One of the things I have come to love as a living historian, is the opportunity to present and lecture. Thanks to a series of events that only God could have orchestrated, in 2015 I attended a talk at our local SCV meeting about Civil War anesthesia and the medical service on both sides of the war. At that gathering I met the program chair, and after a few minutes of talking, he invited me to speak to the SCV the coming year. I took him up on the offer. He asked me to speak on a very narrow topic of the war-Confederate women in nursing. This meant that I had to hone my studies and fill in gaps in the research I had been gathering for years, for I had focused on a much wider area. Eighteen books later, I had a significant amount of information for that lecture and another I was building. In between my invitation and time to speak, I continued to attend meetings and learn from others. At one of these meetings on a very dark stormy night, while walking around in an air cast with a torn leg (yes, I went reenacting on that leg too, I was just limited to camp), I met the guest speaker of the meeting that month-Lt. Col. Shelor, history professor at Georgia Military College. After a short talk, we exchanged emails, and he then asked me to speak for his class. This was the foundation for the second lecture I was building, as well as a good friendship!
April 2016 came, and it was time to present at the SCV. I came in period attire, and had a few of the ladies from my company attend – also dressed in period clothing. A 30-minute slot turned into 45 minutes with all the questions at the end. My nervousness at ensuring I had the proper resources and references sited disappeared as I received a standing ovation and I realized I was on to something. You can see the video of the presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwBM2aKocas&t=229s
A few weeks later, I found myself standing in front of a history class at Georgia Military College and watched from the front of the room as these military cadets and community members soaked up the information I was presenting. I have had the blessing of lecturing for their history classes every quarter since!
This opened the doors for me to go into other schools – elementary, middle, and high schools – and to receive other lecturing opportunities. Most often, I do it in period dress, and bring instruments and supplies with me in order to make the information real to those attending. I most recently lectured at a middle school, and the children’s eyes grew large as they came in the room and saw my bloody bandages on the table! Of course, they had to ask if the blood was real 😉
There are many reasons I love presenting and lecturing on the War Between the States. First, I get to share my passions with others, and hopefully spark their interest in the subjects that captivate me. Every event I attend, whether as a speaker, living historian, or reenactor, people stop and ask to take my picture in period clothing. I always say yes, because, if I can spark even one person’s interest in our era, or the people of the time, then I have made an impact.
Second, I get to have a hand in sharing the true, unadulterated history with adults and students alike. So much of our history has been rewritten, as the saying goes, “History is written by the victors.” But when I can present what was said by those who were living through the war, who were writing down what was happening, why, and how it was affecting them, or their thoughts on it, I feel I am able to give a much more accurate representation of our forefathers. My goal is always to present them as they were, with the thoughts and motivations they themselves expressed. We cannot fully understand what happened, how it affected people, or the reasons why, if we do not read and examine what they actually said.
Third, my passions fall in a niche covered by very few people. I focus primarily on the medicine during the War Between the States. Because of my medical background here in the 21st century, I am able to assimilate the information, and then present it in a way the average person can understand, while at the same time connecting what was done then, and why, to the medicine of today.
Fourth- I LOVE making history come alive. I hear so many people say, “I hate history, it’s so boring.” It saddens me when I hear that, because I think, “No one ever made history come alive to them.” That was something my parents really ensured during our formative school years. We did field trips, dressed in the clothes of the time, played in mom’s hoops, cooked over open fires, made dishes from Colonial America to around the world, and learned many of the skills of former eras. I did not realize at the time my hands were working, and my mind being filled with new experiences and information, what a treasure I was receiving. All of these things turned me into a history NUT!
In high school I bought a whole batch of out of print books on medical men throughout history including William Harvey, Daniel Hale Williams, Edward Trudeau, Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, and many more. I would write report after report on these men, what they discovered, and how. Even so, I never seemed to get too far away from the War Between the States. Florence Nightingale books sat on my bookshelf (an English nurse known for changing the face of British military medicine and establishing women as nurses during the Franco Prussian War, while serving at Balaclava Hospital in Scutari), but so did those of Clara Barton, Annie Etheridge, and Mother Bickerdyke.
As I studied, I realized that the advancements in medicine were morphing from a crawl during ancient times through the 1700s, to an explosion in the 1800s and particularly the 1860s! The necessities of war created extreme difficulties for the medical staff, but also provided great opportunities. When supplies ran out and the wounded just kept coming, they had to find new ways to treat them, and thus new medicines and treatment methods were born. As they realized the horrible toll the war was having on the men of each nation both physically and economically (we were divided countries at the time, though not widely acknowledged by the Union), then the thought was given to whether there were options other than amputation for damaged bones, and excision was discovered. Now, the majority of the time, amputation was required due to the type and extent of the bone damage because of the weaponry of the time. But by the end of the war, the surgeons had established the validity of excision –removing the damaged part of the bone and putting the ends back together so it could grow as one again, leaving the soldier with a shorter leg or arm, but one that worked- and by the end of the war, the method had been proven valid and would be included in surgical textbooks.
Anesthesia had been discovered in 1842 in the little town of Jefferson, GA, but at the beginning of the war, there were still numerous anesthesia related deaths. However, as the war progressed and the surgeons and medical staff learned the medication, the complications, and the warning signs of overdose, the fatality for anesthesia overdose had dropped to nearly zero. These are just a few of the changes in medicine due to the war!
Fifth- I like getting people to think. Seeing the students’ eyes well in surprise, their faces grimace with the thought of what the average soldier endured, or see their eyes start to gleam as pieces fall into place, and seeing the internal light bulb go on as their interest is sparked, makes all the time and energy worth it! If I can help just one person per event see the world in a different light, and understand our history in the true form as stated by those who lived it, then it is more than worth it!
I look forward to my upcoming speaking engagements, to meeting so many new people, and continuing to bless others with the passion the Lord has given me for history, and medicine during the War Between the States.