“But isn’t reenacting primarily a male hobby?”
The Civilian Aspect of American Civil War Reenacting
Written and submitted by Sara Gonzalez
It was a question puzzling my own mind when I began looking into the subject. Truth be told, it’s a question I’ve often been asked since, by those not in the hobby. “What do you do… as a woman?” they ask (as if the thought is positively outrageous).
It’s true; the female side of things in the civilian world of reenacting is significantly newer than the idea of portraying a soldier. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for it.
Imagine yourself a young wife, in your early twenties in 1862. Your husband is off fighting for your State’s Rights, and your only form of communication is occasional letters. Just when you think the war is about to end, your home gets brutally burned to the ground by the opposing side. You have nothing left, but the clothes on your back, and no family nearby. Your only choice is to find your husband’s company and be a camp refugee for as long as you need to, following the troops from camp to camp as you stay a fair distance away. Perhaps you are a widow, and it was your son. Or your father… or your brother. Perhaps you’re with a sister, or have a child. Regardless of what it was, you were doing what you knew to do. You were doing what you could for your troops, and they did what they could for you
There are hundreds of other possible scenarios. Even if your home hadn’t have been burned to the ground, women and families would often visit their soldiers between battles. Still others (men and women both) would stay at home to hold up the home front, while providence enabled them to cherish it. These are all things we portray on the civilian side of American Civil War reenacting.
Likely, you’re wondering what woman in her right mind finds true joy in camping out in a canvas tent (during all weather conditions, nonetheless!) in the modern world? The truth is, not many women in the year 1864 would have truly enjoyed it either. Sometimes it takes some imagination and a whole lot of pretending… but that’s the fun of it. We do it all for the sake of our impression, our love of history, and passing our knowledge along to others. Besides, what woman (even in the modern world) doesn’t like to dress up and be treated like a lady?!
What we do in the 4th Missouri
When I joined the 4th MO, I asked my captain what I could do as a civilian, and for our unit as a whole. I admit his reply wasn’t very helpful to my quest for information, but I’m glad I didn’t stop there. At the time, there weren’t many civilians in our group who actively attended events. However, with their help, and some digging around, I quickly found my place. I have since become the head of our Civilian Corps in the 4th MO - the “Mayor,” as some affectionately call me. (Not that I do much I assure you!)
Since then the Fourth Missouri Civilians have made hand-sewn flags, prepared meals, organized events, and stuffed Christmas stockings for the men in our group, among other things. It’s been a collaborative effort from all the ladies and civilians, and each event is an adventure all its own!\
It is my hope that you might consider joining our ever-growing, close-knit group of reenactors, passionate about the past. There is so much to the Civilian side of reenacting than people know, and I believe there is much more still to portray than what we already do. If you are interested in joining us on our next reenacting event as a civilian, please contact me (Yes, the “Mayor”- Sara Gonzalez) by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org