The Blossoming of a Nurse

WARNING: Spoilers!


In last week’s episode of Mercy Street entitled “Southern Mercy” (S2E4), I noticed something unique that happened to Miss Green. No, I’m not talking about finding out that her sister is a spy, I’m not talking about the kiss, I’m not even talking about when she had the courage to stand atop a wall while everyone else was pinned down by Confederate musket fire. It was near the end, and somewhat subtle. I wonder if you noticed it?


All photos in this blog from Mercy Street belong to PBS. No copyright infringement intended.

Miss Green and the Chaplain have successfully brought in wagons full of wounded Federal soldiers after the second battle of Manassas (Bull Run). After speaking briefly to the Chaplain, she turns, armed with a canteen full of water and a towel, and begins tending the wounded, not just focusing on the soldier in front of her, but directing the care of others.


If you watched the episode, you know her mother walked out of the hospital at just that moment, witnessing it. But in the actions that her mother saw as surrender and betrayal, I witnessed the blooming of a nurse.

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For those of you who haven’t watched the show, it follows the events of Mansion House Hospital in Virginia. Though the town was Southern and truly Confederate, the Federals had captured the city, and the hotel, which had been transformed into the Union Hospital. Miss Emma Green, oldest daughter of the Greens who owned the hotel, visits the hospital in Episode 1 and sees that the Confederate POW patients are not receiving the proper care and have no one nursing them. She asks permission to become their nurse. Throughout season one and into season two, we have seen Miss Green learn the basics of nursing, and be placed in a few harrowing situations for someone as innocent as the sheltered daughter of Southern high class business man– such as being made to assist with an amputation (S1E3). But as the Confederate wounded have dwindled, she has remained, and now nurses across the hospital, still focusing on the Confederate soldiers most of all.

She is no longer squeamish.


She has learned many skills along the way.

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But at the moment witnessed by her mother, she became a nurse. Not a woman who was helping with the nursing duties, but a nurse. Piles of wounded men sat before her, bleeding, in pain, and desperate. Suddenly, she no longer saw their uniforms. She jumped in, caring for the soldier before her, and overseeing the care of others, pulling in help, checking on the soldiers around her, instructing others how to help them. It was no longer “They’re Yankee, I’m Confederate,” or even “They are the enemy.” Now, they were just men in need of her help. She kept her head, her stomach, and her focus, providing the care that was needed. She kept the panic, the confusion of previous events, and the constant pressure of an overwhelming amount of need at bay as she worked. This is the making of a true nurse. She would have been in good company.


Many of the nurses whose names have been remembered from the War Between the States nursed soldiers on both sides. Some did not, only nursing the boys from their army, but many soon began to realize that, in this state these soldiers were wounded men first, and Union or Confederate second.

Kate Cumming started nursing after the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, and would continue to nurse throughout the south, particularly in Georgia, until the end of the war. She served as both nurse and matron, and would become one of the first professional female nurses in American History. She wrote in her journal on April 13, 1862:

“Quite a number of bunks arrived today, and we are having the most severely wounded placed on them… A doctor requested me to go downstairs and see if there was a bunk with a Federal upon it, and if so to have him taken off, as he had a badly wounded man that needed one. I went and asked Mrs. Royal, from Mobile, whom I had heard talk very bitterly. She knew of one, but would not tell me where it was. Her true woman’s nature showed itself, in spite of her dislike. Seeing an enemy wounded and helpless is a different thing from seeing him in health and in power. The first time I saw one in this condition every feeling of enmity vanished at once. I was curious to find out who the Federal was, and, as Mrs. R would not tell me, I went in search of him. I found him with but little trouble; went to the men who were upon the bunks, and asked them where they were from. One, quite a youth, with a childish face, told me that he was from Illinois. I knew in a moment that he was the one. I asked him about his mother, and why he had ever left her. Tears filled his eyes, and his lips quivered so that he was unable to speak. I was deeply moved myself, spoke a few words of comfort, and left him. I would not have had him give up his bunk for the world. Poor child! There will be a terrible day of reckoning for those who sent you on your errand, and who are the cause of desolating so many hearts and homes.”

Kate was not unique in this way, though she may have seemed so to those not in the midst of the carnage. Somehow, in disasters and war, all pretenses are stripped away, and we are only left with our faith, and our humanity. Many lose this, and become as monsters. Others cling to it, and we see them change a little piece of the world for the better.


