the clothing styles (and ways to make them), the munitions, the dances, and so much more! We learn to BE the people of the mid-19th century. It is not just what we do and how we speak, but how we conduct ourselves, and in a way, how we think.
One of the things I love most about this aspect of our reenactments is our GENTLEMEN.
Coming from a liberal university town full of progressive thought and women’s lib, participating in my first reenactment was a complete breath of fresh air. Something awakened inside me as the gentlemen treated me like a Southern Belle. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with oppressing women or seeing them as inferior; quite the opposite in fact. These men treat us with RESPECT. They treat us with honor, as something of value, something they want to treasure.
I will never forget the day I first met my good friend, General R. E. Lee. We were at a Confederate Memorial Service at Stone Mountain, GA. Many of the attendees and guests had left, and I decided to introduce myself to the command general staff. Before I could approach them, some guests asking questions and requesting pictures stopped me. A few moments later, General Lee approached me and said, “Ma’am, I know we have not been properly introduced, but may I have the honor of your acquaintance? I am General Robert E. Lee at your service. May I take your hand? As you can see my hands are covered (he was wearing his Gauntlets) so it is still quite proper.” He took my hand and bowed to me, thanking me for allowing him to make my acquaintance. He then introduced to me President Davis, General Jackson, and General Stewart. I felt like I was truly talking to General Lee himself. He embodied the essence of a true Southern Gentleman. I felt like I was suddenly the queen of that day. Since that first encounter, General Lee and I have become very blessed friends.
Another instance I remember with vivid detail is the ball at my first reenactment. I had brought a ball gown that was not quite period correct, but required a hoop. I only had two truly period correct pieces at the time, as I had not started building my kit. This dress was one I had saved for some time, so I decided to wear it.
We entered the big tent where the ball was taking place. I knew no one but those in the 53rd Georgia. I sat on the sidelines waiting to learn what would take place. A gentleman approached me from across the tent, bowed in front of me, and asked if he might have the honor of my presence for the Grand March, the first dance of the ball. I accepted the Captain’s invitation, and two hours later would realize that I had not danced with another gentleman the whole night! We danced, we had delightful and inspiring conversation, he had brought me refreshments, and when the weather turned cold into the evening, he removed his uniform coat and placed it around me without me having to say I was cold. That night would spark the flame that would become a solid and fast friendship. These are just two instances of many in my last year of reenacting.
These men make us feel safe, secure, and encourage us to be Southern Belles. They tip their hats to us, compliment us on our dress, escort us across the camp when we are alone or when evening falls, often times taking our hand and placing it in their arm.
They defend us (on the very rare occasion it is needed), they thank us for the work we do, and they respect us. In my company and several neighboring companies, there is no looking down on us because we are women. In fact, they know we can hold our own because many of us fall on the line and fight right beside them!
In my company alone, we have 4 women who will fight on the line, and 1-2 who nurse and treat the wounded.
Trust me, hauling those buckets full of ice all over the field to make sure the men do not overheat is not a lightweight job. We run all over the battlefield with them, we fight, we haul equipment, we set up and break camp right along side them. We cook with cast iron, hauling pots full of food on and off the fire.
We also know that they keep an eye on us, especially on the battlefield. It’s an unspoken code. Yet, if anything, we trust them more because of it. They may never say it, and we may never acknowledge it, but we love them for trusting us to do our job, and at the same time, keeping an eye on us.
Whether they be married members respecting all the ladies in the camp, or the single men tipping their hats at the single ladies, these men honor and respect us, and make us feel of value in a way I did not experience outside of my home until I met my reenactment family. In many ways, it was like coming home.
To all our Southern Gentlemen (and the few respectful Yankees out there 😉 ),
we, the women of the reenacting world, thank you for being Southern Gentlemen, and allowing us to be true Southern Belles!