|By Valerie L. Hamill
1) Statement of Problem.
The communication styles, both overt and subliminal, during the American Civil War-era (1861 to 1865).
communication methods once used seem to no longer be of vital
concern or great importance to today’s population. I hope to learn
more of the different communication styles and methods in place
during the war, not only to improve my reenactment presentation, but
to also be able to compare current thoughts and styles to those of a
2) Review of Literature.
U.S. News & World Report,
“Secrets of the Civil War”. Special Edition, September
2008. The issue is dedicated to the time line and history of the
B., “Confederate Camp Cooking”. Mitchells Publications, Chatham,
VA, 1991. This booklet includes letters written to loved ones, as
well as recipes.
Mitchell, Sara E.,
“Southern Ladies’ Civil War & Antebellum Fashions, 1855 – 1865”.
Mitchells Publications, Chatham, VA, 2005. This booklet describes
the importance of cloth, dress, and appearance, but also the
strength of those facing shortages of staples.
The Language of the
This educational piece was obtained at a dance/ball in Guyandotte,
WV during a reenactment event in 2007. The brochure lists the
specific movements that a lady could do with the fan to non-verbally
communicate her opinion of a suitor.
The Dance Card.
This educational piece was obtained at the dance/ball in
Guyandotte, WV during a reenactment event. The brochure enables a
lady to keep a record of specific dance requests by various
suitors and gentlemen.
The Housewife. This educational piece was obtained at a ladies tea and afternoon gathering at the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival reenactment in September 2008. This piece gives instructions on how to create a “Housewife” (a sewing kit).
Historical Society, ‘History of Gahanna, including Mifflin &
Jefferson Townships’. The Herb Capital of Ohio played an important
role in the lives of those in the 1860s. This book explores the
details of the role of herbs.
Godey’s Fashion Book. This book illustrates the many different fashions of the period, as well as the hidden “meanings” or “communications” of many items of clothing and accessories that were worn.
Leisch, Juanita, “Who Wore What? Women’s Wear 1861-1865”. A detailed narrative of the clothing and hidden meanings of the period dress of the ladies, as well as some of the clothing (and societal) challenges that the women faced.
Varhola, Michael J., “Everyday life during the Civil War”. This book gives excellent detailed information on the everyday lives of the people, as well as the different communication methods and styles.
Kuhn, Cheri, “News for Newbies, A Beginner’s Guide to Civil War Reenacting”. Crab Orchard, KY., 2006.
Alpheus S. Bloomfield, “The Bloomfield Letters” (1861-1865). The
Ohio Statehouse web site,
www.csrab.state.oh.us/. A collection of letters written by Mr.
Bloomfield as he served with the First Regiment of the Ohio Light
Volo, James & Dorothy, “Daily Life in Civil War America”. Covers all aspects of the war and the impact on the people.
3) Statement of Method.
studied the communication styles of the Civil War period by
immersing myself in Civil War reenacting for the past two years. I
joined both Union and Confederate military groups, as well as
studied several books, journals, and articles, and viewed many
documentaries. I have spent a great deal of time with other
re-enactors that have also completed extensive research and many
years in the educational and learning aspects of correctly and
historically portraying the people of the period. By attending the
Ladies Teas and grand ball dances at events, I have been able to
gather a wealth of information on the communication styles used
during the war.
created a survey, as well as an interview, for both civilians and
re-enactors so that both groups could be compared and will hopefully
illustrate the views of both today and yesterday. To interview and
observe the re-enactors, I participated in the Reynoldsburg Tomato
Festival Reenactment in September 2009; the Delaware County
Bicentennial celebration educational ball/dance at Ohio Wesleyan
University on October 4, 2008; the Guyandotte Reenactment in
Guyandotte,WV, and many other reenactments and company drills.
learned more useful information during my own class presentation on
my thesis statement. It was such a pleasure to have the help, and
the knowledge of my companion, Sgt. Thomas Yost. Each and every
interaction adds richness to the tapestry of knowledge on the
When re-enactors gather together for whatever occasion, when in uniform and period clothing, you can visibly see a change of persona. The re-enactors fill the roles and “essence” of those from long ago. All efforts are dedicated to correctly portraying the people, their characteristics, and their customs.