A bigger name than Kate Cumming is Clara Barton. Though she was attached to the Army of the Potomac, she was known by all to nurse fallen soldiers on both sides of the war. She said she didn’t see (or care) about the color of the boy’s uniform, only that he was wounded and needed help. She responded to any and all wounded she could reach, and was one of the few nurses who would respond to the battleground triaging and caring for the wounded as soon as the battles were over, as well as nursing and assisting the surgeons in the field hospitals. Yes, she did even help with amputations. In her poem “The Women Who Went to the Field,” she gives us a picture of what these men endured:

“…That the place for the women was in their own homes,

There to patiently wait until victory comes.

But later, it chanced, just how no one knew,

That the lines slipped a bit, and some ‘gan to crowd through;

And they went, – where did they go? – Ah; where did they not?

Show us the battle, – the field, – or the spot

Where the groans of the wounded rang out on the air

That her ear caught it not, and her hand was not there,

Who wiped the death sweat from the cold, clammy brow,

And sent home the message; – “‘T is well with him now”?

Who watched in the tents, whilst the fever fires burned,

And the pain-tossing limbs in agony turned,

And wet the parched tongue, calmed delirium’s strife

Till the dying lips murmured, ” My Mother,” ” My Wife”!

And who were they all? – They were many, my men:

Their record was kept by no tabular pen:

They exist in traditions from father to son. …”

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Kate and Clara are by no means the only ones, but simply used here as an example of them all. There were many others who saw beyond the color of the person’s uniform, or the color of their skin, and took care of the man underneath. As Doctor Foster stated in Season one, “They ALL bleed red!”

So on that note, we will say thank you to every woman who became a nurse, to every doctor who mended the broken, to every person who saw beyond the color barrier and through to the person, to every woman who paved the way for professional women nurses, and to every person who never forgot that God created all men equal, and that He loved each and every one enough to send His Son to die in their place so that they might be restored to Him, and live with Him for eternity, we say thank you.

And to all our nurses throughout time, we thank you!


If you have enjoyed this blog and the topic, be sure to keep your eyes open for an upcoming article! (Hint hint!)


[Housekeeping note: I am by no means endorsing “Mercy Street.” In fact, there are some things included in the show that I literally have to fast forward and cannot watch as a Christian, and I do so. However, I will say that the medical parts of the show thus far have been quite accurate, and I can tell that they have worked closely with their medical and medical historian advisors. As a medical historian myself, for that I am grateful. In the event that you chose to watch the show, please keep these notes in mind and then make your own decision.]


Note to my readers

Dear faithful readers,

I want you all to know how much it means to me, knowing I get to touch your lives in one small way; and how much I love getting your notes, shares, and posts both here and on Facebook! ❤

I hope you will bear with me a little this week. It seems due to some scheduling issues, getting another article to my publisher (be sure to pick up the Citizens’ Companion, Camp Chase Gazette, and Civil War Courier–they are wonderful War Between the States Publications to which I contribute), and several recent speaking engagements on Medicine during the War Between the States-the next one being tomorrow- it seems there will be a slight delay in getting this months blog online. I hope that you will bear with me and look for the blog when it is posted a little later. As always, I hope it is something you will enjoy and/or find educational. Something I have well learned is that we never stop learning, or at least, we never should.

I hope you all have a fine, God-inspired day down here in Dixie, and yes, the same to my few readers up North!


~The Southern Belle 😉


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:


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 😉


Presenting before 48, fifth-graders!


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.


With one of my former professors from undergrad. He came to hear me speak to his local SCV meeting.

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!


I found this in a Confederate cemetery in Madison, GA.

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.


Kate Cumming, Confederate nurse 1862-1865

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!


Explaining to the girls about ladies clothing from the 1860s and what made my “princess dress” stand out, as they called it!


She was so excited she had to run back and give me a hug before they left!

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.

The Pain of Leaving

The call sounded, drums beating in the background, men pulling on uniforms and leather as fast as their fingers would allow. NCOs started shouting as feet hurried by and muskets were brought to arms. The enemy had been spotted and a battle was imminent.

A scout had ridden into camp a short time before with a report. The enemy was just a few miles away, and their number was larger than ours. They would be coming down the nearby road and they planned to destroy the bridges we needed to get our artillery and supplies across if we were going to continue the push toward the North. With the report received, moments later the Colonel gave orders and the camp became alive with activity, like someone had kicked over an anthill.


