Reenactress Blog

Is Being Female an Anachronism?

I was planning to let this go, but yesterday one of my female military reenactor friends needed some encouragement so I decided to share this story with her. I also want other women to know there are people who support them even if not everyone in reenacting welcomes women in the ranks.

So here goes...

Earlier this summer, I experienced my first un-invitation to a reenactment event.

Our artillery unit's Captain was invited to bring our original bronze Napoleon cannon, along with the soldiers to man it, to an event in in Tennessee called Wauhatchie. This event, which is upcoming from October 27-29, 2017, is meant to be a "campaigner" event, also sometimes known as a "hardcore" event, a "progressive event," or an "immersion" event. 

At a campaigner event, reenactors sleep without tents and eat rations similar to those provided to troops during the battle in question. Reenactors are required to wear uniforms that comply with a certain standard of authenticity outlined in the event rules. The goal is to make the event immersive for participants so they can experience that "period rush" or that "Civil War moment," a feeling which supposedly eludes reenactors at more "mainstream" events with lower standards and where spectators might be present. This particular event would even involve fighting through the night.

Our Captain contacted me very excited. He thinks I perform a strong impression of a soldier, woman or not. He wanted to know if I would be interested in going with our unit as it promised to be an event like no other we had done before. I replied that I'd love to be part of it!

I put the event on my calendar, planned to ask for a few days off work, and paid my registration fee through the event website. Then I started researching updates I might need to make to my uniform. The website explained the harsh authenticity standards expected from soldiers in the artillery. I wanted to represent our unit well so our Captain could be proud of me. 

A few days after I registered, our Captain informed me that the leaders of 40 Rounds Events, the group organizing Wauhatchie, would not allow me to attend. He said they told him they were worried about my authenticity standards and my presence as a "journalist" rather than a regular, every-day reenactor.

The event organizers had asked our Captain to un-invite me. They would refund my registration fee, but they hoped the rest of the unit would still participate.

I was confused. I've never had my authenticity standards questioned before so I asked if I could provide photographs of my impression. I sent several to my Captain to forward to the folks from 40 Rounds Events. I also promised my Captain I would not bring a camera or any kind of recording equipment. I would not be a "journalist" at the event, just an artillery private like everyone else.

However, before we even had a chance to argue my case, my refund was issued, and I learned in an email the real reason I was being denied the chance to participate. Here's the email I received from a representative of 40 Rounds Events:

Note: The name of the author of this email has been redacted to protect his privacy.

Note: The name of the author of this email has been redacted to protect his privacy.

This organizer clearly laid out the policy of 40 Rounds Events. I was being un-invited because I am a woman who portrays a soldier. My gender is considered a "modern anachronism" much like wearing a wristwatch or sneakers to an event would be. Being female is not "period accurate" for portraying a Civil War soldier no matter how convincing your impression of a man might be.

40 Rounds Events didn't even ask to see pictures of my impression. Once they found out I was female, I was banned. XX chromosomes not welcome on the battlefield!

Reenacting for 40 Rounds Events is more about authenticity of genetics than it is about authenticity of appearance. Quality of performance, depth of research, accuracy of the uniform, and providing an inclusive immersion experience for participants are lower priorities.

Funnily enough, it seems I also set the standard for all future 40 Rounds Events (that take place on private property). In his email to me, the event organizer sites the following event rule: *** As always, no modern anachronisms. Female reenactors in male roles are prohibited unless specifically documented to the time and units portrayed.***

I would like to mention here that when I registered for the event, I scoured the site's rules so I could follow them to the letter, and I didn't notice this rule in a single place. This rule doesn't seem to have appeared on the 40 Rounds Events website until the organizer sent me this email. Now it appears on every page about authenticity standards.

I don't think I would have missed a rule specifically prohibiting my participation when I signed up, though I could be wrong. It does seem a little odd that the rule is printed in smaller lettering at the very bottom of those pages, though, and is the only portion of those pages with little asterisks around it. I honestly believe it was added after the fact for my personal benefit. 

