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Confederate reenactors at the Battle for Broxton Bridge.
Confederate reenactors at the Battle for Broxton Bridge.

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War, All Dressed Up

On the front lines of the reenactment movement

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I was late and underdressed for church on Sunday. A group of behoopskirted women, their bonnets rustling in the wind, were already tending to their Bibles when I rolled up to the service in dusty sneakers and the T-shirt I'd worn the day before.

I attempted deference, like a real Southern lady would, as I scanned the camp area surrounding the preacher's tent. I found an open seat on the dirt beneath an oak tree. A captain, gentleman that he was, saw me on the ground and offered up his chair. I tried, and failed, to protest as the preacher carried on.

"We're out here to do what we did 150 years ago," the preacher said underneath what looked like 10 pounds of robe. "We're going to go straight into the word of God, and I try never to get up here and say or do anything that I don't believe in that's not of God. Amen."

He then launched into a sermon so free of modern colloquialism or progressive Biblical interpretation that it sounded like it might have been delivered at a Baptist church 150 years ago. That was the point. On a table beside him, the preacher had Xeroxed copies of Christian tracts that were originally passed out to Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. I took notes on a Victorian era pamphlet entitled "HOW TO BE SAVED," penned by the honorable Reverend H. C. Hornady, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta around 1864.

The most stirring tale the preacher delivered was one about Jesus, of course, and the woman in the dirt. Trying to catch Jesus doing wrong, the Pharisees brought him a woman who had been caught committing adultery. According to the Law of Moses, a woman found guilty of such should be stoned to death; if Jesus refused to uphold the Law of Moses to save this woman's life, the Pharisees could accuse him of breaking the law too. But when the woman came to him, Jesus looked down and wrote something in the dirt. When he looked up, he addressed them all: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

I listened intently. I don't go to church much, particularly not faithful recreations of Baptist services at Civil War reenactments, but there I was, just another woman in the dirt.

A Confederate flag waved with a syrupy Southern languidness in the background of the church service. Dozens did. I was at a weekend-long reenactment of the Battle for Broxton Bridge in Ehrhardt, South Carolina, and I saw them everywhere: hanging off the funnel cake and elephant ear concession truck, shellacked onto the sides of luxury RVs hunkered down in the forest preserve, on the shirts of truth-seekers at the Confederate lineage tracking tent, emblazoned on the poster-board marquee advertising a pistol raffle, affixed to a flagpole the reenactors carried into battle. Everywhere.

Reminders of antebellum America are everywhere, dressed up as policy or institution or mass culture.

For any sanctimonious Yankee like myself, the sight of a Confederate flag is jarring. Ehrhardt is only 70 miles from Charleston, where Dylann Roof murdered nine people at Emanuel A.M.E, a historically black church, in a racially-motivated killing spree last June. In photos that surfaced after the massacre, Roof poses with Confederate flags in his bedroom and in a yard. In one photo, he stands outside a Confederate history museum. In another, taken on a trip to Sullivan's Island, where about 40 percent of slaves landed after arriving in America, he has scrawled the white supremacist code "1488" in the sand.

Not even a year ago, South Carolina became the epicenter of the country's debate over the Confederate flag. Governor Nikki Haley mandated its removal from the South Carolina State House. She deemed the flag permissible on private property, but asserted the state's relationship with the flag was too devastating to keep it waving on public buildings. "On matters of race, South Carolina has had a tough history; we all know that. Many of us have seen it in our lives, in the lives of our parents and grandparents," she said. "We don't need reminders."

But reminders of antebellum America are everywhere, dressed up as policy or institution or mass culture. That weekend at Broxton Bridge, as most weekends around the South, those reminders can be literally dressed up as Confederate reenactors.

Historically speaking, the Battle for Broxton Bridge is not a particularly memorable battle. One hundred and fifty-one Februarys ago, General Sherman's Northern army left Savannah and fought for the bridge. It was a smallish skirmish, one of the defensive efforts leading up to the capture and burning of Columbia, South Carolina. The event is far smaller than your Gettysburg reenactments up north, for example, or your Battle of Fredericksburg reenactments in Virginia. It's more intimate too.

The reenactment of the Battle for Broxton Bridge is broken into two parts —€” an hour on Saturday; its stunning and pre-planned conclusion on Sunday —€” but from what I could observe, the actual battle isn't even half of the event's appeal for regular reenactors. It's about playing dress up with friends. It's about shopping for authentically replicated buttons and canteens. It's about wearing your Southern pride on your sleeve by wearing epaulettes on your shoulders.