Photo credit: David Brooker

The last of the men ran for the line as the flap to the officer’s wall tent was thrown back, and my sweetheart stepped out. He came around the tents to the fly, pulling on his coat and buttoning each brass button as he prepared for battle.

“This is goodbye. I may not see you after this.”

He buttoned the last button and tied his crimson sash around his waist, securing his sword belt on top. Then he stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug. Not too tight, nor too long, but one that lingered even as he pulled away. Stepping back, he looked at me with eyes deeply full of expression. Love, pain, and uncertainty all crowded together there. I knew he wondered if he would make it off the field alive or ever see me again. With one more long look at me, he turned toward the battlefield and his men.

I took two steps after him and stopped. I could not follow him, though I wanted to. I had to urge him forward. “Stay alive, you hear! Stop those Yankees, and do us proud!” I called after him. With a slight hesitation in his step, a quick look over his shoulder, and an almost unnoticeable nod to me, he was gone.

I stood there for a moment as emotions reeled through me. I knew what I had seen in his eyes. I wanted him to come back, to walk back off that battlefield after the dust had settled and right back into my arms. I wanted him to avoid the battle that may very well claim his life and come back to me now, but his men needed him to lead them. I was also proud of him for fighting- fighting to rid our land of the leeches known as the Union Army, fighting for our freedom, fighting… for me. My heart willed him forward as my mind screamed for him to come back. My stomach rolled as fear nearly consumed me, rising more as the last column of soldiers disappeared from view.

Soft, but strong arms enveloped me. “Have faith, Dearie. Never lose faith.” I rested my head against Martha’s cheek as the other camp followers joined us, also willing their men forward, knowing that some of our number might be widows by nightfall.

Martha gently stroked my hair. “Be strong, Dearie, and pray. The Lord may see fit to return him to you.”

I held Martha tight. I didn’t know if I could do this. After losing everything to a Yankee raid, my parents killed and our home looted and burned to the ground at their hand. Then surviving the journey to find him, and finally getting approval to be a camp follower due to Martha generously sharing her tent and taking responsibility for me, an unwed woman in camp. I couldn’t lose him now. He and Martha were all I had left in the world. Well, and the other women I guess. Dear Martha. She had become like a mother to me these last hard weeks. Now, with my head resting against her cheek, her soft but sure arms around me, I knew I had a decision to make. I had to decide if I was in this for good; if I could survive watching him go into battle after battle. He had a job to do, and so did I.

“Lord, encamp your angels around him. Train his arms for battle and his fingers for war. Give him wisdom and bring him home to me.”

“Amen,” the other women murmured around me.

I didn’t know how I would do it, but I suddenly knew I was in this fight until the end. Whether that was doing laundry and cooking, nursing, or becoming his wife as we had planned. I would be there as long as my man lived. I straightened, turned toward Martha and looked her in the eye. With a soft and trembling smile, she wiped the tears from my eyes. “You are going to make it, Dearie.”

I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight. “Yes, I will,” I whispered in her ear. “Thank you.”

She pulled away and held me at arms length, studying me for a moment. “Well then, shall we make preparations for their return?” I knew she was asking me to step out in faith as she had done month after month of this war, watching her son walk into the fray time and again until she lost him, and then staying to take care of “the rest of my boys.”

I looked into the compassionate eyes of this dear woman and nodded. Taking her hand, we walked into the camp.


Night fell, and campfires blazed. The battle was over, but with it came the influx of tired, hungry men, discouraged men, and of course, the wounded. It had been a costly victory. Around the corner stood the hospital tent, the doctors working ferociously to save the wounded. I couldn’t bring myself to enter it, to see the blood and the mangled bodies altered by surgery. But I couldn’t leave them suffering either. Martha and I had made broth during the battle. With pails laden full of the life-giving fluid, I walked between the wounded, gently holding my ladle to each man I passed. Some drank thirstily. Some choked it down. Others were too weak to swallow. I prayed they could be helped. Dipper after dipper of broth was offered until my legs trembled and my back ached fiercely. So many of our men were down, but thankfully, I hadn’t found him among them…yet. The campfires cast eerie shadows all around, at times, making men appear as ghosts.

A shadow approached me, but it appeared like all the others, just shadows passing in the night. Then it stopped. “Darlin’?”

