View Full Version : i need your help

10-21-2006, 06:45 PM

my wife has recently felt the awe of doing reenactiong and wish to do a nurse for our unit. the indiana 49th, so i was hoping with your help to make this dream a reality. first off, what was the "nurse image"? second where can i find clothing and items needed for this role?

"Doc" Nelson
10-21-2006, 07:45 PM

my wife has recently felt the awe of doing reenactiong and wish to do a nurse for our unit. the indiana 49th, so i was hoping with your help to make this dream a reality. first off, what was the "nurse image"? second where can i find clothing and items needed for this role?

I'm not too up on Nursing, so I'm not sure where to start. Have you thought of doing a general search (through Google or something similar), on either one of the subjects you asking? You can bring a ton of photos from using google. As far as clothing, I would recommend going to an event, there you'll see some sutlers that aren't on the web. But, other than that, you can do search for "civil war sutlers" or "civil war ladies clothing" or something like that. Hope this helps some? Good luck.

Most Respectfully Yours,

10-22-2006, 10:15 AM

First off, before one buys a thing one needs to research the role.

A quick use of the Search Function reveals this conversation on impressions and roles for men and women, started by a lady in a similar position of your wife.


If your wife wants to portray a nurse, she should bear in mind that female nurses, (specifically those working in Mis Dix's corps) had specific requirements in clothes. Also, they would only be found in depot or general hospitals, not in field hospitals.

Regardless of what career or character to portray, I'd suggest going to www.agsas.org to look at images of appropriate clothes. Straightforward, plain clothes and it also gives tips on where to look for proper foundation gamrents. Necessary to wear any clothes properly.

Linda Trent
10-22-2006, 02:38 PM
For nursing I'd recommend going with a civilian nurse who's come in from the local vicinity to help with the boys, rather than USSC or some similar group. Most ladies who nursed did so in the general hospitals in the cities, rather than the dressing/field hospitals near the front lines -- there are some exceptions to the rule, but they are exceptions.

In portraying a townsperson who's come to see if there's anything she can do to assist she could get away with a conservative wash dress that would be approprate for most anything from a nurse to an everyday lower to middle class lady.

If she's looking at portraying someone who was near the battlefield, my suggestions would be to look at Clara Barton, Mother Bickerdyke, or Dorthea Dix. I've not checked to make certain that the latter two were on or near the front lines, though I know Miss Barton was.

If she's looking to portray a city hospital than I'd suggest looking at Miss Louisa Mae Alcott or Walt Whitman, or some other female or male nurse who recorded their escapades.

*Hospital Sketches* by Alcott, *Notes on Nursing* by Florence Nightengale and *The Wound Dresser* by Whitman are a few suggestions that I'd make -- especially for a Northern portrayal. Granted Notes on Nursing was English and dealt with the Crimean War, but it is my understanding from my readings that it was known in the US by our Civil War.

If she's wanting to get involved with Southern nursing I'd recommend reading up on Phoebe Yates Pember who was at Chimborazo Hospital, in Richmond, VA, or study up on the Ladies' Relief Hospital in Lynchburg, VA.

Some of the things I gathered from Hospital Sketches were the following a nurse's duty was to: wash, dress, feed, warm, and nurse sick and wounded soldiers. They often served rations, bathed burning brows, wrote letters home, answered questions, read papers, took possessions and valuables [pocket books, purses, miniatures, and watches and sealed them up, labeled them and gave them to the matron till the soldiers were ready to leave]. they administered medicines, smoothed tumbled beds, wetted wounds, wung lullabies, and helped with preparations for the night.
Nurses also scrubbed down walls and such, not for sanitary purposes mind you, but to keep the stench down (noxious effluvia).

In general hospitals a nurse worked 12 hour shifts 9-9, except following a battle when the cars, boats, and other means of conveyance arrived they were lucky to get to bed at any decent hour. They often carried a basin, towels, and a block of brown soap.

I've got all sorts of stuff, so if you have any questions, please ask.


10-22-2006, 04:40 PM
thanks for the info, she wants to be more of a battlefield nurse and since i am a union reeanctor it will be the union side. thanks for the info once again it helps greatly

10-22-2006, 05:16 PM
Brother Krsulic,

As good Mrs. Trent pointed out, with the rarest of exceptions (and I can think of leass than a dozen examples, though I am by no means as well versed as she on the subject) there were simply NO battlefield nurses per se. There were women who either found themselves within the area of battle, and did what they could to assist those wounded who came within their immiediate purvue, or those who were local citizens who came out afterwards to lend such assistance as was within their means.