If you're part of a certain subset of reenactors, it's also about drinking apple pie moonshine and talking about how you lost all respect for documentarian Ken Burns for claiming Abraham Lincoln as his hero on the PBS show Finding Your Roots. This anecdote comes courtesy of a Confederate reenactor who had been made to switch uniforms and impersonate a Federal (or Union) soldier for the day. At reenactments in the South, there often aren't enough Yankees for a fair fight. Confederates have to keep blue uniforms handy and take turns portraying the other side.

Dressing up as a group in a group is common, in psychological terms. It doesn't just happen at places like ComicCon or at themed costume parties; think about the human messes you might know who put on suits and business casual sweater sets once the work week starts. Dressing up can be a form of self-care, or it can foster a detachment that allows someone to melt into a crowd working collectively toward a greater goal.

Dr. Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist in Chicago who has written about the psychology of dressing up, believes costuming also reflects our "shadow selves." "Dressing up allows you to take on the attributes of the character you are representing," said Marter. "Sometimes we may unwittingly choose to dress as characters who have traits that we unconsciously repress into our ‘shadow' side."

This is not to say that those who choose to put on Confederate uniforms in 2016 necessarily have latent interest in white supremacy, segregation, enslavement, or any other principle the Confederate flag has stood for. But for reenactors, putting on a Confederate uniform might very well allow the wearer to return to a past where life was "simpler," which is a way of saying less concerned with political correctness and inclusion. Or maybe the wearer just wants to feel like an underdog hero.

The trouble is that the romanticized past was only great for a certain elite set, white and wealthy. The Confederate uniform might be a heritage symbol for a particular population, but to many more, it's a reminder of a traumatic history that continues to inform racial inequality and violence.

"Dressing up as a witch probably does not mean somebody actually wants to be a witch, whereas dressing up as a Confederate soldier is less clear," said Marter. "It's a slippery slope because even if somebody believes they are doing it in good fun, there are people who still share the dangerous beliefs of the Confederates and will see dressing up as somehow validating or even glorifying that belief system."

At the Battle for Broxton Bridge, I spent three days with the 53rd Georgia Infantry Company K, a reenacting unit of the Georgia Volunteer Battalion. As one might assume, a majority of reenactors in Company K and at the Battle for Broxton Bridge were middle-aged (or older), white, and male. But there were plenty of others who did not fit this mold.

I met my fair share of teenagers in gray uniforms that swallowed their slight shoulders with excess fabric, but exposed three inches of lily-white ankle.

I spoke to a lot of young people who found this hobby early through their parents, who had dragged them along to reenactments every other weekend growing up. I met my fair share of teenagers in gray uniforms that swallowed their slight shoulders with excess fabric, but exposed three inches of lily-white ankle. I saw elementary school-aged kids doing impressions of drummer boys, and pint-sized reenactors even younger than that —€” not yet ready for battle, but dressed for it nonetheless.

During my time with the 53rd Georgia Infantry, the unit humored me, fed me, and showed me how to clean my rifle. (I don't own a rifle.) The settler camp where the reenactors slept was set deep in the forest and replete with crackling firewood and pup tents. A group of Confederate soldiers forced to defect to the Federal camp offered me Civil War-appropriate liver mash on a biscuit, which I ate to be polite. Mainstream groups like the 53rd Georgia camp also offered portable space heaters, digital SLR cameras, and Red Velvet Oreos.

The 53rd Georgia is a family-centric unit, and I hung out with reenactors, their babies, and their wives. Most of the women who participate in reenactments impersonate army spouses in practical, muted camp dresses, though they still incorporated corsets and hoopskirts. Women get to have a more elaborate go at finding an authentic Civil War style than men. Male reenactors are more or less stuck with the same colors and patterns thanks to their fairly standard military-issued uniforms, which varied during the war and still do now depending on class standing and unit; many buy their uniforms from companies like The Regimental Quartermaster, which is run out of Gettysburg. Women impersonating women, however, can personalize.

Practical outfits with buttoned bodices and full skirts are available from specific online retailers, like Abraham's Lady, or from sutlers like Rum Creek (sutlers, historically, were those not formally associated with the army who sold provisions to troops) that set up booths at reenactments. But not all camp dresses are created equal.