I froze. That was his voice! I looked around quickly, praying he wasn’t among the wounded and I had missed him. My eyes settled on the shadow near me. He stepped into the light and I cried for joy. He was filthy, covered in dirt and gunpowder, the acrid acidic smell clinging to him. Sweat had run tracks of flesh tone through the dark shades that covered his skin. But he was alive!

Escaped hair hung in my face, I was completely disheveled, and tears slid down my face as my whole body trembled in relief. There was so much I wanted to say, but could not get the words out as my knees began to shake. He stepped forward and took hold of my arms, keeping me on my feet. My eyes brimmed with tears I could not contain. His face was blotchy in black and brown tones, but to me, he never looked more handsome. I touched the side of his face and smiled. I saw things haunting him behind his eyes, but I was so glad he was there. Suddenly, he took full possession of me, wrapping his arms around me and kissing me as he never had before. In that moment, I knew the very instant we were allowed to get married, I would say, “I do.” He was in this for the long haul, and so was I. Whatever it took to rid our land of those horrible Yankees and to keep him going, I would support. With a look to Martha, standing amongst the wounded with a gentle smile on her face, I laid my head on his shoulder, and stood, united with the man who held my heart.


Though this story is purely a work of my imagination, it was inspired out of a set of questions. “What did the women feel when their men left for war? How did it affect them? What was the emotional toll on these women? How did the family members among the camp followers respond after watching their men walk into battle after battle? We know of many women-wives, daughters, and sweethearts, who followed the army during the war, particularly during the first half of the war. Though there were other camp followers, including sutlers, the nurses from the Sanitary Commission or Christian Commission on the Union side, nurses and nuns on both sides, Vivandières – such as Annie B. Etheridge on the Union side, and Sarah Taylor or Lucy Ann Cox on the Confederate side, women of ill-repute, laundresses and more. I have chosen to focus on the wives and sweethearts and a small part of what they went through.

When most people think about the War Between the States, they think about the battles, the generals, the bloodshed, slavery, or the wounded. I find that many times, the home front, and the sacrifices of the family are forgotten. As we enter this month where we cherish our family time and family memories, let us not forget all that these women sacrificed in their fight for freedom.

Building the Uniform Shirt

Being the chameleon of our unit, as I like to call myself, means that I have to learn many details of many roles. It is something I thoroughly enjoy! But that also means that I have to learn the dress of each role, and since I am personally building my kit, that also means I also have to learn how to make it.


After successfully tackling my tea dress, altering my hoops, and making a petticoat from scratch, it was time to change my focus. Now I had to start building my kit for medical corps/soldier. I knew I would eventually have to purchase my own uniform, as I was currently borrowing one. So I started with the uniform shirt.


Being a small-framed woman portraying a man comes with lots of challenges. First of all, all the uniforms and shirts are too big for me! So now I had to figure out how to make one according to the 1860s patterns which would fit me, and still be large enough that I could hide the curves of my feminine form.


I’ll go ahead and confess that this journey was a lot harder and more involved than it should have been. I have spent plenty of times shaking my head (and sometimes muttering along the way), laughing at myself, drinking extra cups of tea, and many late nights up, or multitasking to complete this project!

I had finally found a fabric and buttons I loved that were the right color scheme for me, from a sutler at the battle of Olustee. It’s surprisingly difficult to find the right colors for a winter coloring skin tone in homespun or period correct cloth. I had found a plaid with a true red and a taupe, instead of yellow-brown, background. It had a gentle pewter stripe in the plaid. The sutler had genuine pewter buttons that worked beautifully with it. I purchased them and tucked them away in my gear until I could get to them.




Since I am building my kit and doing these events on a shoestring budget, I didn’t buy my own pattern, but borrowed one with muslins from a friend. Weelllllll, here’s the thing: The pattern was from the 1860s-where they expected you to already understand how to sew with those patterns and have the basic skills of the time, so there is a lot they do not tell you, unlike patterns of the 20th century.


The first picture is supposed to be the layout and show you the body is one piece, but cut after multiple folds!

Secondly, the muslins she had included were cut down to her husband’s size, and then cut down from there to her son’s size, and I was trying to figure out which piece was which over the phone! Talk about some head-scratching and comedic moments!



A very good friend of mine owns her own costume shop and does lots of historic clothing (shout out to Mary!). She came over one day while I was drafting my pattern off the various pieces, and she reminded me that while I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m a woman, I am still very curvy and that means I had to take those curves into account in cutting the pattern the right size. Whew! What a lifesaver!