Now, some folks have argued that women like me should just lie to event organizers, register under a false, male name, and show up anyway. If my impression is good enough, I should be able to pass as a man just like the real female soldiers did.

However, there are several complications involved in hiding your true identity in the modern age for an event that's supposed to be "fun." (By the way, "have fun" is listed as item #7 on the Wauhatchie event website under "Expectation Management.") The major complications if I wanted to hide my gender from the event organizers are safety and liability. You can't give a false name if you want people to be able to get you to the hospital should you get ill or injured, for example.

Since this is a private event, I also can't fight the decision of the organizers. There's no recourse for me as there would be for an event on public land like one sponsored by the National Park Service.

The only complaint I can make is that rescinding an invitation for someone to come and play with you is really in poor taste.

In the end, our Captain made the decision for me, and for the rest of our unit, regarding what we should do. He pulled our entire group (and our original cannon) from the event. The email we received from him about the decision was an appropriate response in my humble opinion.

I have also removed our Captain's name as well as the names of the other folks in our group who received this email to protect their privacy.

I have also removed our Captain's name as well as the names of the other folks in our group who received this email to protect their privacy.

I'm happy that my Captain thinks our unit is "not good enough" to participate in this event. My unit supports me, just like the units of real female Civil War soldiers Sarah Emma Edmonds (alias Frank Thompson) and Jennie Hodgers (alias Albert D.J. Cashier) did for them when their military records were questioned after the war.

As always, my comrades have my back. Female soldiers have a place in Civil War history, and female reenactors have one in our unit.

If this happens to you, I want you to know that you can find a home and have your "Civil War moment" somewhere else. You will live to fight another day!

Your humble servant,

J.R. Hardman

On the Problem of Bathrooms

On The 4th of July, two fellow female soldier reenactors invited me to the Antietam National Battlefield Park where they volunteer so we could watch the fireworks together. We witnessed the Maryland Symphony Orchestra play all sorts of patriotic songs including the 1812 Overture complete with cannon fire, which was exceptionally wonderful for all of us because we have all been “fighting” on cannon crews as reenactors for quite a while. We have a special love for the big guns!

However, during our several-hour visit to the park, I did end up having to use the facilities to relieve myself as it was extremely hot and I had been drinking tons of water all day. It was on our visit to the restroom in that battlefield park, that one of my fellow ladies in arms informed me that the lavatory we were visiting was THE “Lauren Cook Memorial Bathroom!” Well, it’s not really called that, but that was their nickname for it.

I observed that the LCMB was completely non-descript, not much to notice at all. There was no plaque out in front denoting a special honor, and there were no features that could have distinguished the room from any other ladies’ room one might visit. However, because I know the history of that park and of Lauren Cook’s rather infamous trip to that bathroom, I still found it to be one of the most exciting trips to the toilet I have ever taken in my life!

Let me explain this history to you so you can also understand the sheer importance of that bathroom. Lauren Cook Wike (formerly Lauren Cook Burgess) was a female reenactor who portrayed a soldier, just like me! In 1989, she visited the Antietam Battlefield Park with her unit to perform in a living history program where she was to play a wounded soldier.  Everything seemed to be going fine for her and the unit until Lauren had to use the bathroom. She entered the ladies’ room in her male uniform attire, and upon exiting, she was confronted by a park ranger who told her that she had to leave. Why? Well, they didn’t allow female reenactors in uniform at their park.

Ms. Cook ended up fighting and winning a lawsuit on the basis of gender discrimination because she didn’t want to be removed from future events just because she was a woman. She knew that several women fought in the Civil War battle that took place at that very park! She also loved that park, and when I spoke to her she made it very clear that she did NOT want to say any disparaging remarks about one of her favorite battlefields. After visiting there, I can agree. The Antietam Battlefield is richly historic and also gorgeous!

