GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Elizabeth Hallett, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, will be one of the reenactors at the 158th Gettysburg Anniversary reenactment. But she’s not going to put on a uniform. Instead, she’s going to portray a frequently undervalued and often forgotten individual-the company laundress.
“Certainly you have an army in the field and you don’t think about the mundane things like laundry that need to be done, and how did they do that, how did they accomplish that out in the field,” she said. “Both armies had laundresses who had to be women of good character, you couldn’t just be a fly by night floozy coming in to follow the army. You had to have letters of recommendation and be accepted to follow the armies along.”
“As it happens,” she adds, “it was a very good way for a woman to make a living back then.”
The reenactment runs Saturday and Sunday, July and 4. Tents and booths are being set up all over the Daniel Lady Farm, which belongs to the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association. According to Kirk David, President of GBPA, events like the reenactment help fund Association activities.
“Monument repair, and monument maintenance, we have a trust fund that each year we give money to the park.”
During the battle, the farm served as a field hospital for the Second Division of the Second Corps of the Confederate army. Most of the wounded got treated in the barn.
“There were about twelve hundred men who were taken care of there and a hundred in our house,” Davis said. “The enlisted personnel went to the barn, the officers were taken care of in the house.”
The event will feature artillery and cavalry demonstrations, and presentations on a variety of Civil War topics. On Saturday they will reenact the final phase of the battle for Culp’s Hill; Sunday will see the Battle at the Wheatfield. Davis says the unevenness of the farm’s terrain adds to the realism.
“The contours drop off, and come back up, you actually can lose four or five hundred troops in those low areas, and then all of a sudden the excitement of a flag appearing and then soon after the soldiers, lends to just the way it was in many battles.”
Elizabeth Hallett is looking forward to doing her laundress portrayal. Children love her demonstrations-especially when they can put clothes through the wringer. She shows off a sock that’s been squeezed so many times, it’s stretched out to almost double its original length. “They’re the cleanest socks in camp since they go over and over all day long,” she said.
Whether it’s a small thing like a clean sock or a big thing like a battle, Davis says reenactments can teach history in a way classrooms can’t.” Many times it’s easier learn something if you hear it, or see it than just read it in a book.” he said. “Today’s Americans don’t really know the hardships that these men went through. You have to remember the Union army marched over a hundred miles to get here, same as the Confederate army.”