Thinking I had about figured everything out, had added just a bit of ease in the hem for my hips (thankfully that would be hidden in my uniform trousers), pinned everything where the patterns would completely match, I started cutting. Feeling quite pleased with myself that now the shirt was finally underway, I began pinning the pieces together, only to realize with horror that I had flipped the pattern and put the seam down the center of the shirt and not the side seam! It was time for another cup of tea…

After a walk, a prayer, and the tea, I picked up the pieces and stared figuring out how I was going to fix this mess. Thank the good LORD I had made sure the pattern matched when I cut it out. I realized that since the pattern was a clear plaid, I could match the pattern and hopefully no one would notice (except, of course, now I’m spilling the beans on myself!). After several hours of careful folding, aligning, and pinning, I warily stitched the first seam. It worked!!! Even I could barely tell it had been matched and patched. On to the next side. This one did have to be adjusted due to some shifting during the stitching, but with a few more moments of ripping out, repining and re-sewing, it passed inspection as well.

Realizing that my mistake had been assuming the curve for the neck had been for armholes (they didn’t do that in the 1860s apparently), I had to recheck every other piece. I realized that the body of the shirt was supposed to be cut out as ONE PIECE! Oh no… Well, a few more adjustments and the shoulders came together. I finally put that piece aside and turned my attention to the other pieces. Needless to say, I did NOT want to see the body of that shirt for a day or two!


The next logical step seemed to be the sleeves. Again, since I am a small woman, I had to do adjustments on the sleeves both in size and length. The original sleeves were huge on me! With some careful adjustments, triple checked this time, I cut out the sleeves. I got the length correct! But for some reason the sleeves still seemed to swallow me. I took about an inch and a half off both sides at the seam edge of the sleeves and they fit more smoothly to the size of my arm. I would later find out that it had been right to begin with and wish I had left it alone! The extra space in the sleeves keeps it from clinging to you, and gives more air room, and a cooling factor to the shirt. Since I would trial my shirt for the first time at the Alma living history weekend when it was 93 degrees with a heat index of 103 and very high humidity, I sure was wishing I had that room in my sleeves!


I went through a lot of this elixir!

Gusset in place (this is a diamond shaped piece inserted at the top of the sleeve seam to give more room), and sleeves seamed, I placed them on the shirt body. I was starting to feel a little better about the project. It was actually starting to look like a shirt.


Next, I turned to the collar. Thankfully, the collar, which had been for the son, was the right size for me. Cutting it out with nearly matching patterns, I was able to quickly stitch the two sides of the collar together. But before I could put it in place, I had to attach the plackets to the opening of the shirt. Due to my mistake earlier, I already had a clean, straight line for the opening. All I had done was leave the seam open a little bit and we were ready to go! I had stopped by my friend’s house on a trip nearby and had her look at my fiasco, and then look at the plackets with me. I did not want any more problems! After struggling with it for a while, we figured out what they wanted and I was able to go home and produce it. Once I played with it, I realized that it was actually quite easy. The pieces for the plackets incase the seam of the opening, and provide a place for the buttons and button holes, allowing the shirt to close all the way. Once each side was in place and securely stitched down, I could turn my attention to the collar.



By this time I was heading to Florida for a week-long school and I knew I was going to need the shirt shortly after that, so pattern, pieces, and a small sewing kit went with me. On a few evenings after class I sat in my hotel room and stitched away. I was so thankful I was familiar with and skilled at hand stitching, because I used it!


The pattern stated the collar began and ended at the plackets in the front, the back being slightly pleated if need be to gather the fullness. As I worked from the ends toward the back to adjust in the fullness, I realized with a sinking heart, that the neck hole was too big for me. I had to pleat the fabric all around the back of the collar, adjusting and readjusting it several times until it was tolerable. But what I realized as I tried it on with the collar stitched in place, was that by doing so, I had caused the back of the neck to be bulky, and with the extra pleating, it had shortened the back of the shirt. I didn’t have time to change it at that time, nor the extra fabric while I was out of town, so I turned to the cuffs.