Serious reenactors only wear dresses made using authentic Victorian patterns and techniques, otherwise fearing the scorn of being called farby, short for "far be it from authentic." Even underwear's got to be authentic. The term "stitch Nazi" was thrown around pretty loosely in reference to someone who is obsessed with accuracy in costuming. Calling someone a "polyester soldier" is also a pretty good diss, a dig at reenactors who look as though they just took their costumes out of the plastic wrap from some second-rate Halloween superstore.

Most of the women at camp did exactly what you might expect women in the 19th century to do: the cooking, the cleaning, and the gossiping while their men were out to battle. Stephanie Groce, wife of Captain Frank Groce, was the 53rd Georgia's den mother. She was hilarious and nurturing and killer at hand-stitching. She is the platonic ideal of a Southern belle: white, free, wealthy enough to embody the Victorian lady she reenacts every couple of weekends.

And then, of course, there's J. R. Hardman, a filmmaker and reenactor who has also found a home with the 53rd Georgia Infantry. She's been reenacting for more than three years, and is one of the only women in her Confederate unit to do an impression of a male soldier; Kaitlyn Groce, daughter to Frank and Stephanie, is another. Up north, Hardman is part of a Federal unit called the 6th New York Independent Battery, which has more women dressed for battle, though they still remain a significant minority.

Most of the women at camp did exactly what you might expect women in the 19th century to do: the cooking, the cleaning, and the gossiping while their men were out to battle.

Hardman is an anomaly within, or even an antidote to, the current state of Confederate reenacting. First off, she's a 29-year-old woman from Minnesota. She graduated with a degree in cinema-television production and Spanish from the University of Southern California. She doesn't talk about her politics with the group, but they've guessed she may not be voting for Trump or Cruz or anyone else on the Republican ticket this year. Recently at a party in their civilian clothes, a fellow reenactor shouted, "Oh, there's J. R., the closet liberal!" when Hardman entered the room.

Hardman coined the term reenactress, and she's making a documentary of the same name that will explore the experiences of female Civil War reenactors like herself who dress as male soldiers.

The first reenactment Hardman attended was in 2012. It was her birthday, she'd just gotten out of a rocky relationship, and she wanted to treat herself to a vacation. The solo getaway destination she chose is telling of her ardor for American history: she made her way to southern Pennsylvania for the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It's there she met the captain of the 6th New York, the Northern unit of which she'd later become a part.

Just a few weeks later, Hardman attended a reenactment of the Battle of Atlanta, where she lives. She wanted to join a Southern unit too. She approached one of the unit commanders and asked if she could. "Yeah," he said. "Go talk to my wife. She'll hook you up with a nice hoopskirt." Hardman told the commander she wanted to be in the infantry. "We just don't do that," he told her.

J. R. Hardman outside a camp tent.

That lit Hardman up. "That moment was the catalyst for me even starting this project," she said. "That's when I knew it was interesting, that there was a conflict in this community, and I had to find out more."

Like any 21st century girl looking to imitate a 19th century man, Hardman took to the internet. She eventually found the website of the 53rd Georgia and posted on its forum. The captain of the unit —€” perennial seat-offerer Frank Groce —€” reached out to Hardman and let her in without question. It doesn't mean she's fully assimilated, though. For starters, she can't pee in the woods with her brothers-in-arms when commanded to go "water the trees." Far more limiting, she's still assumed to be a rookie at whatever she does in battle.

"Last year, I was out there in the field doing everything right," she said, "and someone in the unit turned to me and said, ‘So you're pretty new at this, right?' And I'm like, ‘No. You can watch me. I can teach you something.'"

After reaching her Kickstarter goal for Reenactress, Hardman shaved her head in celebration. While it's grown some in the past few months, it's still shortly cropped. I saw her only in uniform the entire weekend, and she looked the part of a young soldier in an heirloom tintype. It was only when I browsed through her Facebook page and saw a picture of her with a nose ring that I registered her possible affinity for fabric other than gray wool. Hardman's devotion to her impression of a male soldier shows: Her posture is impeccable. She carries a pocket watch. She accessorizes well.

"Honestly, there's still some people in our unit that are like, ‘When are you going to get a dress and go to the ball?'" she said, referring to the formal dance usually thrown during weekend reenactments. "And I'm like, ‘Well, I could spend $150 dollars on a dress, or I could get a really nice hat.'" Hardman, as you probably already guessed, wears many hats.