4) Report of Data.
In discussing the dress and clothing of the women of the Civil War period, they “dressed to conform with a cultural ideal” (Leisch, p. 5). Most people were concerned with the message that was conveyed by their style of dress and manners; if their clothing was up-to-date and stylish; if they were conducting themselves both in manner and dress to the approved protocols of the period. A great deal of information about a person could be gleaned from their outward appearances.
As the war continued, practicality ruled the “accepted
correctness” of the clothing. Private Bloomfield wrote, “Girty
[sister Gertrude], I would like to see you when you get that new
dress on. I tell you girls calico looks better to me know than silk
did ten weeks ago” (p. 25). He also described the people of
Kentucky in rather derogatory fashion – “They were [sic] nothing but
Kentucky jeans, and there is but two colors, a snuff and blue. They
do not seem to have but one fashion, that of their
great-grandfathers” (Bloomfield, p. 59).
was a central and powerful method of communication. Thankfully,
there are many artifacts that still survive which provide excellent
study. A strict and formal upbringing must be assumed for a woman
that wears at least seven layers of clothing! And each layer had a
very specific purpose. Camisoles, corsets, split drawers, hoops (or
cages) under and over petticoats, and even socks that were worn
above the knee. If a lady went out in public without all of the
proper layers of clothing, she would be taking the risk of being
harshly judged and ostracized by the community.
“Dresses for breakfasts, and dinners, and balls;
Dresses to sit in, and stand in, and walk in,
Dresses to dance in, and flirt in, and talk in,
Dresses in which to do nothing at all” (Volvo, p. 237).
“Women also frequently carried fans in hot weather for cooling themselves.
ladies would also make a “Housewife” for their men to take with them
into battle. A “Housewife” was a sewing kit that held many items
for uniform repair. The ladies did not throw away a single scrap of
cloth, so the housewife was the perfect use for the smallest items.
Pieces of cloth were sewn together to create several pockets to hold
and organize necessary items. Buttons, straight pins, wool patches
for uniform repair, as well as sewing needles and thread would be
Great care would be taken in the construction of these kits. Not only did its quality of work impress the lady’s sweetheart, it would also be compared to the quality of others’ kits. By creating a Housewife, lovely lace and ribbons would help a lady communicate her love, her compassion, and her emotions to her man by this simple tool. The soldiers would have a “wife” close by (as well as a little piece of home with them during their long absence from home).
communications) were an important part of society. “Capt. Blackford’s wife reported the following hospitality to visiting soldiers witnessed in Hanover county, Virginia, in 1863: “I remember a charming visit to Dewberry, the residence of Mrs. Edmonia Cooke…The house was full of company, principally of young ladies…Of the many military beaux whom we found there, visitor’s from Pickett’s division, many were to be left dead upon the field after the glorious charge that division made at Gettysburg”.
that they agreed that clothing did affect their opinion of someone. I had thought that in this day and age where just about “anything” seems to “go”…a very accepted social norm of poorly-fitted, ragged-looking wear, that a person’s impression would not be negatively impacted by such.
5) Conclusions and Summary.
“Once the opening cannon salvos were fired over Fort Sumter in April 1861, life in the United States changed forever. The Civil War would unleash the most horrific events ever faced by the nation and set the stage for monumental change. Families, forced to take sides, sometimes divided down the middle. A massive amount of men and materiel was deployed for the purpose of mutual destruction. Thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed…”. “…the war raged for four bloody, bitter years. All told, over 620,000 soldiers died, as Union and Confederate troops slaughtered one another” (U.S. News, p.4-5).
choosing complex wording and turning it into poetry, descriptive phrasing that still takes the reader to the heart of the battle or the boredom of camp life.
For the time that I last, I shall live in the past
And remember the world’s fading glories;
The battles, and heroes, and songs that were sung,
And the nearly forgotten old stories.