Winning that lawsuit, however, completetly changed reenacting for the rest of us women! It forced the Park Service to create new regulations that would allow women to reenact as soldiers in any events on public land or open to spectators. That’s why that bathroom is so important to me. What happened there made Ms. Cook take a stand for female reenactors everywhere!

Now that you know the history, though, let me tell you, it’s still a very non-descript bathroom. I was pretty shocked after going inside how normal it was. It was almost disappointing. I don’t know why, but I was expecting fanfare of some kind, fireworks like there were outside. Maybe there SHOULD be a plaque!

But that bathroom is not where the problem of bathrooms for female reenactors trying to portray soldiers ends, oh no!

Another problem that affects women in military reenacting is that people seem to take issue with women urinating outside, which is not as big of a problem for men. At an event in Florida, I once heard a soldier yell, “Okay, guys, go water the trees before battle!” I was really confused until I saw a bunch of the guys take a few steps out behind the trees to go pee.

However, since I can’t pee standing up or without exposing my nether regions, if I wanted to “water the trees,” I’d need a device to prevent my trousers from getting soaked through. FYI, there IS a device to do that, there’s more than one actually. Two “popular” brands include the GoGirl and the Shewee. Basically, these devices are just urine funnels. Trust me, the user reviews are hilariously excellent. You should check them out on YouTube!

I’ve always thought about getting one of those to really try to pull off the “I’m a man” thing at reenactments, but most of them come in a very feminine pink or purple color. Way to make it obvious, device manufacturers!

Is there always going to be one thing that separates the women from the men? How am I supposed to be really convincing if I can’t even pee like everyone else? And what am I supposed to do when we’re in the middle of the woods with no toilet, no port-a-potty, and no really, really big trees around when I really have to go?

All of these questions got me to thinking: What would women have done about bodily functions back in Victorian times if they were trying to pass as men? How would they be discreet enough to never have to pee around anyone else, especially when everyone is camped out together? From my research, I’ve come to understand that people were more modest back then than they are now so they didn’t tend to urinate in “public” as often. I’ve been told it would have been relatively easy for a man to claim he was uncomfortable peeing with the guys, and just go off in the woods to do it by himself. A woman passing as a man probably could have gone off into the woods to urinate alone, relieving her of more than her need to pee.

I guess the point of all this is that the ideas we explore as reenactors, we might never think about if we didn’t have to experience at least somewhat of a similar situation to the real people who lived in the 1800’s.

But then I thought, there are people out there today that experience these problems with gender-divided bathrooms on a day-to-day basis: transgendered people and intersex people! This issue is more current than ever RIGHT NOW!

At an event in small-town Pennsylvania, I surprised a woman in a bathroom when she saw me in my uniform, assumed I was a man, and promptly freaked out that she might be in the wrong bathroom. I know that passing as a man when I’m in uniform is the idea, but I found I could easily explain to her in my feminine-sounding voice that, no, she wasn’t confused, I’m really a woman, and she was in the correct bathroom for her. We even laughed together about it afterward, and it started a short conversation about women disguising themselves as soldiers during the real Civil War, turning an awkward moment into a teaching moment!

However, if I were a transman forced to use the women’s restroom like some transmen in certain states might be if laws are passed requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth, this wouldn’t be so funny. I might have to explain to a complete stranger that although I present myself as a man and am recognized as a man, I was assigned a different gender at birth. I might have to lie and tell someone that I’m female to assuage their fears but deny myself and my identity. This wouldn’t be awkward but funny; it would probably be awkward and demeaning. In certain cases, I might just wait until I could go to the bathroom alone so as not to have to deal with the issue all together, which might be awful for my sense of self-worth as well as my bladder.

You should check out the hashtag #weneedtopee for info on a protest being conducted by transgender activist, Michael Hughes, that discusses this issue in a very easy-to-understand way.

All in all, the problem of bathrooms pervades history. We hope to explore it thoroughly in the Reenactress movie, and we hope you can’t wait to see what we discover.