Hardman said she finally began to be taken seriously when she stopped borrowing her rifle from the unit and bought her own, a Pedersoli 1853 Enfield. Prior to reenacting, Hardman had never touched a firearm. She only first fired a gun with ammunition a few months ago.

Hardman's reenactment rifle is a real weapon that shoots gun powder, just without a bullet. "That first weekend I went out with it, instead of people asking me what I'm doing there, they're asking me about my super-authentic rifle," she said. "It's gotten to a point now where they say, ‘Look what J. R.'s doing.'"

It's clear that in this group of men, the rifle is a proxy for a penis, and that earned her respect. This is not lost on me.

At the Battle for Broxton Bridge, Hardman was a force. She not only showed the newbies in her unit the proper way to stand at attention and stack their bayonets in pyramid formation during safety checks; she introduced herself to every stranger she met. Hardman wants visibility for female reenactors like herself.

I've been told more women participate in Federal units than in Confederate units, and more women participate in artillery units that operate cannons than infantry units like Hardman's. In infantry units, soldiers march for hours and lug around heavy weapons (Hardman told me a regular yoga practice has improved her grip). This draws more men than cannoneering does, cannoneering being the near-art form that many Confederate reenactors across the southern United States, both male and female, learn from a woman named Elaine Wallace.

Wallace is a former prison warden and current cannon owner, and along with her sister, one of the breakout performers at the PG-13 Confederate comedy variety hour/mock shotgun wedding that served as Saturday night's entertainment at the Battle for Broxton Bridge. I understood maybe a quarter of the jokes.

Anywhere from 250 to 1,000 women are estimated to have disguised themselves as men to fight for the Confederate and Federal armies.

Last July, Hardman and her team of four reached their Kickstarter goal and raised $27,530 from 263 backers. In late March, Hardman was able to hire an editor to review the dozens of hours of footage, including both interviews and battle action, she filmed for Reenactress. Hardman suspects she may have fundraised more if the conversation about the Confederate flag wasn't reignited when it was. Hardman's project is littered with the flags, and some publications that originally agreed to promote the Kickstarter recanted their promises after the Charleston shooting.

But Hardman is thoughtful about America's painful history and intersectionality. The massacre in Charleston affected the stories Hardman will choose to tell in Reenactress. "It wasn't something that we had considered would be so important to talk about," Hardman said. "It really did inform a lot of what we're doing with our project now."

Above all else, she wants attention paid to those who for so long have been ignored by historical retellings, whether it be because of race or gender. There were women doing this before her, after all.

Anywhere from 250 to 1,000 women are estimated to have disguised themselves as men to fight for the Confederate and Federal armies between 1861 and 1865, a time when women were forbidden from enlisting. Physicals determining whether individuals were fit for war are thought to have been cursory at best back then, requiring would-be soldiers to only show they possessed hands and feet —€” plus, as reenactor lore goes, four opposing front teeth to bite the paper top off black powder cartridges to load into a rifle. It wouldn't be too difficult for a woman to crop her hair, bind her breasts, wear men's clothing, and make up a name to enlist.

American society during the Civil War severely restricted women's liberties. A woman might dress as a man for any number of reasons, including to gain an education, avoid rape, or make money. According to Deanne Blanton, co-author of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War, a white male soldier could make $13 a month, more than double the amount a female scullery maid could make working in a rich woman's household. The economic incentive was real.

"Women passing as men didn't just suddenly start during the Civil War. Women were passing as men for pretty much most of the 19th century," said Blanton. "If you were a woman on your own in the urban jungle, you had to pass as a man to support yourself. Otherwise, you were going to be a prostitute."

Only two women soldiers, Sarah Edmonds and Loreta Velazquez, are known to have published books based on their experiences. Edmonds, who disguised herself as a male soldier named Franklin Thomas, once wrote, "I could only thank God that I was free and could go forward and work, and I was not obliged to stay at home and weep."

Putting on boots and strapping a rifle to their bodies afforded these women a freedom they'd never known before or would again.

Hardman wants her audience to recognize that being a poor male soldier in the war-torn South was in many ways easier than being a poor woman back at home. "It was such an incredibly different culture," she said. "And the type of women that would have been soldiers fighting in the war were working class. They were used to lifting heavy things, and lugging stuff around, and being out on a farm."