Thankfully, I had correctly figured out the right size for my cuffs, as those pieces are not included with the pattern! One was just supposed to “know” what size they were and cut out the rectangle to that size. A little playing and finagling, and I figured it out right. Now, sitting in my hotel room, I hand stitched the cuffs into place, leaving a little ‘V’ opening between the bottom of the cuff and the seam of the sleeve so there was room to roll up my sleeves. Seams of the cuff openings and the hem were rolled and stitched closed. Three buttons down the front and one on each sleeve and I almost had a shirt!


I finished my school in Florida and drove back to Georgia and almost straight to the Battle of Resaca. After a few snafus, I arrived to camp early Sunday morning. Waiting for the guys to get back from morning parade, I stitched like crazy trying to complete buttonholes. After church there was a medical demonstration, and while standing outside the tent listening to the presentation, I continued to stitch the buttonholes one loop at a time. I didn’t quite finish it in time, but I had made progress.


Just two weeks later we were heading to Alma. In the few nights before leaving I stayed up until ungodly hours throwing the last buttonholes and details in the shirt, trying to make sure it was ready for the weekend, knowing I was going to need it.


Once down at Alma and in the blistering, heat-exhaustion weather, I realized my many mistakes: the sleeves were too small, the collar was not right with the bulkiness from as much as it had needed to be pleated, I had not left the opening at the cuffs large enough to truly roll up my sleeves. I was STUCK. My wonderful company was very patient with me as I lifted collars, played with sleeves and saw how all of their shirts were constructed; getting all the information I needed to fix my near-fiasco.


Can you tell how hot it was? This was in the shade under the fly!


Drilling in the heat before battle.


Due to frustration and a very large workload, I took several weeks off from the shirt. It sat patiently waiting for me to come back to it. So, once the frustration had burned off, and the workload had slightly diminished, I picked up the shirt, tore the majority of the collar off and once again started matching the pattern, this time on the back side of the neck. I matched all the patterns, cut a second piece for the inside to encapsulate the raw edges, and stitched it in place, carefully checking that the patterns remained matched. Once I knew they were, I cut the excess off, and figured out the new curve for the neckline-the one that fit me.


Matching patterns

Once that was in place, the collar quickly and easily went back in place-even stitching by hand! I also opened the seam at the wrists farther, so that there was enough room to roll up the sleeves and have mobility. I timidly put the shirt on once again to see the results of my work. For the first time in the process, the shirt FIT RIGHT! Oh how happy I was! It was just in time too, for I threw the now-finished shirt in my bag, finished packing and headed to the next reenactment, which was starting our Fall Campaign. Boy did it get a trial by fire that weekend! Two battles, multiple medical emergencies, weather so hot men were going down for real, field hospital medical demonstration, and then breaking camp in the pouring rain. I was happy to see how well it held up, and will proudly be wearing it at our next major reenactment!




Thankfully, with all the problems I had with the creation of this shirt, I now know this pattern inside and out! You might be wondering if I will ever make this pattern again. The answer is yes. First of all, once I knew everything was right, I drafted a new pattern with all the RIGHT sizes, appropriate markings and notes so that I don’t repeat this fiasco a second time. Also, now that I know the problems, I can avoid them, and suspect that I could build another fairly quickly, or as quickly as one can go while stitching by hand.


I hope you all have enjoyed this blog and all the trouble I got myself into! If you want to see the infamous shirt, be sure to come to one of our reenactments! Should you ever want to make one, be sure that if I can, even with all my 20th century sewing knowledge and all my fiascos, you can too. Especially now that you know what NOT to do! 😉


I would like to give a very special thank you to Lt. Col. Edward Shelor and the faculty and staff at Georgia Military College for inviting me to speak to several classes about Medicine during the War Between the States.

And a special thank you to the cadets and students of the American History class for being such an attentive and interactive class, and for making me feel so welcome!img_1459img_1461img_1453img_1454


I am delighted to announce that I will be lecturing about Medicine during the War Between the States for several classes at Georgia Military College this week!

I want to thank everyone who has been encouraging me, supporting me, and opening new doors for me to share my passion with others!


The Gentlemen

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.


Our Confederate men on the line- Sandersville, GA (Photo Credit Les Patton)

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.


The gentlemen carried our chairs the long distance to church. (Photo credit: CRStudios BW Atlanta)


(Photo credit: CR Studios BW Atlanta)

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.


At our first WBTS ball! (Photo credit: Les Patton)

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.


The Ball (Photo credit: Les Patton)

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.