Stay tuned!

And We'll Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys...

"The Battle Cry of Freedom" is a song about a Nation rallying around a flag that represented their idea of what freedom could mean for their people. Interestingly, this song has two different versions with different lyrics, one for the United States of America and one for the Confederate States of America so it's actually about two Nations rallying around flags. The U.S. version is about "rallying 'round" the "Stars and Stripes" American Flag that we all know and love to help bring about the end to slavery and to reunite the country into a whole, and the C.S. version is about "rallying 'round" a different flag, some version of the Confederate flag, though the song does not specify which one, to attain freedom from tyranny and demonstrate a love of localized homeland and family. It's the same tune, roughly the same song, but with two different meanings about two different flags. I think this song is a great example for us to look to when thinking about the recent events concerning the Confederate Battle Flag and how we are gathered around it as a Nation "once again" much like it says in the song.

I have been refraining from specifically commenting on the topic of what's to be done with the Confederate Battle Flag for the last few days because I wasn't sure how my feelings would be received or whether it was appropriate to join this highly politicized conversation in the wake of the heinous act of racist domestic terrorism committed in South Carolina a week ago. However, I feel that as a reenactor who has been trying to represent history, sometimes under the banner of the battle flags of the Army of Tennessee or Army of Northern Virginia (also widely recognized as the Confederate Battle Flag), I have developed a somewhat unique perspective on that Flag, and I hope it is not disrespectful to those who have lost their lives or their loved ones to express it at this sadly relevant time.

I have formed my opinion based on conversations I have had with many people who avidly display the Battle Flag to represent their heritage and to teach history, people I greatly respect, and many people who recognize it as a racist symbol of a regime of slavery, a culture of segregation, and a feeling of hatred against African Americans, people I also greatly respect.

While the Confederate Battle Flag may not have been be inherently racist from its onset, denying the fact that it represents racism to a gigantic percentage of the United States' population in the present day would, in my opinion, be naive at best, and possibly even cruel, at worst. I generally feel that for that reason, it's probably best to take it down from public buildings. However, in the light of the Battle Flag being banned as an outright racist symbol from being sold by retailers like Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Sears, I began to worry that this delicate situation is being handled with a hack saw instead of the scalpel it probably deserves.

My basic point rests on this idea: Context makes a huge difference in the interpretation of words and symbols. The Confederate Battle Flag or Southern Cross is a symbol inbued with all sorts of meaning, and the meaning is influenced by the context in which it appears. I believe we need to recognize the nuances of our language and then speak and act accordingly when we use words and symbols like the Confederate Battle Flag.

I'd like to give a few example of other words and symbols with ambiguous meanings that, taken out of context, can be very offensive and hurtful. For example, in England the word "fag" often refers to a cigarette, but I doubt an English person would go around asking people for a "fag" in the United States, especially in the company of homosexual people. They would recognize that the word "fag" refers to not only to cigarettes, but also to homosexuals depending on the context of the word. It would not the best word to use out of an appropriate British context because, in America, that word is more often a derogatory term used to negatively represent gay people rather than a word used to ask for a smoke. Similarly, the swastika has come to be viewed as a symbol of hatred and antisemitism in Germany (and most other western nations affected by World War II) due to the Nazi party's use of that symbol, but in India and many other parts of Asia where they practice Buddhism and Hinduism, the swastika represents good fortune. It would be appropriate to use the swastika as a positive symbol in a Buddhist temple in China without people thinking as much about Nazis, but it would not be appropriate to use that same symbol in a synagogue in Munich. We know how people in that synagogue would feel; they would feel bad because they would feel hated. This clash in meaning of the swastika symbol came to a head at one Buddhist temple in Southern California, and it was local Jewish leaders who came to the temple's defense in continuing the use of the symbol. It takes being educated on all the history of these words and symbols to recognize what they would mean in a specific context.

