Friday, January 04, 2008

What am I researching? part one, an introduction to the hobby of reenacting ...


Current read: Women of the Revolution: Bravery and Sacrifice on the Southern Battlefields by Robert M. Dunkerly. I saw this one on the new non-fiction shelf at our local library, and since this is right up my research alley right now, and I know the author and have corresponded with him recently, I snapped it up. So far it's been a smooth, interesting read, and I've even learned a few things. :-) (Something that's difficult when you've been doing research in a particular area for a while!)
Cherryblossom left a comment on my last blog post, asking about my research, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to start at the beginning and explain about the historical novel I'm working on and how it came to be.
A few years ago, I was introduced to the world of historical reenacting by homeschooling friends, who were involved in Civil War reenacting (the natural choice for people living in the South, one would think). I attended two different events--one held over by Aiken, SC, in February and one held in November at Boone Hall Plantation here in Charleston. This is much more than people playing dress-up in period costume and shooting black-powder weapons at each other, I found (although it's a great excuse for that!). These are folk with a deep love and respect for history, who desire to preserve our knowledge of certain time periods and educate others by their portrayal of a certain character or persona from the era they're reenacting.
When you walk through a camp, the reenactors are often "in character": the women are talking about the horrible war and the difficulties of having to flee the conflict, and they are busy doing various things that women of that time would have done: making soap, hand sewing, cooking over a fire. The men are busy with their gear and weapons, or lining up for drill, getting ready for the main event of the day: a pretend battle with real powder (but no shot) and real guns (wow, there's nothing like feeling the concussion of cannon fire), between men who have chosen sides between the blue (Union or "Federals") and grey (Confederates). They decide ahead of time who will win, and who will get "shot" and fall in battle ... and if you watch, you can see the fallen ones whispering to each other, and woe to anyone who accidentally chooses a fire ant hill for the place of his "demise." After the battle, all the fallen rise, and they stand in a line down the field for a touching tribute to the men who actually did fight and die in the war that split our nation. (Oh, and did you know the South has several names for the Civil War, besides the War Between the States? The War of Northern Aggression, the War for Southern Independence, the Recent Unpleasantness ...)
As you can tell, I was quite charmed by the whole thing. Oh yes, and entire families often take up the hobby--it isn't uncommon to see children in period dress running here and there in the camps. The people who do this take it very seriously, as the "kit" for getting started can cost quite a bit, and the standards for accuracy are high. (No seams that show should be by machine, for instance.)
One of the things I learned while touring the camps and talking to people was that many of them reenact "RevWar" as well as Civil War. I was further intrigued. So, when I saw advertisements for the "225th Siege of Charleston" event to be held spanning the three Ashley River plantations (Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall), I knew I had to go.
The only drawback is that they had different groups posted at different plantations: the British were at Drayton Hall, and then the American infantry and cavalry split between the other two plantations, all with different (and rather hefty) admission prices. I knew we wouldn't be able to do all of them in one day--I would be attending not just with my own 8 children (the youngest of whom was a small baby in a sling), but with my mother and sister-in-law with her three girls--so I chose Drayton Hall, because for all our years in Charleston, I hadn't visited there yet.
As I said, the British forces were camped at Drayton Hall, in honor I suppose of that being their historic headquarters during the Siege of Charleston in the spring of 1780, during the American Revolution ... not the usual choice of patriotic American spectators, I suspect. But while there, we met a very talkative young man portraying a British officer, who happily spent thirty minutes or more filling our ears about their camp and how things went for the British in the Carolinas during 1780. One thing I learned is that the term "campfollower"--though later applied to prostitutes attached to an army--originally applied to the wives and children of soldiers who traveled with their husbands and fathers, not only for personal security but for the support and care of the army. Women often worked as nurses and laundresses. And what happened to a woman whose husband was killed in battle? The young officer told us with much feeling that a widow had but three or four days to attach herself to another man in the regiment, or be left destitute.
Naturally, my writer's imagination was immediately caught by that ...
(to be continued!)

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