Our escorts for the ball at the Battle of Olustee, 2016. It was VERY dark in the battlefield and easy to get lost. They assured we were back to camp and safe, as well as delightful dance partners at the ball. (Photo credit: 17th Georgia Infantry)

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!


(Photo credit: Becky Maddox)


Two of us are women. We disguise the fact we are to the audience and take the field just like the men. (Photo credit: Becky Maddox)

In my company alone, we have 4 women who will fight on the line, and 1-2 who nurse and treat the wounded.


(Photo credit: Atha Dalton)


Nurse and Medical Corp on the field. (Photo credit: CR Studios BW Atlanta)

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.


Breakfast after Reveille. Hurricane Shoals 2016.

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.


In camp. (Photo credit: Robert Carswell)

To all our Southern Gentlemen (and the few respectful Yankees out there 😉 ),


Our Federal escorts to the Gettysburg ball. They acted like true gentlemen that night. [Don’t tell them we were spying for the Confederacy!] (Photo Credit: Mary Delaplane)


Southern Belles with President Jefferson Davis. (Photo credit: David Walker)

we, the women of the reenacting world, thank you for being Southern Gentlemen, and allowing us to be true Southern Belles!

Special Thanks

I would like to give a special thanks to the 5th grade teachers at Benton Elementary School for inviting us to come present about the War Between the States to their 48 students at the beginning of September!

I would also like to give a special thanks to Mr. Cooper of Jefferson High School for inviting me to speak to his AP U.S. History class last week.

You all have some very bright and inquisitive students. I was delighted to have the opportunity to share my passion of the WBTS with your classes.

Here is a glimpse into one of the presentations:


Speaking about the muskets and how they were used


Presenting about the equipment


Talking about the cost of war


Discussing disease during the war

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

I have been building with my dad since I was a little girl. I remember building my first big project with him at about six years old, most of the tools too large for my small hands, his oiled apron folded up and swallowing me as he tried to keep the glue and stain off me. Since that time, we have worked many jobs and done many projects together. So who did I call when it was time to build a reproduction of an 1860s hospital tool? Why, Daddy of course!

As a medical reenactor, I focus not just on the war, but on the wounded and the ways they were treated. That includes everything from the length of time on the field, to how they got water, to how surgery was done, and how the wounds were bandaged. Since the wounds were numerous, and the damage of a Minié Balls quite extensive, bandages were a vital necessity to their treatment.

According to the hospital Steward Manual and records from the time, the standard bandage could range from 1-inch to 6-inches wide and averaged around nine to fifteen feet in length! Some were shorter and might be six to seven feet in length. Rolling these bandages by hand into tight rolls takes some time. For me to roll this whole pile of bandages this tight by hand took several hours!


There were specific guidelines in the 1860s hospital Steward’s manual about how to roll the bandages by hand, but found within those pages I also found the specifications and use of a bandage roller. I had hit the jackpot! With a bandage roller, one single person could do the work of many in a fraction of the time and still end up with a tightly rolled bandage. I decided I needed one for my medical talks and demonstrations. Armed with pictures of bandage rollers in museums, and the pages out of the 1860s hospital Steward manual containing all the specifics, I packed up and went to my Dad’s workshop.

The first thing we needed was a set of full scale drawings. Since the examples I had brought were of slightly varying styles, we had to create our own within the confines of the period, and it had to be mobile so I could take it from one demonstration and event to another. We decided on a mobile style like the ones we had seen in the museums, but with the stability of the ones in the Steward’s manual. We created our own diagram, including measurements, and went to work.


It was hard not to fall into the habit of using modern tools to build, but we both consciously discussed and decided to use hand tools, particularly tools of the period when we had them, and make it just as it would have been made in the 1860s. The first thing to do was decide on the thickness of boards we wanted for the sides and bottom of the bandage roller. We quickly decided on 1/2-inch thick boards we would cut to the size we needed. Then, we rounded the top corners with a hand saw, having secured each side piece to our work surface with wooden clamps tightened with metal screws.


Once each corner was trimmed, it was hand sanded it until it was smooth. At times we needed a harder edge on the sanding surface. In that case, we wrapped the loose sandpaper around a wooden board to give us a harder surface and a more exact edge for things like the flat sides.


Before we put the sides together it was time to make our cross-pieces. One of these was to run the cloth under so it would be kept straight and provide tension as the bandages are rolled. We decided to add another on the far end as a support, based on the drawings in the Steward’s manual. To do this, we took thin pieces of wood, cut them down even farther, and then hand planed them until they were the size we needed and roughly round.