In this same way, I recognize that the Battle Flag represents Southern Heritage and Civil War history to many people, and I don't think those people are wrong to see that meaning in the Flag. It represents the memory of their ancestors who fought and died for a cause, even if it was a lost cause, or a cause that was racked with a desire by many to keep black slaves in bondage to preserve the economic status quo. At the time of the Civil War, the Battle Flag also represented the rights of States to govern themselves and to try to prevent a tyrannical government from ignoring their concerns, even if their concerns did encompass keeping slaves. Following the Civil War, it came to represent the Daughters and Sons of Confederate Veterans, those women and men who lost their fathers, grandfathers, brothers, and husbands (and also some female relatives) to the Civil War on the C.S.A. side. And it has also come to represent a nostalgia for an idealized Southern Americana, which many people choose to subscribe to because it makes them feel good about their homeland and proud of their heritage. But the ideal Southern Pride can never fully exist because it is tainted by slavery, racism, and oppression of minority groups, which is also part of the history of the South, and America as a whole. The Battle Flag represents many good things to many good and decent people, and I would venture to say that most of them want to use it to show those feelings without being considered racists. The problem is that they seem to ignore the other part of the Flag's history.

At the same time the Flag represents history and heritage, it ALSO symbolizes outright racism - pure, simple, and undiluted hate - to many other good and decent people due to its use for a regime that in a large part existed to uphold human bondage as well as its appropriation by racist groups following the Civil War and up-to-and-including during the present day. The Battle Flag's Civil War history is not it's only history. It was also used by the Dixiecrats in the 1940's and 1950's to rally segregationists against integration of schools, public transportation, bathroom facilities, the military, and almost every other aspect of society. It has been used by the KKK and other white supremacist groups as a symbol of the subjugation of non-white people as well as a calling card for violent acts committed against blacks, Jews, Hispanics and other minority groups. Most recently, a white man, who (allegedly) committed terrible acts of murder against an innocent group of church-goers in the city of Charleston, displayed the Battle Flag on his car to demonstrate his racist views.

The tricky thing about language and communication is that words and symbols can, and often do, have more than one meaning at the exact same time! The Battle Flag symbolizes all of those things, and much more, simultaneously! Because of that ambiguous meaning, I believe that people who choose to fly the flag should pay special attention to the context in which they are using it so it may be less likely to be misinterpreted. I think that would be the first step in the right direction.

I understand that this could mean self-censoring and restricting the use of the Flag only to appropriate venues, which I know could be considered a violation of free speech if we legally mandate that the Flag not be used at certain times or in certain places. I adamantly support free speech, even in cases where I also adamantly disagree with with the speech being made, which is why I do not support passing laws restricting the use of the Battle Flag in all situations. Rather, I would hope that we, as a society, would be able to use our common sense and empathy for others to make decisions about when the use of the Battle Flag is appropriate versus when it is not based on the context of its use.

In a place where people of all races are meant to feel comfortable and like they have equal access to justice and representation (like in front of a State Capitol building), I feel that it is currently quite inappropriate to fly the Battle Flag because it reminds so many of those people of the history of racism in the United States rather than a sacrifice of their ancestors or a symbol of their Southern Pride.

However, at a Civil War museum, reenactment, Sons or Daughters of Confederate Veterans meeting, in a history book, on the grave of a Confederate soldier, etc., the context of the symbol may be enough for people to also associate the Flag with Southern Heritage or historical reverence rather than completely with racism, which could make all the difference in the way it makes someone feel who might happen on the flag in that setting. A person viewing the Flag at a museum might say to himself or herself, "This Flag is here because it is demonstrating history or honoring Americans who fought bravely and died, even if for a lost Cause," rather than, "This Flag is here because people either don’t recognize that it makes me feel awful or consciously don't care about my feelings."