Though it pains me to suggest this, inasmuch as I DO hope to involve many within the medical ranks, perhaps your dear companion might consider developing a personna as a member of the Sanitary Commission, or the Christian Commission, or one of the many state agency groups that functioned close to the army. This would allow her some leeway in her portrayal, as well as some plausible excuse as to why she is where she is.

A search online for "Sarah Sampson" or "Mrs. Fogg" might help clarify the matter. Mrs. Sampson is the one I am most familiar with, and although a civilian with the Maine State Agency (another suggested search term), she did, on at least two occasions, find herself under fire, the most notable being at Savage Station, where she was forced to flee with some walking wounded and lost all of her personal possesions as a result.

Feel free to contact me if I may be of any assistance in the matter, and I remain,

Fraternally yours,

Tim Kindred
Polar Star Lodge No.114
Bath, Maine

10-22-2006, 05:31 PM
brother Kindred,

thanks for the info, and to be honest i never thought of that angel and its something i might suggest to her. her whole thing is she likes the action so she would like to be as much part of it as possible...

Whitney Lodge 229 F. & A. M.

Linda Trent
10-22-2006, 06:37 PM
One question is, what kind of events is she wanting to attend? If it's mainstream where there's a lot of interpretation to the public I'd recommend doing what's most typical. Far too often we seek, within the hobby, to revere the handful who did the unusual because it's most exciting to think about those who put their lives at risk on the battlefield; while the hundreds who worked and sweated behind the lines, contracted diseases and were sent home to recuperate tend to be forgotten.

I'd like to see more emphasis at events on what was typical. Even if there's not a general hospital set up, talk about how ladies at field hospitals would have been very uncommon, that the majority of nurses who worked in the field hospitals were male, and that the ladies tended to be kept back out of danger in the city hospitals.

If she's wanting to get involved in the more authentic movement and can prove that at the Battle of Podunk Hollow, Miss Smith of the U.S.S.C. tended to the wounded and a mini-ball pierced through the bottom of her pagoda sleeve, then that's an entirely different kettle of fish.

As I initially said, you'll find exceptions to every rule, heck some day someone will probably even prove that Mrs. XYZ wore a miniskirt! :rolleyes:

Don't mean to be a wet blanket, but having done military nursing as a volunteer civilian and as USSC, it's so much easier to prove the volunteer at a field hospital than a lady with the USSC. And of course, a lot more is expected of one who is contracted with the army at a field hospital vs. one who is just a townie come to assist in whatever way she can. Mistakes are more easily overlooked by a volunteer.

To be a nurse, your wife should know at the very least some of the most typical medicines of the time (i.e. calomel, laudanum, quinine, blue mass, Dover's powders, the benefit of chloroform over ether,if she assists in surgeries). Remember not all female nurses assisted in surgeries.

Most battlefields have excellent resources on where residents were at the time of the battle. Many were evacuated and sent back behind the armies where they were either pressed into, or volunteered their service. Others stayed home and during the lull in the fighting would try to pull wounded to safety and tend to their needs.

If she's looking for something exciting and interactive, there's always portraying a refugee who's running from the army. I've been captured, interrogated, held prisoner for suspected espionage, etc. There are all kinds of things that can get her "action" both in and out of the medical field. Is your wife a nurse in real life?

Dunno if any of this helps or not, but...


10-22-2006, 06:58 PM
well the events she plans to go to are pretty much what our unit does. even though we are not sure exactley what events we plan on doing next year, a couple are the antietam, gettysburg and i myself hope to make it out to perryville even if its just me. course we have the local show for the "hoosiers" here as well. our co stated she could be part of the medical group (we have a doc and a embomber) and she can just kinda walk behind our lines and give help (i.e. bandage and water). i am under the imperssion this is local events cause as i am rather new to the reenactors world i can't imagine this going on at more true to life events such as perryville and so on. and in real life she attends school for nursing and does armored car lol

we got involved in this cause well of my love for the era and hers as well. even though im a little more into history then she is. she thinks its just becuase im a army vet lol...but i also had relatives in the war much like most of you im sure....

so with that knowledge lead me in a direction lol

10-23-2006, 06:37 AM
I'd ditto Linda and Tim regarding the medical presentation aspect of things, and recommend reading up on the prime figures in women gaining respect in the field of professional nursing. There are some great newer biographies on Florence Nightengale, too, which will focus just a tad earlier than the 60s (the Crimean War in 1854), but which speak very clearly to the novelty (and resistance to) female nurses anywhere near a battle front.

As to clothing: she needs to look at the basic clothing for a working class woman, skin out. I'd focus on darker colors of wool for a dress, and zero to minimal trim (if she's a local woman coming to volunteer, she'd not be wearing a fashionable dress to such a gory duty!)

