Our summer’s big family vacation took the nerd route into history this year. We packed up our family, my brother's family, and my parents and we all took one big convoy up to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. We stayed for a week and participated in a lot of the living history presentations that the National Park Service put on during the battle days.
Some of us have always felt like we were born in the wrong time period. For example, while growing up, I always imagined myself to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sadly, my childhood fantasy of finding out I really was her in a past life was crushed last year when we went to her homestead in Missouri and it didn’t look at all familiar to me. I joke, but really I’ve always loved an earlier time period.
Once in Gettysburg this summer, we first mapped out all of our battlefield tours, living history talks by the National Park Service Rangers, stops at Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard, the High Water Mark, battlefield hospitals, and so much more. We also participated in a march across the battlefield at the exact same time that General Pickett led the charge 150 years before.
(In the photos above, the 5 cousins are standing in the Union Camp, underneath the most amazingly vivid double rainbow any of us has ever seen! Every reenactor broke tradition and whipped out cell phone cameras for this photo opportunity. Next, they stood overlooking the battlefield from Little Round Top while standing beside a statue of Colonel Chamberlain. In the last, Cameron is picking wildflowers on the battlefield before Pickett's Charge Commemorative March.)
Aside from the history and experiences on the battlefield, we were immediately enamored with the lovely period clothes, the people playing their period parts, and the whole feeling of "ladies" and "gentlemen" that was everywhere we turned. My husband, knowing our feelings and being the good Southerner he is, decided to help us all buy authentic, hand-sewn, period-correct clothing while we were there.
Actually, Kacy started it. The girls had all saved money for a year, to take on our Gettysburg trip to buy something. Upon arrival Kacy announced, "I want one of those pretty dresses." We were okay with this. Heck, we were ecstatic! It has always been our rule that if the girls want to purchase something on a trip, they can only purchase something that:
- Pertains to the area / event / significance of whatever we are there to see or do
- Is made in the USA or, if possible, made locally by people in the community
- Is not junk, but has a long-lasting purpose and reason behind the purchase
Kacy definitely made this one an easy, "Yes!" from us. We found several shops on the main street in Gettysburg, but one shop in particular seemed to beckon to us, the Gettysburg Emporium. The dresses in the front window caught Kacy’s eye the first day. She had swooned over them for a couple days, each time we rode past, until finally we stopped and went in. We were immediately welcomed by the lovely ladies running the shop. They were smitten with the manners and enthusiasm of our girls. In turn, we were completely in love with their Civil War knowledge and sense of style. Lucky for us, Miss Eileen, the owner, knew exactly what Kacy needed and had the perfect dress to fit her. Kacy wanted a full dress, indicative of the adult ladies, but Miss Eileen informed her that at only 9 or 10 years of age, a girl was still a girl, so a girl Kacy will remain until she’s a little older. Her dress is beautiful and youthful and vibrant, just like my brown-eyed girl.
Storm, on the other hand, is marrying age, according to etiquette of the 1860’s. Tradd nearly passed out at that suggestion, but at the cost of her violin lessons and gas to get her there, I just might be willing to marry her off to a wealthy suitor. Just kidding! After Miss Eileen and her assistants were finished fussing over Storm’s attire, she looked quite the lady and completely marriageable. Yikes!
Storm has a radiance about her that glows like an ember when she dons her Civil War dress though. Women back then were obviously much more covered than they are today. They wore long dresses, lace-up shoes with high socks, long sleeves, and high collars. There was no cleavage showing, no skin to gawk at, no toenails to be polished, no booty shorts with cheeks peeking out, no stomachs flapping in the breeze like a banner screaming, “Take Me: I’m Available and Don’t Value Myself Enough to Cover Up!”
As Storm creeps into her teenage years, I notice an internal struggle over body image issues. She’s not a skinny girl. She couldn’t be scrawny even if she starved herself to death. What Storm has is pure muscle, feminine curves, wit, intelligence, an admitted love affair with dark chocolate, a gifted talent on violin, and haunting eyes that will someday bare her soul to the worthy individual willing to be taken in by their power. In the dress of the 1860’s, Storm is freed from societal pressures of modern teenage girlhood. She has curves that were coveted by most. She has poise, dignity and pride in her Southern heritage. She carries herself with a confidence rare to young ladies these days. Most especially, she loves who she is in the dress. She almost feels like she is from that time period.
While it is easy to see how Storm is more comfortable in this setting, what I found ironic about her comments and behavior while wearing the dress was that she wished more men were like the men of that time period as well: polite, well-mannered, tame-tongued, hat-tippers that they were. I didn’t understand until I allowed Miss Eileen to play the part of my Fairy Godmother and dress me all up in a gorgeous new blue dress of her own design. Even though it is not a ball-gown or uber fancy, I felt like a lady; not just a woman, but a lady. People stopped and gawked at us. Tourists took photos of us. A group of Chinese business men paused in a museum to take pictures with Storm, thinking she was part of the museum’s staff.
The attention was kind of comical, since we’re most definitely not used to it. But the entire experience was a wonderful lesson in history, humility, self-image, and manners. It’s not likely that we would have experienced these things so fully in any other way. Thanks to Miss Eileen and her wonderful assistants at the Gettysburg Emporium however, we now have most everything we need as we embark on another chapter of our family adventure and regularly attend Civil War reenactments and living history exhibits.
If you want to follow our adventures, I know I’ll have more to write soon. Tradd just joined a local chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans last night and the girls and I will be joining the wives and families in the group they are part of, the Order of Confederate Rose. The Battle of Chickamauga is in Georgia in late September and we will definitely be there!