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:

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Speaking about the muskets and how they were used

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Presenting about the equipment

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Talking about the cost of war

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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!

Camp Life

I am frequently asked what it is like to do a reenactment and “live” in the 1860s. So today, I will answer that question and more.

Camp life varies from unit to unit just as home life varies from family to family. Truth be told, each unit is like its own little family. There are the ups and downs, the different personalities, the problems, yet, we all blend together and love each other like one big family. By speaking to other reenactors, I have discovered that this is not just the case in my unit, but in each of theirs as well.

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(Members of the 53rd Georgia and the 16th Georgia preparing for church and shopping. Battle of Resaca 2016)

Reenactment is not just a throw together event. There is a lot of planning, coordination, logistics, and preparation for each event. You can imagine how involved and important this is when we are doing an event every two to three weeks!

First of all comes arranging our lives and jobs so that we can take a break from 21st century life, and step back into the 19th century for a glorious long weekend.

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(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K)

Then comes the packing. Based on your position, rank, and your roll in the unit and brigade, what you bring may vary. Our Captain comes loaded for all that he will need, plus brings extra supplies for the company– especially for those of us who haven’t finished our kits yet. His wife is our commissary officer, which means that they also bring our fly and most of the kitchen supplies.

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(Planning happening at the fly of the 53rd Georgia.    Photo credit: Becky Maddox)

She orchestrates all the food contributions and getting food prepared and out in time for all of us to be fed and on the line. Our quartermaster comes with all his needed supplies for his rank and position, as well as what his wife needs. She is one of our ladies in camp, and does much of the fine hand work we wear and demonstrate. There are some single men and women who bring their own gear for their tent and position on the line, and a few couples, including couples with children who bring what they need.

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(Play time! Nash Farms 2015.     Photo credit: Robert Carswell)

Then there is me. I have started affectionately calling myself the ‘chameleon of the unit.’ Usually I do medical, either as a nurse or medical corp depending on the event.

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However, some events will not allow us to do medical reenactment and then my role changes. I have been one of the ladies assaulted by the Yankees,

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(Photo credit: CRStudios BW Atlanta)

 

I have been an ice angel keeping the men from overheating during the battle and checking them when the fall. I have been artillery when the company was short, and I have been infantry fighting on the line.

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(Alma, GA June 2016.      Photo credit: Becky Maddox)

For me, it is fun not knowing what role I will play until I get there! I leave it up the commanders to tell me where I am most needed, and that is the role I fill. Unfortunately, that means I carry a lot of gear, for I must carry supplies for each of those roles when I go to an event. Thankfully, my Captain always has extra supplies for me to use when I am lacking in one impression or another!

Some reenactors are what we call campaigners-they only pack what they would have been able to carry on a march. That would include their uniform, weapons, ammunition, canteen, some hardtack and maybe dried meat, a couple dishes, and perhaps a bedroll. That’s about it. Then there are those of us who come to CAMP for the weekend. We drive up in trucks, packed SUVs, or trucks with loaded trailers full of the 19th century clothing, tents, and equipment we will display, wear, and use for the event.

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(Photo Credit: 24th Georgia, Co H)

As each unit arrives, we find out where our camp is, and began to erect tents, flys, designate fire pits, and more. Slowly this mobile city begins to form as row after row of tents go up, ropes are staked, and supplies loaded into them. Each unit has their own way of doing it and their own rhythm. Our unit works like a well-oiled machine. Each person knows what needs to be done, and can put up or strike camp as if we were one body.

The contents of each soldier’s tent vary. Some sleep directly with a bedroll on the ground. Some of us use cots and our bedroll. Some throw a cover or quilt on the ground to make it easier when changing and such, particularly when we are in areas covered in poison ivy! Some hang up their clothes (us ladies), some do not. Some who have walled tents put furniture in them for dressing and holding supplies, but most of us do not.

Each unit varies about food preparation. My unit has a kitchen fly and almost all the food preparation is done under it and cooked under it. Sometimes we will also be cooking over the open fire.

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(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K)

Other units do all their cooking over the fire in the open. In some of the units everyone brings their food and a little to throw in together. I am told it can get quite interesting to see what they end up having! In our unit, those in the 17th Georgia, and some other units, there is a plan in place before coming to camp. For us in the 53rd, a menu is created by our commissary officer and the ingredients and meals are divided up among those coming. All the men and the soldiers bring things to contribute, but us women contribute and divide up the cooking. Between the different roles I play, doing my part of the cooking, and being medical care for the reenactors when needed, it can make for a busy event!