After 150 years trying to recover from our Civil War and an even longer history of racial unrest in our Nation, I think now is a fine time for us to openly discuss the context of the Battle Flag and when it might be appropriate and when it might not be appropriate to display it. Then we can make an informed decision based on our knowledge and understanding of the complexity of how the Flag is interpreted in different settings and stop using it where it will make people feel unwanted or afraid, especially if that's not how we want them to have to feel.

I believe is important for people who are suffering to be loved and supported by their community, especially at a time when their suffering has been magnified by the cruelty of others. I feel that it would be prudent to use the Battle Flag more judiciously if that could alleviate some of their suffering.

I think that would probably mean we take the Flag down in front of State Capitols, but maybe leave it up in front of Civil War history museums and places where its meaning is less likely to manifest purely racist sentiment. Taking the Battle Flag down from the Capitol building in South Carolina could at least be a way for our community to show good faith and solidarity toward those members that are constantly suffering the treacherous effects of racism.

With all that said, I also feel that one way in which our culture is currently using a hack saw to solve this problem instead of scalpel is by outright banning the sale of all objects displaying the Battle Flag in public market places like on Amazon or eBay. I recently saw a post on Facebook from a man who had written a book on the Civil War in the state of Virginia talking about how his book, which showed the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia on its cover, is no longer being sold on Amazon because of the use of that flag. This book is a history book. It has the Battle Flag on it for an extremely relevant reason. It's not a book promoting hate, but a book trying to educate people about a specific historical time period that actually happened. When we go as far as to try to erase history or censor someone from selling their history book, which contains their free speech, especially speech that does not advocate hate or violence, I believe we go too far. Whatever algorithm has been set up by Amazon to remove all uses of the Battle Flag, even on book covers, is far too over-reaching. I'm hoping Amazon is able to send in their real human employees after the algorithm to correct these types of censorship errors, and I'm hoping that real human beings are able to sort out complexities in a way that robots cannot.

I must also confess that the fact that I am currently making a film as a living historian on the Civil War does complicate my opinion on this matter. It's inconvenient for me that the Confederate Battle Flag, which appears in much of my footage and photographs because it is used in the historical recreations and reenactments I participate in, would be categorically banned. From a purely personal standpoint, I have always felt somewhat uncomfortable portraying a Confederate soldier and "fighting" under that Flag for at least a few reasons: 1) I'm a Northerner, and I don't actually feel that much "Southern Pride," 2) My entire family arrived in the Untied States in the 1900's, so I probably don't have any ancestors that fought in the Civil War on either side, and 3) I'd like to think I'm not a racist, and I'd like other people to think that same thing about me. But, honestly, I need to show Confederate Flags to do my hobby, a hobby I, and other women like me, have fought hard to be a part of and have endured everything from basic awkwardness to purposeful discrimination in that fight. I need to show the Confederate Flag to at least somewhat accurately portray a part of history to an audience. I need to show the Confederate Flag to make the film that I am trying to make about the topic I'm trying to make it on. If websites like Amazon make it so I can't distribute my movie because the Confederate Battle Flag might appear on the DVD case, that would make it much more difficult for me to get my movie out there. It would also make it really difficult to sell merchandise featuring actual elements of the movie. Like I mentioned above, I also have relationships with people who are what you might call "flaggers," and I hope to continue being friends with many of them. And, on top of it all, I sometimes enjoy portraying a Confederate soldier because I find their history interesting, and I want to learn about it, understand it, and represent it accurately so other people can understand it, too. So I must acknowledge that, I have a very vested interest in preventing the blanket censorship of the Confederate Battle Flag with no regard for its context, and I hope that this hack saw ban from retailers stops and gradually adjusts to incorporate more nuance.

While #TakeItDownFromCertainInappropriatePlaces isn't nearly as catchy as #TakeItDown and #LeaveItUpWhereItsBeingUsedMoresoToPortrayHistoryAndMightBePerceivedLessAsBeingBlatantalyRacist isn't as committed as #LeaveItUp, what my opinion on the Battle Flag boils down to is that my opinion can't be boiled down as easily as one might hope for an Internet meme. But, I don't think this situation should be boiled down in that way. Taking the Battle Flag down isn't going to extricate the centuries of racism that have pervaded our culture. It's not going to be that easy. 

