Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Battle of New Market and its Re-enactment

 Although the flag they died to save
Floats not o'er any land or sea,
Throughout eternal years shall wave
The banner of their chivalry.
                                                         (John Wayland, 1926)

     May brings the smell of musket fire and the volley of cannons across the Valley.  Civil War
Book available at Library!
re-enactment camps spring up in the fields from Lexington to Winchester.  The most memorable and the oldest annual re-enactment held on its original 1864 ground is the Battle of New Market, or, the "Field of Lost Shoes" as it is commonly known because of the participation of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets.
     The first ceremonial remembrance of the battle was held at VMI in 1866 and continues every year on May 15th.  All of VMI turns out at the graves of six fallen cadets to hear the roll call of all ten cadets who lost their lives on that fateful day.  Their graves are marked by the statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead, sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, who also was a cadet who fought on that same battlefield and who read the bible through the night to his fatally wounded friend and fellow cadet, Thomas G. Jefferson.[1]   Eighty miles away, on June 15th, New Market held its first memorial service and the following year, the Women's Memorial Society was formed.
            On May 21st, 1914, the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of New Market, the wheat field saw its first re-enactment of VMI cadets.  Under the leadership of Commandant Col. Wise, son of former New Market cadet John Wise, 327 cadets re-enacted their charge across the orchard and up the hill. [2]
            On Sept. 20th, 1923 Brigadier General Smedley Butler brought about 3,500 real U.S. Marines to New Market to represent Gen. Seigel’s Union troops.  This is considered the first “modern” re-enactment and “the VMI cadets were there.”[3]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Climate Change

Meteorologists and emergency managers from the high Plains to the Appalachians are on alert as the U.S. has the year’s first widespread bout of severe weather. The key message:  Have a Plan.            (Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 2015)

The Climate Change Discussion

After the winter’s snows, residents of the Northeast might disagree with the “first” bout of severe weather in 2015!  And, with regard to the bulletin above, climate scientists warn us to not confuse weather (a single episode) with climate change (observed facts over the long-term).   Perhaps Noah or those who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy might be reluctant to accept this distinction as both weather events re-arranged the environment.  The increasing frequency of severe weather occurrences, observers say, are the result of trapped warm air above us caused by human activities.  The change in weather patterns is part of the climate change that is modifying our landscape. 
Change should not be a surprise; the climate and environment are ever changing.  Five hundred million years ago receding oceans left the serrated ridges we see on the massive rock formations along our roads.   Fifty million years ago Mole Hill stopped erupting and polluting the air with gases and dust.  Five thousand years ago man began devising written languages that allowed him to describe his environment and to observe and report on changes.  The newest force affecting environment is man with the capability and intelligence to do well or to do harm.  People who distrust scientific discourse and people who deny existing change are often described as mentally lazy, politically angry, or economically beholden to a special interest.  Those on the opposite side are deemed doomsday, hand-wringers and may also be guilty of the same traits as the deniers. Most people are somewhere in the middle between the deniers and the doomsayers. Opinions on what action to take on climate change is far from unanimous.  
   Efforts to solve our environmental problems need to include personal, local, state, national and even international action.  Given recent political debates, it may come as a surprise to Virginians that its State Constitution (Article XI, Section 1) promises “the commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, land and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the commonwealth.”  The documentation of climate history (often reduced to a plethora of graphs) and a discussion of climate change in Virginia illustrate some of the issues.  From the existing records Virginia once had a generally stable, predictable climate but the long-term historical data show recent trends to be otherwise.   The trend lines provide insight into what may be happening in the future.  These transitional changes in climate affect our ecosystems   Flora and fauna changes are climbing mountains, like at Mt. Rogers, so where a flower that once bloomed only at the base of the mountain is now found 1,000 feet higher.  A flower that a few years ago bloomed in Danville in April and in Leesburg in May is now seen in bloom in Danville in March and in Leesburg in April.  These changes are being followed by the invasive stinkbugs and kudzu entering our neighborhoods.  Virginia’s occurring environmental changes are not bound by jurisdictional borders. The State border is not a barrier to coal dust and acid rain carried on winds from the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.   The “outside” factors as well as local factors are causing deforestation affecting the canopy of our trees that moderate temperatures and cleanse our air.  Regional and national programs are needed to address the problems.
vertically and horizontally.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Women in Blue and Gray

Women in Blue and Gray: Female Soldiers of the Civil War

Loreta Janeta Velázquez aka Henry T. Buford, CSA

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about the Marine training program to test women’s ability for combat duty. Next week, April 9 will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Naturally, from these two tidbits I got to thinking about the history of female combatants. From Boudica to Tomoe Gozen to Sgt. Kelly Brown (one of the Marines in combat training), there have been many visible woman warriors through time. However, others had to disguise themselves as men to enlist, such as Continental soldier Deborah Sampson and other Revolutionary War female fighters who contributed to the folkloric figure of Molly Pitcher. For today, I want to focus on the women who disguised themselves in the Blue and the Gray across five Aprils 150 years ago.

Frances Clayton
aka Jack Williams, U.S.A.

Women served both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. How did they hide in plain sight? By cutting their hair, binding their breasts, and putting on loose uniforms, they disappeared into the ranks. If they didn’t shave, they were likely taken as young teenage boys lying about their age, a problem that was often overlooked due to desperation for soldiers to fill the lines. They were able to hide their bodies more easily than they could in the modern military—the army’s medical examinations didn’t require clothing removal, soldiers rarely changed clothes or bathed, and filthy latrines were avoided in favor of private visits to the woods. As for their menses, which could give the soldier away easily, the physical stress of army life was likely to lead to amenorrhea. While enduring the stress of hiding their true identities, women also fought the same battles, suffered the same injuries and illnesses, performed the same duties, and struggled through the same hardships as their male counterparts.

It seems that most women were discovered eventually, often due to wounds or illness and hospital stays. Other women were discovered through their actions, dressing in a feminine manner or possessing an “unmanly” laugh. Practicing manly behavior and habits was vital to the success of their subterfuges. When Minnesota private Frances Clayton was discovered and discharged, the newspaper reported, “While in the army, the better to conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew and swear with the best, or worst, of the soldiers” (Hall 28). As one would expect, physical attributes, such as small hands or fair skin, also exposed the deception. In some cases, simply being recognized by an acquaintance could end the ruse. One of my favorite exposé tales involves Sarah Bradbury and Ella Reno, who got drunk on applejack brandy, fell into a river, and were exposed by their rescuers!