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(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K. Coffee is a necessity for these men!)

Some other questions I am commonly asked are:

“Do you actually live in those tents, or are they just for show?” People’s mouths drop open when they find out that yes, we do indeed live in those tents for days. Heat, cold, rain, wind, we have experienced it all. My friend, Captain Young from the 17th  Georgia, says that he has been at events where it was in the 20s, and events where it was 115 degrees. He has been in heat, rain, conditions where everything including the canteens were frozen, in storms, and everything in between! I personally have done events from 28 degrees to a heat index of 103! It provides a great appreciation and admiration for our ancestors and everything they endured during the War Between the States.

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(Yes, it really was that cold. The ground was frozen!         Photo credit: Robert Carswell)

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(The Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade. It was a tolerable day in the 40s, but the next morning it was 27 degrees!              Photo credit: Mary Delaplane)

In those days, there was no opportunity to get into air conditioning or central heating (which were 20th century inventions). However, the clothing was made in such a way it certainly helped. The period correct underpinnings helped cool the soldier under the heat of the wool uniform during the summer. During the winter, campaign coats were worn by the soldiers, and crocheted wraps and wool capes helped to warm the ladies. Sometimes nothing helps but wearing it all and sitting by the fire.

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(Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co. K.  Battle of Olustee- 2016. Those wraps sure did help in the February weather!)

“But where do you go to the bathroom?” Glad you asked! Rarely do we do an event where we have the luxury of central plumbing and running water. The very idea of it would have been awe-inspiring to our ancestors. If you are at an event, look carefully around a hidden corner and you will probably find a row of port-a-johns. Yes, we do use them. I have used from bathhouses to out-houses at events. The nice thing is, everyone is in the same boat! (And yes, we do have soap and/or hand sanitizer hidden away, particularly us nurses!)

People ask how we bathe or clean up. The truth is, we don’t bathe while at an event. We use a basin of water and a rag to wipe down just as our ancestors did. Occasionally we will have an event where there is a running stream and cooperating weather were we can get in it, cool off, and clean up a little. It is glorious!

“Well what do you do to pass the time?” Electronics barely work at most of our events, and they aren’t even allowed out in our camp. It makes us unplug from the world for a few days. It makes us slow down, take a breath, and really LIVE, though we are living 150 years in the past. In between the battles, church,

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presentations, shopping, the ball,

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(True Southern Gentlemen.     Photo credit: 53rd Georgia Infantry Co K)

ladies tea or other event, meals, and sleep, we talk, rest, read, clean our weapons, discuss the history we are living (and sometimes the history being made in the 21st century). We answer questions for the attendees, we teach the school children on Friday school days, we stop and pose for people wanting pictures, we roll bandages,

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sew, play games with the camp children, and prepare for the next part of the event. As for what happens in a battle or presentation? That will have to be the topic of other blogs.

“With all the hardships, would you do it again?” Absolutely! We deal with the heat, the lack of sleep, the various food adventures, the numerous personalities in camp and in the neighboring units, whatever drama or injuries come our way, and the fact that we haven’t had a bath in days. Then we break camp, go home, unpack, get a shower, sit down in our nice air conditioned or heated homes, take a breath, and then say, “Okay, when is the next one?” already looking forward to when we will pull on that uniform or those hoops once again.

Once someone has been bitten by the reenacting bug, some recover, but most are infected permanently. I am one of the latter. We live, study, and serve to bring awareness of the history of our nation, and of the honor of the men and women who served. We do this to bring the history to life. We do this because we love it!

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Independence Day

I listened to the sound of fireworks in the far off as I peered up at the night sky. The slightly illuminated cloud formations danced with the sound of rolling explosions. I couldn’t always see the fireworks, but I could hear the symphony of the cannons firing them. Explosion after explosion rolled through the air like thunder. I could almost imagine what it was like to live just outside a besieged town, to see the flashes of cannon light up the sky, to hear the air and sometimes the ground tremble with the explosions. Would the tide of war turn toward or away from us?

