There are many reasons to travel 3,000 miles, including being part of the Emerging Civil War’s Second Symposium. It is wonderful to put faces to names, and to see friends I have not seen for a year. I presented again this year, giving the world the first look at my thesis topic, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac from McClellan to Meade. It is not exactly a storyteller’s dream, but I did my best. I got wonderful feedback from several folks, including two delightful women.
There simply are not enough women at conferences like this one, or in military history in general. Come on, ladies! Let’s go play in the sandbox with the guys!
I asked one of the speakers directly if he thought women brought something different to the conversation. He answered in the negative. I am not sure if I agree, but until there are more of us writing, attending, discussing and being involved, there will be no trend to analyze.
During lunch, I sat with a couple that were re-enactors, and had been for a long time. We discussed this for a bit, and the gentleman said something very interesting, I think. He said that at first, he had just been into “the hobby” for the line-up and mock battle. ( . . . the smell of black powder in the morning . . .)
He then admitted that in the last several years his unit has realized that the incidents of fighting were few and far between for a Civil War soldier. He and his re-enacting pards began to ask themselves just what these guys did the rest of the time. The answers, for there are an infinite amount, fascinated them. Apparently they have learned to play several games, card and board both. They either had or witnessed a Shakespeare quote off–I can’t exactly remember. They are learning to discuss the latest literary offerings by Charles Dickens and, depending on the place they represent and the time being portrayed, they have become conversant in local politics of the time.
I have thought about this conversation considerably since August 8. Here is where I am with it just now. Perhaps this is what women bring to the table–a sense of context in which to put the Union and Confederate fighting man–a context which includes the immediate past, the politics, the styles, flavors, scents and sounds of what was left behind when they all signed up. These men weren’t born wearing a uniform, and that is something I think about a lot. After speaking to some of the folks at the Symposium, I know I am not thinking alone.