Putting on boots and strapping a rifle to their bodies afforded these women a freedom they'd never known before or would again. In a pair of wool-blend trousers and a kepi hat, a woman suddenly had the liberty to march in rank, collecting an income and enjoying independence. (But how muddled it becomes, in the case of Southern women fighting, that their freedom came at the expense of being Confederate soldiers in the final years of American slavery.) The opportunity to present as men, perhaps, also gave some the opportunity to be their true selves.

The term transgender was not available for Victorians who did not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. And while history generally lists safety, economic, and even romantic motivations (such as in the case of Frances Clalin who enlisted alongside her husband Elmer in Illinois) as reasons for women dressing as male soldiers, historians have recently started to rethink why women chose to pass as men in the Civil War.

One notable case is that of Albert Cashier, born in Ireland as Jennie Hodgers. It's impossible to assign a term to Cashier's identity, but many consider Cashier a transgender hero. In 1862, Cashier enrolled in the 95th Illinois Infantry, and fought in over 40 battles in three years. Cashier went back to a quiet life in Illinois after the war, continuing to live as a man, working as a janitor and lamplighter, voting in elections, and receiving a veterans' pension.

In 1910, a car hit Cashier and he was taken to a hospital. While there, a staff member saw Cashier's body without clothes, though he wasn't outed. But when he was moved from that veterans' hospital to a mental institution after displaying signs of dementia, as Blanton writes, another attendant saw his body while giving him a bath and alerted the staff. He was immediately transferred to the women's ward. The hospital forced Cashier to wear a dress, on which he tripped and broke a hip. Cashier never recovered, and he died in the ward in 1915.

The treatment Cashier received at the end of his life is horrifying. The only salvation in this story is that documents show his fellow Federal soldiers in the 95th Illinois generally accepted their friend for who he was after he was outed. They fought for Cashier's pension, though they were ultimately unsuccessful.

Cashier's story is complicated by a lack of Victorian vocabulary for self-identification regarding sex and gender. According to Alex Myers, a transgender activist and writer, the vernacular just didn't allow for any flexibility in gender identity. Myers is the author of Revolutionary, a novel based on the life of Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a male soldier during the Revolutionary War. In his research, Myers found derogatory terms like "virago" and "amazon" used to describe masculine women, and "molly" as a term for men who dressed as women, but nothing more specific or official.

"It was really hard for her because people asked her, 'What right do you have to reenact this person?' I think the answer is that you do it the best."

"The terms we use today developed largely over the course of the 20th century, with some, like ‘queer,' going back to the late 19th century, and others, like ‘transgender,' only emerging in the 1990s or late 1980s," said Myers.

Because of a dearth of precise language, accurately representing the identities of people who are long dead has proven difficult in modern-day academia. This is compounded by the fact that even feminist scholars have historically assumed gender normativity and excluded the possibility of transgender figures. In addition, records are too scarce to provide conclusive information about women who dressed as male soldiers. After completing his research for Revolutionary, Myers remains conflicted about whether or not his subject was transgender. Some are similarly conflicted about Cashier, who was born over half a century after the Revolution ended.

Jean Freedman, a women's studies and history professor at Montgomery College, typified Cashier as a woman dressing as a man to earn a living in a 2014 New York Times article. At the time of her article's publication, she considered economic protection to be Cashier's primary motivating factor.

But in the two years since Freedman's piece came out, small strides have been made with regards to trans visibility and academic acknowledgment of transgender identity. "I do not want to discount the possibility that this person was transgender," Freedman told me. "I think it is impossible to say with certainty whether Jennie/Albert was a woman posing as a man or a transgender man because we do not know how Jennie/Albert felt about the matter."

Hardman has visited the reconstructed house in Saunemin, Illinois once belonging to Albert Cashier, which had been disassembled and hidden in a storage unit for decades. Cashier is an important figure in her documentary, and one that she and her team, which includes gender nonconforming people, are hoping to characterize well. They're not the only ones. "I talked to a woman who was doing an Albert impression, and it was really hard for her because people asked her, 'What right do you have to reenact this person?'" she said. "I think the answer is that you do it the best."