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(Photo credit: grayling-mi.com)

That was the question of July 4th in years prior. On July 4, 1776, 56 brave men had enough guts and the fear of God to stand up to a tyrannical government at the cost of their own lives, families, and fortunes, and signed the Declaration of Independence-effectively freeing themselves from the tyrannical government of England. These men knew that God had a plan and a purpose for each life, and they could only fulfill that plan as sovereign men serving God, not a man bent on destruction. Almost every one of these men would die, lose a child, lose the home and fortune or child to war, or lose their fortune because of the stand they took for liberty. What a mighty weight to carry. Yet, because of their steadfastness, we can call ourselves Americans today.

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Contenental Congress-Declaration.jpgEighty-five years later, just a few months prior to July 4th, the Southern States declared their independence from the Union and fired on Fort Sumter from April 12-14, 1861. Union President Lincoln would send troops, and take other actions against the Southerners WITHOUT Congressional approval. On July 4th, 1861, he would stand and address Congress, and ask them to approve his actions after the fact (which was, and is, against the very laws of the land). It was here that Lincoln proved his purpose for the war was to stop the “rebellion” of the Southern states and punish them for their actions (See his speech given to Congress, July 4, 1861).

Attack on Ft. Sumter

But stopping the “rebellion” didn’t come for some time. It can be argued that these men who seceded from the Union were the true Americans in the equation. They had found themselves under a tyrant in the government once again, and were standing by what the Founding Fathers had written. The country had been built on the basis of states first, government last. States had the majority of the rights and power over its citizens and finances, the federal government was to have very little. But with Lincoln’s progressive regime, that all changed. The South’s response, after years of trying to talk it out, was to do just what their grandfathers had done—pick up their arms and stop tyranny. (P.S. Many do not see it this way, particularly those in the North, or educated from current textbooks. If you have questions, please politely let me know and I will be able to point you to source documents).

Two years later, July 4, 1863 would find the South stopped in their tracks at the battle of Gettysburg. Whereas the first two years had seen the Southern Army walk all over the Northern Army, after the loss of General Jackson at the battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee’s presumed heart attack, and many miscommunications, the Federals obtained the upper hand and won the bloodiest battle of the War Between the States. It was a victory that would turn the tide of the war in favor of the Federals. By July 4, 1865, North and South would find themselves in the process of rejoining as a country, and learning to acknowledge each other once again as fellow countrymen.

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In each of these times, 85+ years apart, the theme is the same: Liberty. Liberty at the cost of our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. The question for each of us to ask ourselves is, “What would I risk or give up for freedom? Would I lay down my life in battle for freedom? Would I be willing to lose everything for my convictions? Would I be willing to lose the children I love so much so that one-day they might be free? Would I be willing to be slandered, persecuted, and destroyed for obedience to the principles of the Bible and the fact that our Creator has endowed EVERY man with certain rights, that among these are, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These men did in both the first and the second War of Independence. One was won. The other was lost. And yet, in some way, this fight remains in the heart of man. Every time I go onto the field and re-live one of these battles, I try to honor the men and women who went before me, who fought and died for their God-given rights, and so that I might be free.

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If it were you, what would you do?

God or Glory, Honor or Obedience?

What do you do when war comes to you?

The Yankees arrived threatening to rape and pillage. Imprisoning us women, the children, and the local parson in the house they had completely surrounded. They held flaming branches and threatened to burn it to the ground with us inside. They had already taken our food, already invaded our country, and now this. At least they had not made good on their threats…yet. We prayed for the Confederate soldiers to come and run off these blue bellies.

Our hearts leapt within us at the sound of musket fire. Our boys were there! More musket fire. We prayed they would not fall to Yankee bullets. A young Yankee stood at the doorway of the cabin, blocking our way and firing at our boys in gray. The musket blast created a concussion through the small house, and as the cries of the children increased, so did our hatred.

A cry.

A thud.

We didn’t know which side was falling. A quick peak out the back door and I was able to warn one of our soldiers of a Yankee position. Another shot. A Yankee went down.

Though my medical supplies were together, I saw no Confederates down, and no way to get out of the house. The cavalry were fighting hand-to-hand, then, silence. Hoof beats pounded the ground as the Confederate cavalry rounded up the few Yankee prisoners. The parson slid out to survey the damage and see if it was safe for us to exit, though we crowded at the open door.

“Are there any Yankee’s hiding in there?” the cavalry sergeant asked gruffly.

“No sir!” I said.