It's totally possible that I just wasted an hour of my time and yours writing this post on a red herring that is the Battle Flag when we could have been using that time to think of ways to improve the situation of institutionalized and overt racism, which seems to me like the real problem.

Anyway, I understand that just because this is my opinion, that it isn't the only opinion, and it may not be a perfectly correct opinion. I reserve the right to adjust my opinion based on feedback or to reformulate it all together based on new, better information. I anticipate that there will be people who will disagree with my desire to remove the Battle Flag from inappropriate venues where it would signify racism more clearly than history or heritage. I anticipate that there will be people who disagree with my desire to retain the Battle Flag in what I deem to be more appropriate venues where I would hope that people would be able to appreciate the meaning it held during the Civil War, the meaning it still holds for Southerners who may have lost an ancestor in that war, and the meaning for historians who are trying to show people a truth about our past, regardless of how sordid that past may be.

I'm interested to hear the opinions of others, and to keep this dialog open. I think we might all be better off both talking about it and also listening about it before we move forward.


Upcoming Crowdfunding Campaign

Last weekend at the 151st Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Resaca in Resaca, GA, our amazing cinematographer, O.K. Keyes, and I were hard at work shooting a video for our upcoming crowdfunding campaign, which is scheduled for launch this JULY! That's less than 2 months away, which means we have a ton of work to do.

In order to make Reenactress a reality, we are planning to raise a considerable amount of funds for gear and equipment. For example, we would like to buy or rent a drone to produce high-quality arial footage of battle scenes. We also want to hire several additional crew members for the film including a sound recordist to help improve the audio recordings of our interviews and scenes, a composer to work on creating a period-themed score for the film as well as musicians to record that score, and a professional editor to help us craft the complete story. We also want to attend more reenactment events add more interviews of some amazing women to make sure that Reenactress portrays a well-rounded viewpoint about women soldiers and women in the ranks. In order to capture everything we need, for example a visit to Chalmette National Cemetery in near New Orleans, LA, where Rosetta Wakeman (aka Lyons Wakeman) is buried, will require funding for travel and accommodations.

I am working with one of our new producers, Jacob Brumfield, who is putting together a complete budget so we can have a better idea of how much everything is going to cost and how much funding we will need.

We are also coming up with a PR campaign for our online fundraiser to make sure to get the word out to as many people as possible so that anyone who would like to be a part of making this film happen can get involved. We are in search of any news outlets or blogs who would like to feature our project and help us spread our message.

On Tuesday, I also met with a good friend who is a visual artist and graphic designer, and she is working on coming up with some designs for our campaign rewards, which we hope will include cool things like an official Reenactress poster as well as t-shirts and tote bags.

If you have any suggestions or want to help, you can comment here or email me at

With your help, we can make this dream come true! Thanks in advance!


Meeting a Pioneer

This past Sunday we had the fantastic opportunity to meet a very inspiring woman, Lauren Cook Wike.

For all of the women reenactors who don't know about her, Ms. Cook Wike made it possible for women to participate fully in reenacting as soldiers by filing a lawsuit against the National Park Service when she was barred from a reenactment in the late 1980s. At that time, women weren't allowed to reenact as soldiers because it was considered an extremely oddball occurrence, so Lauren was portraying a soldier in secret (just like the real women soldiers!) until she accidentally revealed herself by using the women's restroom while still in uniform. Lauren was told she couldn't return to the battlefield if she intended to reenact as a man. Lauren won her lawsuit on the basis of sex discrimination for being barred because of her gender. However, when I spoke to her, I found out that the most important reason she filed the lawsuit was so that women like her could represent the real female soldiers who hid their identities during the Civil War. She felt that for a reenactment to be authentic, women soldiers should be represented because they really existed, really fought in battles, and many times really gave the full measure of devotion by dying for their country and their cause. Excluding the representation of women soldiers would be denying their genuine contributions to the war!