Then we drilled small holes in each side piece where they would be placed, just deep enough to hold the pieces but not go all the way through. Each cross-piece was measured for the length, including what would go into these holes, and then cut. Once we had the length, each end was hand whittled and then filed down to fit in the hole. A touch of glue and each cross piece was forced down into its hole, effectively connecting the two sides.


Once that was done, it was time to connect the bottom so that we could make sure everything dried square. We had drilled pilot holes due to the hardness of the wood we were dealing with, and making sure that the nails went in straight without splintering anything. Each bottom piece was lined up squarely with the sides, glued in place, and then hand nailed into place. Once the bottoms and sides were connected, we clamped them to make sure they dried in the correct shape and measurements and went on to the next piece-the handle and cross shaft.

Rae nailing sides.jpg

The way the bandage roller works is by placing the folded over edge of a bandage in the groove of a cross shaft which is controlled by a handle on the outside. When the cloth is placed in the groove, the handle is turned, thus turning the bandage and rolling it tightly against the cross shaft. Once the bandage is finished, the rod is pulled out of the center, and the bandage lifted out, before replacing everything and starting on the next one. (If you want to see this in action, come to the reenactment at Hurricane Shoals Park on September 17-18th!). Now it was time to make the cross shaft.

We planed down a longer piece of wood and cut a grove the length of it. Then we sanded that grove by hand. The length was measured from halfway through the left side to hanging out the right side of the roller body. This was so that we could imbed the shaft into the left wall of the roller and attach a handle to the end hanging out the right. We debated back and forth about whether to make the handle out of metal or wood, but wood finally won out. Each piece was carefully measured so that it could be used on the table (without busting knuckles or getting hung up), and then cut. The connecting shaft was measured to ensure that it could hold the diameter of the shaft and handle without breaking or splintering. The piece was cut and hand sanded. Inside each hole was also sanded by wrapping a piece of sand paper around a pencil and rubbing it back and forth through the hole.


Connecting piece done, it was time to do the handles. We determined the length needed for the handle based on who would be using it in demonstrations. Then more wood was cut down and planed until it was the right size and shape. More filing and sanding was done, and then the pieces were all glued together.


We then turned our attention back to the roller body. The pieces had dried in place and everything was aligned just as we wanted it. The clamps were removed and the support pieces were sanded by hand, sliding the sandpaper around each one like shining shoes! With those smooth, it was time to create the holes for the cross-shaft. We had fought for a little while about where the best location would be, based on proportion, best use, and making sure we could do large enough bandage rolls. With that finally decided, we drilled a hole in the right wall of the roller and slightly into the left wall, making sure it would not go through. I sanded the hole in the right wall and then Dad hand carved out the place for the shaft to imbed in the left.


He used a carving tool called a palm carving gouge from his father’s carving set. It was done and tested many times until it was the right size and shape so that the cross piece fit properly without coming out or binding.


Everything was sanded, including the end of the cross piece. For some pieces, we hand sanded it with the sandpaper against the wood in our hand. For others, like the end of the cross piece, we held the paper down on our work bench and then rolled the end of the shaft against the sandpaper so that we could shape it the way we needed.


When we were finished, no splinters remained which could catch or tear the cloth. We let the pieces rest that night so that the glue could dry all the way.


On our return, each piece was checked and determined to be correct. Dad had surprised me and made a special clamp which would keep the bandage roller from moving while in use, which was locked in place under the edge of the table by using wedges (Isn’t he smart!).


Then we stained the completed roller. In the 1860s, the finish would most likely been more a lacquer than a stain, but since it is hard to work with, we were out, and on a time limitation, we decided to go with the stain so we could still keep the authenticity of a finish. I chose a more historic color stain in a penetrating oil stain base which helps condition and seal the wood. We applied it all with rags by hand just as would have been done.

IMG_0515(See the difference in wood color?)

IMG_0521Daddy staining handle.jpgOnce we were satisfied with it, we let it dry once again. With the finish dry, all that was left was to check the roller, and make sure it worked properly. I brought one of the many bandages I have rolled over the months and we tried it out. It worked!

Come out to our upcoming reenactment at Hurricane Shoals Park, or to one of my future speaking engagements to see it at work, or to ask questions!