“You sure?” he asked. Now how could he ask that after all we had been through?

“You are welcome to come check,” I replied, pulling my medical bag over my head.

“We’ve got one here!” the parson’s cries melded with the soldier’s grunts of pain. I walked out the door to see that he had dropped a wounded Yankee on the porch. He was panting and desperately trying to get his coat open. I froze. “Tend him,” the parson instructed.

“You want me to tend a Yankee?” I couldn’t believe it. Some of the other women pushed past me, and scooped his head out of the dust as the Confederates gathered around, wanting to hang him.

“No! There has been enough killing!” Atha cried. The children gathered around the wounded soldier as he writhed in pain. Instinct kicked in. I waded through the children, took a bandage out of my bag and examined the wound. He had a Minie ball hole in his chest. Placing the bandage over the wound, I looked him in the eye as he gripped his chest and my hand. “Do you know Jesus, soldier? Because you are going to be meeting Him very soon.” He looked at me, sizing me up, slight fear behind his eyes, but also a challenge of ‘you wouldn’t, would you?’

He began to panic. “You aren’t taking me to Andersonville, are you? I’ve heard horrible stories about there. Don’t let them take me to Andersonville!” he cried, looking at his friends who were now prisoners of war.

The parson stood near by. “You don’t have to worry about Andersonville, son.” He knew what I knew. This soldier was not long for this world.

Examining the wound once more, the blood flowed freely, staining my hand. The Minie ball had struck his lung. I placed a better bandage and put pressure on the wound. He screamed and writhed beneath my hands. I closed my eyes for a moment, allowing myself to deal with his pain. His breaths were becoming more shallow and rugged.

“McGillicuddy! In my haversack there’s a letter…”

“You going to be fine, Miles.”

“Listen! Send the letter for me. Tell my Betty what happened to me.” His breaths were becoming more labored and ragged. He knew he was dying.

I put more pressure on the now soaked bandages, but there was nothing more I could do. He looked at me and took a few more ragged painful breaths. His head rolled slightly in Atha’s skirt as he released his last breath. I closed my eyes against the pain of losing another boy who was now facing eternity.

No longer was this boy who had just died under my hands a Yankee, one who was to be hated, despised, and fought against. Now, this boy with the olive skin tone, wavy brown hair and beard was what he had always been-a child of God. One for whom Jesus came and died, one whom He loved.

General Lee was correct in saying, “It is a good thing that war is so terrible, lest men grow too fond of it.” War is horrible, yet war is also in the Bible. The question becomes, what role would God have us play? Are we a warrior? A healer? Someone with the good news of the gospel? When we face an enemy, we fight. When the battle is over, can we see their value in the Lord?

I am beginning to understand God’s mercy. I did not have to tend that soldier. I did not have to ease his passing, or make sure he wasn’t hung, or make sure he didn’t die alone. But neither did God have to come die for me, yet He chose to. Somewhere along those few intense moments, this boy went from a hated Yankee, to being seen through God’s eyes. It is a much different perspective. In a situation such as this, the question becomes, can we see past the color of someone’s skin, or the uniform they wear? Is it for the glory of our nation, or the glory of God? Is it best to choose the honor of our army, or obedience to God? “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, my brethren…”

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Mile's death

(Photo credits to Sheila Chasteen)

 

Sewing 1860s style

I have been sewing most of my life. Growing up poor, it was a means of survival. My grandparents had lived through the great depression, and the term “Make do, do over, or do without” still remained in the thought processes in our home. We worked hard, we made do, and we did over. So, starting about age 9, my grandmother began teaching me how to mend clothes. By the time I was in my “tweens” and teens, I was tall and lanky and good luck to my mom to find clothes that fit me and were modest! So I started making clothes. Over the years I became very proficient at 1950s clothes, even tackling moderately advanced Vogue patterns.

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So when I started reenacting and realized how much I loved it, I started building my “kit,” as we call it. That started with making my own clothes for the reenactments. We can buy clothes and supplies from sutlers, but they tend to be expensive. I thought, “I have made all these other clothes, this should be no problem!”

One of the first things I learned was 1860s sewing was NOTHING like 1940s to present. The techniques are completely different.

