Friday, June 11, 2010

Ladies on the Battlefield...Final Day

...What the heck am I doing on the battlefield?

Ken says "Hey, what's this chick doing here?" (Not really. Ken's cool like that.)

As a Revolutionary War reenactress, I often am asked what I'm doing out on the battlefield. Is it accurate? Were women really present on the battlefield?

I think we've shown that, yes, they were present on the field in some circumstances, and possibly more often than they're given credit for. Women were present in military camps, and during battles ran supplies or water to the field. Some women, like "Molly Pitcher," ended up on cannon crews; others deliberately dressed as men and took the field.

However, at one of our events, our numbers and proximity to the troops is a mite greater than was likely the case historically. Our reason for being there? Safety first, kids.

To get a sense for what we do, first imagine that you're a soldier on the line. The temperature hovers somewhere around 90 degrees. You're wearing a wool coat and a black wool felt hat and carrying a musket. You're about to run onto the field. And you just do this on the weekends--weekdays you work in an air-conditioned office.

Possibility you might pass out? Yeah, it's there.

Hey, you guys go ahead and get the flag off the field. I'll deal with this load here. Seriously, I should just leave him here for the Shawnee to deal with...(The officer wasn't really passing out. Yet.)
So we ladies deploy ourselves behind the men and check each guy who falls to see if he's actually a fake casualty. Usually they are, but an ounce of prevention--moving them to the shade, getting them a drink of water--can mean a world of difference. We try to get water in everyone before they march out on the field, and again when they wrap up the battle demonstration. We have wet rags in case anyone needs a bit of extra help--nothing as glorious as a cool (not cold) wet rag to the back of the neck, or a spash of water inside a hat.

And when someone isn't doing well, the immediate assistance we can provide often means that they cool down quickly enough that transporting them to a hospital isn't required.

Basic supply? Bucket. The only way I can provide enough water is to carry a bucket--filled two-thirds of the way (to avoid sloshing, can't have my feet getting wet, you see), it's often drained by the time we're done. Secret ingredient--a handful of ice. Keeps the water just cool enough, but not so ice-cold that it turns the stomach. I also carry small pewter cups--strange how, in the eighteenth century, we don't seem to mind germs...I guess we haven't discovered them yet.

Me and my bucket--this is at Morning Troop, where we call the roll and inspect the men's kit and weapons. It's hot there, too.

I also carry a first aid kit with basic band-aids, antiseptic ointment, aspirin, gauze. My most common battlefield injury? The men cut themselves on the flints of their flintlock muskets. Not life-threatening, but it's nice to get it wrapped up before they bleed all over their uniforms.

No every reenacting organization does this--or even allows women on the field. I respect their concern with historical accuracy, and admit that the number of women on our fields can sometimes get a bit out of control. However--I also admit that I once watched from the sidelines as one man lay in the sun for nearly an hour at another organization's event, speculated that he couldn't be feeling well, and then watched as an ambulance had to be sent for to deal with his massive heat stroke.

Sometimes I help on the cannon. Sometimes I just take naps on the cannon. Being a Lady on the Battlefield is tiring!

I hope you've enjoyed this week! Anything else you'd like to know about martial ladies of the eighteenth century? There's so much more to talk about!


Kat Zhang said...

I was watching the latest BBC adaptation of Emma with my mother recently, and she kept saying "Why are they wearing so much clothes when it's so hot out? Why don't they take off their jacket? It's ridiculous!" And I was all, "Mom, they can' wouldn't be proper back"

I do imagine it was very hard to fight when you're all bundled up with heavy clothes like this! Your blue dress is very pretty (and I love the hat!)

Katy said...

:) This was great! I love reading about your reenacting experiences. I think your group does the smart thing--heatstroke is not something to be taken lightly.

Mohamed Mughal said...

Don't be so busy taking care of others that you forget about yourself. Be gentle.

dolleygurl said...

Great information. Where do you do your reinactments at?

missbluestocking said...

I found these pictures very amusing. Kept chuckling, I did. It's funny to see a single lady among military men. It was like Lady Rowenna had wandered from the drawing room, walked and walked while thinking about frocks and frills, then accidentally ended up wandering into an army of men.

brownpaperbaggirl said...

Haha, June, I had been thinking the very thing!

Rowenna, I can't wait to read what you write about next. Always interesting.

Corra McFeydon said...

Oh, I would love to be a reenactor! Great photos and great series, Rowenna. Thanks so much for sharing all this. :D


the victorian heroine

Rowenna said...

Glad you enjoyed the pics, ladies :)

Corra--you should check out living history or reenactment groups in your area--most of us are super-excited to host guests trying out the hobby!

disgruntledwriterscircle said...

Ah! So cute! I love the one of you by the cannon! I would love to do something like that :)

And of course the women are the ones who keep everything flowing smoothly ...