Moreover, it turned out that without the lawsuit, Lauren would never have been contacted by the descendants of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, one of the real women soldiers, who at the time, was unknown to the general public. Rosetta Wakeman's letters home to her family as well as a daguerreotype of her likeness had just been sitting in the family's attic since the Civil War. Because of the publicity from Lauren's lawsuit, the family contacted her and intrusted her with Rosetta's letters. Lauren was able to compile them into a book, An Uncommon Soldier, which was published in 1996. Rosetta's letters are the only known collection of correspondence from a female soldier home.

Compiling the letters for An Uncommon Soldier was a long, complex undertaking, but it led Lauren to the National Archives, where she met DeAnne Blanton, her future co-author for the book They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. Together, they conducted the first comprehensive research on women soldiers, preserving their histories for future generations.

Meeting Lauren was one of the best experiences I've had while working on this project. She shared so many incredible stories about her time as a reenactor. She also cleared up a lot of my questions about her lawsuit and the motivations behind it. I can't wait to share this interview in Lauren's own words with the world in this documentary. She is a true pioneer for women reenactors and historians on female military history!

Victory at Gettysburg!

We fought on both sides: Confederates during the Blue Gray Alliance Reenactment on June 28-30th and Union during the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee Event the following weekend, July 7-9th. We shot enough new footage to have to buy a new hard drive! We'll be looking through it over the next couple of weeks to put together a short Pitch Tape for the feature-length project.

The events were extremely intense with 1-3 battles each day, rain or shine. Some days had temperatures in the upper 90s with almost 100% humidity. We spent time holding down our tents under strong winds and getting completely drenched in the rain in our wool uniforms. Several reenactors went down with the heat during the events, and we heard that many spectators had to be hospitalized with dehydration and heat exhaustion.

However, even though the 150th Anniversary Reenactments of the Battle of Gettysburg brought many difficulties and challenges, they proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that taught us more in two weekends than we may have been able to learn in years of study.

We made lots of excellent new friends including a civilian reenactress of Japanese descent, a really fascinating young woman who works in her non-reenacting time as a volunteer firefighter, and several other filmmakers, reporters and photojournalists who were working on other projects documenting Gettysburg. I was interviewed for an article in the York Daily Record/Sunday News as well as for a non-fiction book. The 6th New York was followed by a female photojournalist from Bucks County, PA, who was imbedded with our unit for two days of battle. The Reenactress Facebook and Twitter were both buzzing during the week, and we gained a ton of new followers and posted dozens of photos.

We toured the historic Gettysburg battlefield site and took pictures near the monuments that memorialize the actual 53rd Georgia Infantry Unit that we portrayed on the field.  We also visited the Gettysburg National Military Park and museum, run by the same National Park Service that got sued and lost for kicking a female reenactor off the field back in the early 1990s.

We're newly motivated to review all of the footage we shot and to be posting more information about our experiences as female reenactors in Gettysburg to share with the world. The whole adventure proved to be extremely inspiring and character-building for both Keyes and myself, and we're excited to continue on the journey of bringing the documentary film, Reenactress, to life!

Stay tuned to this space!

J.R. Hardman (Reenactress Director)

Leaving tomorrow for Gettysburg!

Keyes and I are off to Gettysburg tomorrow. I'll be leaving Atlanta promptly at 9:00am (well, hopefully promptly). Then we drive for about 12-13 hours until we get there, put up our tent, and get ready for the 150th Anniversary Battle Reenactments. The weather forecast says it's going to rain the whole time, but hopefully that will mean it's not too hot. Last year it was about 105 degrees, and that was literally too hot to handle. Stay tuned for more posts. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter! Most of the updates will probably be coming from there.