The first Singer sewing machine was patented in 1851 [for more information about the development and progression of sewing machines check here: http://www.sewalot.com/singer_through_the_ages.html%5D. Prior to that, all sewing had been by hand, and the majority still was into the 1860s. Some sewing was done on the new machines, if you were fortunate enough to be able to afford one, but all details, and much of the joining of pieces was still done by hand. I remember one of the first pieces I was working on, I started putting the pieces together like my 1950s patterns—right sides together, stitch in the hidden part, flip and finish with top stitching or by hand. Easy, right? WRONG! First of all, they didn’t attach their waistbands that way, nor finish seams that way. I had a whole new way of sewing to learn. So with a little help from the internet, and a few phone calls and texts to a friend who has been reenacting for years, I made my first tea skirt (with a little finishing help from my awesome friends on the Gettysburg trip!) with great success!

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Then it was time to make a proper tea dress. I knew I was staying in this lifestyle as a living historian, so it would be one of my tools of the trade. I thought I had mastered a lot after making the skirt, like what size pleats do I need to get 5 yards of fabric down to my 26 inch waist? How do I put on the kick pleat to keep my skirt from being torn? How do you attach the hem tape to keep your hem edge from tearing or wearing out (which I have sense found out there are even more ways to do it!)? How do you close the waistband properly? While I had learned some of those, there were still new techniques to be learned.IMG_7921

I had a custom pattern someone had loaned me, but the proportions were just a little bit off for me. So, I packed up my sewing machine, fabrics, and other supplies and headed to my company captain’s house for his wife to teach me what I was missing. In one day of work, we created a custom pattern to me, and had half of the bodice together. My head was almost spinning. From learning how to cut out the fabric so there is no break in design with the curved darts, to the proper fitting for a bodice (with the corset of course. One must always build the clothing fit to the proper underpinnings if it is going to fit right later), to the sizing and correct way to do the piping in the seams, to how much to roll under for the bodice closure, and the attaching of the hook and eye tape. I soaked it all in. About 24 hours later, after bad weather had blown by, I packed up all my stuff and went home, hoping I remembered everything and that I had taken enough notes to finish it by myself. (Plus I had a little “help” along the way!) Many phone calls for clarification, and a lot of tea ingested, and I was making headway.

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First, I realized that all my sewing skills were very necessary for 1860s sewing. All my years of cross-stitch, needlepoint, embroidery, and quilting came in handy for the detail of the handwork, and the special knots I decided to use, as well as the hidden stitches to finish the trim and keep it from being seen.

The pagoda (bell) sleeves gave me FITS! We had cut the pattern piece that was supposed to fit my size dress. For starters, it was six inches too long, then it wouldn’t fit in the arm hole correctly, so I had to figure out how to cut it down and still keep the right line and shape-after we had already cut out and stitched the pieces together! It took hours! But once I had it, I altered the pattern so I could make all the rest the same. When the sleeves were attached, I loved it!

The skirt was relatively easy after the one I made for Gettysburg, but now I had learned the proper 19th century way to attach a waist band–by hand, and it certainly takes more time! But when you consider that the skirt fabric was folded over at the level of the waistband, and then the waistband attached by hand in such a way that the skirt could later be let out or mended with the extra fabric, and the stitching method created a grove for them to later attach the bodice, suddenly everything started making more sense.IMG_8293

(My little “helper”)

The trim had been carefully chosen (actually changed about three times prior to attaching it to get the best period type trim with the right type dress and correct colors, etc.), and attached at various stages of building the sections of the dress. Then came time to attach the skirt and bodice. I was getting so excited! The weeks of hard work were about to pay off. I started “stitching the ditch”-remember that special way to connect the waistband, it comes into play here-that is when you stitch in this special ditch created by the bottom piping on the bodice, and through the waistband about where it is connected to the skirt. When done this way, the bodice fits closely, hides the waistband, and you get a dress in one piece. There is also something called a dogleg, but that is for a different post.

