Excellent Women

The ladies depicted here doing laundry were photographed on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It is a rare occurrence because the park service does not usually court participation by reenactors on the actual battlefield sites. Laundresses were paid the glorious sum of eleven dollars per month for their services and were often the wives, mothers or sweethearts of the men in the companies. Two women were attached to each company to help with the laundry in winter camps or at times when the units were bivouacked for an extended period of time. Lye soap was harsh on women's hands and soldiers' clothing as well.

An excellent women in the nineteenth-century exemplified those qualities that were inherent to womanhood. A good mother, a good wife, an active member of church, community and even industry. Victorians placed a high value on industry, not meaning only the manufacture of goods but the abstract quality of hard work and improvement. What we would call productivity, which is the modern measure of the wealth of nations. Women were involved in many ways in nineteenth-century manufacturing and business. Most families who owned a business in town lived above the shop. Women were an integral part of the farm as business, bringing produce to small markets, making bread for sale. The "employments of women" filled over five hundred pages in one book giving advice to enterprising young women. Indeed, many women entered into the photographic trade, which "the fair sex may engage without compromising a single delicate quality of woman's nature." Photography was not considered "particularly unhealthy" and less so than "sewing by hand or machine." Women in more traditional occupations of the pre-industrial age, such as seamstress or embroidery often ended their careers with crippled hands and eyes.

Berdan Sharpshooters

This image is of the famous unit known as Berdan Sharpshooters. It was a Federal unit that really was not kept together very often but was broken up into teams of two and assigned as snipers with their expert marksmanship to different regiments. Their uniform was patterned after the common Federal uniform except that the color was a handsome forest green with brown leather leggings. Men competed from many regiments for the honor of being in this elite group.

The Daguerrean's Little Home

For a photographer following the course set by the military, business was often brisk from first light to "can't see" in the afternoon. After a freezing night in his "little home," the itinerant photographer might be graciously treated to fresh farm eggs and grits by a friendly group of soldiers or pay one of the washer women to cook breakfast in exchange for a picture. His apprentice sets up the camp each morning with the large and cumbersome cameras and finished pictures set out to show off the photographer's wares.

A gold framed "Three Ladies of Easy Virtue," appearing scandalously only in their underpinnings, would be discreetly covered with a black cloth. Only to be tantalizingly revealed to gents willing to part with a dime for the view. Before the conflict, the photographer might walk through the camps calling out, "Preserve the image, err the flesh doth fade! Life is transitory and we are all like shadows upon the stage." The gathering of soldiers meant business was steady and all agreed that a picture for the home would be a good idea.

Daguerrean is an old spelling of Daguerreian, which is the modern photo historically correct way of spelling the art of making daguerreotype images. By 1861, the daguerreotype was no longer the dominant form of portraiture, replaced by the ambrotype and card photograph. The term Daguerreian had come to mean "photographer" and many artists listed as Daguerreians probably never worked with a copper plate image.

The quote is from Penny, Virginia, The employments of women. No. 44, pp. 53-55. 1863. Boston, Walker, Wise, & Company. Making of America Collection.

3rd Battery, First Michigan, Light Artillery

The artillery unit portrayed is the 3rd Battery, First Michigan, Light Artillery. This image was "captured" by me during the Atlanta campaign outside Atlanta near the little town of Resaca, Ga. The gun is an 1861 Parrot cannon. The embrasure through which they are firing, plus the boards placed beneath the wheels to handle the recoil, add authenticity to this fine looking crew of Federal artillerymen.

Zouaves of 5th New York at Cedar Mt., Virginia.

Three men of the 5th New York stand in front of Cedar Mt., Virginia. The unit was made of the rough and tough element in the hardest areas of New York. Their distinctive uniforms were patterned after those of the French Foreign Legion. There were many Zouave units as they were called. Their baggy pants, French Leave caps and bolero styled jackets were the envy of many other units, but made them terrific targets on the battlefield. Hence many Zouave units preferred to fight in more regularly patterned uniforms and save the other more flamboyant costumes for parade.

Third and Seventh Florida Infantry at Gettysburg

Battle took its toll. Federal units were able to build their ranks from the many thousands of immigrants coming from Germany and Ireland in particular. Confederate troops were unable to build reinforcements as their man power pools were worn through constant attrition. For every Federal soldier killed in battle there were ten more to take his place. For every Confederate killed, there was one more empty space, Therefore, units were often combined like the Third and Seventh Florida Infantry seen here at Gettysburg.

Third and Seventh Florida Infantry at Gettysburg

Confederate musicians, like their Federal counterparts were formed into impromptu bands whenever they could get together in camps. Sometimes they played just around the campfires. Other times they were hired by the officers to entertain their wives who visited the camps, or helped to raise money at balls to send much needed comfort items to the boys at the front.

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