The website below my signature has some articles to help with basic women's clothing. A brief rundown of what she'll need:

Stays or Corset (same garment!)
Underskirts (2-3, full-gathered)
Tropical weight wool dress, jewel neck, Bishop or coat sleeve, full skirts
Collar or neckercheif
Shawl and bonnet for before/afters.

The good news: every speck of this clothing would be normal for a working class woman, so it's not "single impression" stuff... she could use it for any working class impression, or use the undergarments as a base for an entirely different class impression. You just can't go wrong with good, solid staple garments for women!

10-23-2006, 08:20 AM
wow, don't have a clue what half those are lol, but thanks for the info!!!

Linda Trent
10-23-2006, 08:51 AM
The good news: every speck of this clothing would be normal for a working class woman, so it's not "single impression" stuff...

Here is an example of Dorthea Dix's requirements for nurses, they were required to be plain looking women, brown or black dresses, no bows, no curls, no jewelry, no cages/hoops, and over thirty. But again, this is only if one wanted to join Mrs. Dix's corp of nurses.

Also, keep in mind that there may be some hostility (mostly in a period sense, but on rare occasion in the 21st century) toward ladies in the hospital. A lot of surgeons saw females as meddlesome, inexperienced, untrained. Ladies were the kinder gentler of the sexes and many surgeons felt that they didn't belong at the front where they were in danger of being shot, captured, or heaven forbid -- just be around the grotesque death and dying to the extent that the front lines were.

One good book that I'll recommend is The Photographic History of the Civil War: Prisons and Hospitals by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Castle Books, NY. It's a rather old book, but most libraries either have it, or can interlibrary loan it. It has some excellent information in there on hospitals, both general and field, and talks about the USSC and other relief organizations. But again, don't be surprised when you see very little about ladies in the field, most of them were at the city hospitals, or holding Sanitary fairs, various ladies aid societies (gathering up socks, drawers, etc) and such to raise money to get supplies for the troops.

Whether at home or on the front line, the medical corps gave of themselves and placed themselves in grave danger. Remember, more men died of disease then from being shot on the battlefield. And disease didn't know whether it was on the front lines or at some General Hospital :rolleyes:


10-23-2006, 08:59 AM
i must say, im pretty good at the "war" section of the war, but i am finding this area both intersting and fascinating!!! if nothing else im getting a interesting history lesson...well the wifey can't make the 30+ part as we are a young couple im 28 and she is 25 lol but i guess that doesn't matter in this day and age. great info everyone, keep it coming....i'm trying to convience her to become a member but it don't seem to be happening lol

10-23-2006, 10:37 AM
wow, don't have a clue what half those are lol, but thanks for the info!!!

As a married man mid-century, you would. Heck, as an unmarried man mid-century, you would! Luckily, I've only met a few men who are really opposed to knowing something about women's underwear. :) The explanations for each item can be found in those articles I mentioned, or in any number of back issues of reenactor magazines, or in the most recent Citizen's Companion special edition, or on-line with a quick Google search. Lots of options.

The age portion of Dix's rules *is* important--and another reason why your wife might want to lean toward being a local woman coming to the aid of the wounded once they're removed from the field of battle. Modern reenactors don't actually write "the rules"--those were determined by the actual actions and practices of the people living in the mid-19th century. It's our job to find out what they did, and present that as best we can. It's far easier for a modern woman of 45 to portray a 30yo woman mid-century, than for a 25yo woman to pretend to be over 30, and plain.

10-23-2006, 11:12 AM
so many things to choose from!!! man why can't it be as simple as a military uniform lol

10-23-2006, 02:50 PM
"so many things to choose from!!! man why can't it be as simple as a military uniform lol"

Probably because this country is deeper, diverse and more complicated - psychologically, sociologically, or any other "-ogically" than most modern Americans are willing to admit. The more you know, the less you know, because you are reading more and more on the topic. Ten thousand Americans, ten thousand different opinions and analyses of the War and what it means. As historians we extrapolate that information, and try to recreate it in all its dynamism, to show how Americans viewed their country.

This is why we (as civilian reenactors) encourage generic clothes and researching specific impressions for specific events. There's more to women then nurses, herbalists, farmers' wives and the like. Women represent half the population in the country and made incredible contributions to the nation's history, whether their contributions are acknowledged or not.

If you and the missus would like to stay together at events consider this complete 180 - why not YOU go as a citizen? Not all men were in the military, and the opportunity to be something other than a sojer boy would expand the historic horizons.

10-23-2006, 07:28 PM
i thought about doing that sometimes, and may still consider it. however as of right now i am enjoying being a soldier in my unit :)