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A few minor alterations to the bodice while it was being attached, the addition of special filigree silver buttons I had found, a few hook and bars to close the waistband, and my dress was FINALLY finished!IMG_8398

The final stitches were placed just 14 hours before I was wearing it at the Confederate Memorial Day at Stone Mountain, GA. It was worth every stitch by hand, every alteration to the pattern, every near-sleepless night for the way it turned out. The addition of a crocheted collar given to me by my friend Mary, a hat I borrowed from my friend Eva, some under sleeves and jewelry, and the look was complete. IMG_8660

That day, I would meet the command general staff of the CSA-General R.E. Lee, President Davis, General “Stonewall” Jackson, and General J.E.B. Stewart. I was so grateful that I had taken the time to pay attention to the details, the accessories, the materials, the fit, and to make it period correct, even if that required extra time and energy. I now wear that dress with pride, knowing the work and the correct details that went into it, but most of all, knowing that when someone looks at me or takes a picture, I am giving them a correct impression of one of the hooped dresses from the 1860s would have looked like. 🙂

I hope I inspire little girls everywhere to want to dress up like this, and to consequently learn about our history or learn to sew. If my walking by in a dress sparks someone’s desire to learn or change, then it, and I, have certainly done the job.

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Welcome to the Southern Belle!

You might wonder why I chose this name. To be honest, it is two fold. One, I have been accused of being a true Southern Belle; but truthfully, I am proud to be one. Second, the focus of this blog is going to be mainly about my writing, reenacting, and various history and life-related projects. I am writing this for several reasons: to be able to share what I am working on, to connect with my friends in a new way, and to do something special for my family.

If you are from the North or Midwest, my apologies. Some of this will not make sense to you initially, but I hope you will stick around and begin to understand our special (and by that, I mean wonderful) world here. Below you will find my very first blog about the event that started it all.

Welcome!

~Rachel

 

My First Reenactment

I’ve been in love with the Civil War since I was a child. I still remember the first reenactment I attended with my mother, grandmother, and my little sister when I was all of eight or nine years old. I sat at the edge of the field at Watson Mill State Park in the cool weather, bundled up in my navy blue coat, and sitting beside my sister in the grass and stubble which I guess had been cut for just that occasion. I saw men in gray, chestnut, and blue, face each other, each side marching through the field toward the other, orders yelled over the sounds of war, muskets firing their deafening volleys. Though the sun was up, it did not take long before the sky was filled with the smoke and haze of gunpowder gently covering everything like ash. My sister and I plugged our ears as cannon belched forth their fiery blasts of “death.” I don’t think I had seen a musket up close before that day. Now, I saw them in action, and smelled the acrid smell of black powder as it floated across the gentle breeze and clung to our clothes and hair. I was fascinated.

My parents and grandparents were all highly educated, and made everything a learning opportunity. So when my grandmother found out there was going to be a Civil War (more accurately called War Between the States) reenactment in our area, of course, we had to go. Thankfully, my mother had seen fit to give us the basic history prior to that day so we had something on which to hang the new information, which was being poured into us like fluid rushing down a funnel. I didn’t know what was happening, but I couldn’t get enough of what was going on. I sat in wide-eyed wonder, wanting to see, to touch, to ask questions, to know more.

After the battle when resurrection had been called, the troops came toward the front and fired their final salute: a musket volley punctuated by canon fire. Then these men, who seemingly had stepped out of another time and place, welcomed these two little girls into their midst to ask questions until their curiosity was satisfied. They held out their musket and told us how it worked. They let us come close and touch the barrel of the cannon (after it had cooled of course), and asked nine-year-old me to try to pick up a cannon ball they had with them for demonstration, all the while explaining how the cannon worked.  What a great way to download information about the size, material, and weight of a cannon ball to a child at her level! This day was not simply for fun, or simply for learning. It was for experiencing the past, for instilling a love of history, for beginning to understand what had happened so many years before I was born, and thus, setting the premise for understanding the founding of this nation, the Revolutionary War, and yes, the second War of Independence known as the American Civil War.

Little did I know, that something was birthed that day: a love of history, a love of understanding, and a love of the War Between the States. By the time I was able to read and research for myself, I later realized that this was a love that was not soon to leave. Twenty years later, with bookcases full of books and documents which had been devoured with glee, many days of little girls playing in momma’s hoop skirts, learning to walk and sit in them without falling or exposing one’s self, and many historic events later, I am now a reenactor and educator of the War Between the States. What started as a cool day of zipped up jackets, gunshot, canon fire, and a few patient men willing to educate two little girls has become a life-long passion I am now able to share with others. My hope is that I will inspire some other little boy or girl (and maybe some adults as well!) to begin exploring and to learn the REAL stories behind the war. If I can share my love with someone else and inspire them to have the same passion, then the “crazy gleam in your eye” as my sister so loves to put it, is well worth it.

Rachel CSA uniform-Sandersville 2015