Just as female soldiers fought in the Civil War for different reasons, women reenactors have myriad motivations. While some, like Hardman, do impressions of anonymous soldiers, others portray specific figures like Robert E. Lee or Abraham Lincoln or Cashier. Some do impressions of male ancestors. Others do impressions of the women who dressed like men. Some others, like Yvette Blake, do impressions of black women who dressed like black men in the United States Colored Troops, known as the USCT.

After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January 1863, 180,000 black soldiers served in the USCT, which shortly comprised one-tenth of the Federal army. Blake, a reenactor with the 23rd Regiment of the USCT, has been researching black women soldiers since 2011 and has found some concrete evidence of their existence.

Lizzie Hoffman, a black woman, enlisted in the 45th USCT as a black man. Maria Lewis of the all-white 8th New York Cavalry was a light-skinned black woman who passed as a white man. There were also women like Lucy Ann Dabney, a black laundress at Confederate general Robert E. Lee's headquarters on the Rappahannock River in Virginia, who communicated to her husband working on the other bank for the Federal army about the Confederate soldiers' movements using a clothesline telegraph system.

"You can't not do it. You can't do part of it. A lot of it's not good, but it's history and it needs to be told."

Typically, the Federal army employed the USCT to do back-breaking work like ditch digging while white troops engaged in battle, and so Blake and her reenacting unit do mostly living history events, but in battles where the USCT had a presence, they're invited to fight. Blake recalled a reenactment at the Battle of Vicksburg, a bloody event in 1863 in which the USCT successfully fended off the Confederates.

"You can't not do it. You can't do part of it," said Blake of reenacting. "A lot of it's not good, but it's history and it needs to be told."

For that reason, Blake also accepts the argument that the Confederate flag is a symbol of lineage, rather than hatred, at reenactments. After the Charleston shooting last summer, Blake remembers events where units were asked not to bring their Confederate flags on the battlefield. "Some units refused to come, and I agreed," she said. "How can you have a reenactment without that flag? It's not fair."

At the Battle for Broxton Bridge, I saw those flags, but I didn't see the USCT, and reenactors repeatedly asked the same question of me, as if they were trying to catch me in an act of hypocrisy.

"Do you know what the Civil War was fought over?" they'd ask, hoping I'd say "slavery" or "abolition" so they could correct me.

"Commerce," I'd reply each time, too tired to engage in another conversation about a dead president.

These skillful and avoidant allusions to this other element of the Civil War were the only mentions of slavery or even race I heard all weekend. It's true: Abraham Lincoln was no abolitionist. The Emancipation Proclamation was a war strategy, not a progressive human rights triumph. This war, like every other war in history, was fought over money and power. In this case, the money and power were amassed through forced slave labor. 750,000 soldiers died, and in that number, many African-Americans and immigrants and women.

I can only imagine how exhausted women reenactors like Hardman and Blake must be after a day of carrying heavy weaponry into the battlefield while avoiding social discord. It really must be easier to put on a hoopskirt and watch the battle from a roped-off section a comfortable distance away from the action.

General Lee, commander of the Confederate army, surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. Reconstruction began shortly thereafter, but this country still experiences the ramifications of the war between the North and the South.

None of this is over, but reenactment might be soon. Hardman understands more than most that unless this group diversifies and seeks out new populations of reenactors, the tradition will die. No more uniforms. No more camp dresses. No more sutlers. No more liver mash. No more dressing up with friends. The rest of the community is slowly beginning to realize that, too.

Hardman contends that no matter one's race, background, gender, or education, you can put on a uniform and march back in time to war-torn America. Recruitment to "new markets," as Hardman calls it, is crucial to the reenacting community; this includes people who aren't men, who aren't white, who aren't Christian, who aren't straight, who aren't cisgender.

"I think there's a lot of ignorance in the reenacting community, but there's a lot of ignorance in our nation," she said. "It's hard for people who don't have a lot of contact or experience with someone that's very different from them."

Twenty years ago, a mainstream unit offering a place to a woman reenactor like Hardman would be rare, and yet, she's now the one bringing new attention to the pursuit. Though in uniform, she blends right in. In the final moments of battle, I tried cheering Hardman on, but beneath her wool cap and bound by suspenders, I couldn't tell her apart from the rest of her troop. They were all just a bunch of soldiers, hellbent on taking down Yankee traitors.

The Confederacy lost the battle that day.

Claire Carusillo is a Racked contributor based in Brooklyn.

Editor: Julia Rubin
Copy editor: Molly Osberg


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