Though I’ve earned not a cent for the time that I’ve spent,
And to many that’s surely a mystery
I now recreate a time that was great,
In our country’s own turbulent history.
Some call it a game, and some say,
And, to the unknowing, it’s a useless vocation;
But I have shouldered a gun in the blistering sun,
And I’ve shivered at morning formation.
In my jacket of blue, I strive to portray
The private Union soldier,
And though I taste not of death,
Nor the cannon’s fierce breath,
I shall not let his memory moulder.
When I’m finally called in to account for my sin,
And to receive my Savior’s just sentence…
If there’s a prayer on my breath as I slip into death,
T’would be, God save the Union forever!
Sgt. Benjamin R. Gormley
U.S. News & World Report, “Secrets of the Civil War”. Special Edition, September 2008.
Mitchell, Patricia B., “Confederate Camp Cooking”. Mitchells Publications, Chatham, VA, 1991.
Mitchell, Sara E., “Southern Ladies’ Civil War & Antebellum Fashions, 1855 – 1865”. Mitchells Publications, Chatham, VA, 2005.
The Gahanna Historical Society, ‘History of Gahanna, including Mifflin & Jefferson Townships’. Godey’s Fashion Book
Leisch, Juanita, “Who Wore What? Women’s Wear 1861-1865”.
Varhola, Michael J., “Everyday life during the Civil War”.
Kuhn, Cheri, “News for Newbies, A Beginner’s Guide to Civil War
Alpheus S. Bloomfield, “The Bloomfield Letters”. The Ohio
Statehouse web site,
www.csrab.state.oh.us/. 1861-1864. A collection of letters
written by Mr.
Volo, James & Dorothy, “Daily Life in Civil War America”.
The Language of the Fan Brochure. Guyandotte, WV. 2007.
The Dance Card Brochure. Guyandotte, WV, 2007.
The Housewife Brochure. Reynoldsburg, OH. 2008.
Etiquette is defined as “the true aim of politeness is to make those with whom you associate as well satisfied with themselves as possible…it does whatever it can to accommodate their feelings and wishes in social interaction”.
The basic rules of propriety:
* A lady always graciously accepts a gentleman’s offer of assistance.
* A lady always wears gloves on the street, at church, and other formal occasions, except when drinking or eating.
* A lady always walks in small gliding steps in a measured gait.
* A lady is always punctual.
* A lady is always pleasant and courteous.
* A lady speaks in a pleasant tone of voice.
* A lady always says ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’.
* A lady is schooled in the art of conservation. She knows the four basic concepts; Compliment others, ask after others, use only positive words and comments, smile and pay attention.
* A lady never refers to another adult by his or her first name in public.
* A lady never grabs her hoops or lifts her skirts higher than is absolutely necessary to maneuver. She may lift her skirt with one hand holding the folds and draws them to the right.
* A lady never sits with her legs crossed. Ankles may be crossed if necessary for comfort.
* A lady never serves herself from a buffet line. She informs her dinner partner of her wishes and he brings her plate to her.
* A lady never overdresses. Morning wear should be a simple, inexpensive fabric in a solid color, no large amounts of jewelry. A day dress is plainer and simple. Visiting dresses should be a richer texture and of a more subdued color. Low necklines should be reserved for dinner by candlelight.
* A lady never shows vanity, conceit, arrogance, or hauteur.
* A lady has learned to govern herself and be gentle and patient.
* A lady never speaks or acts in anger.
* A lady avoids meddlers and talebearers whenever it is politely possible.
* A lady never looks back at anyone on the street or turns to stare in public.
* A lady never offers her hand when introduced to a gentleman. She should bow slightly and say something like, “I am happy to make your acquaintance”.
* When paying a visit to another lady, the visit should be brief, no more than 30 minutes.
* A lady should never remove her shawl or bonnet unless in the presence of a particularly good friend.
In the Civil War era, ladies are educated in the social rules and expectations of a Lady from childhood.
From “News for Newbies, A Beginner’s Guide to Civil War Reenacting For The Ladies!”, by Cheri Kuhn.
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