Hoop skirts and harlots

There are no two ways about it. I love event photography! County fairs. Tractor pulls. Rodeos and races. Wherever there are faces to photograph I am a happy girl.

Union soldiers hold the high ground near the schoolhouse during Calico Ghost Town's annual Civil War Re-enactment.
Confederate troops head up the gully to attack the Union army.

Review in the rain  Abe Lincoln reviews Union troops before an afternoon battle.
Abe Lincoln reviews the Union troops before battle.
The annual Civil War re-enactment at Calico Ghost Town a few years ago was perfect. Lots of people in period clothes and costumes wandered the streets of the old mining town during the President’s Day weekend, and Abe Lincoln reviewed the Union troops. Merchants and families set up living history displays and did things much as they did in the mid-1880s.Many of the participants in this event were very young men – 15 and 16-year-old men-boys playing at war; firing cannons and waving flags. I was mesmerized by their faces and how much they must have looked like their far-distant counterparts in their Union caps and Confederate homespun.

Re-enactors sometimes get carried away with the acting and forget how to handle their weapons safely.

A Confederate drummer boy practices before his troops march off to the sound of his cadence.
This young woman was thoroughly enjoying her role as one of the girls in the old brothel.

Women played their parts much as they did in the 1860’s – by keeping the home fires burning and “entertaining” the troops. One girl in particular was so colorful as she smoked her cigar, letting the smoke trail seductively and defiantly from her lips. She stood on the steps of the old whorehouse calling out to the men in uniform, thanking them for the pleasures of the night before – all in good fun and mostly good taste. After all, this was a family event.

Woman and child at the re-enactment.
I imagine this young man was about the same age as his historical complement during the American Civil War. He is dressed as a member of the Sussex Light Dragoons, an early war militia cavalry unit.

Ladies, not workin’ girls, strolled about in hoop skirts and crinolines looking every inch southern and northern belles.

They were the wives, mothers and sweethearts of those dashing young and not-so-young men whose bodies would soon litter the make-believe fields of war.

I wanted to be as close to the action as possible without ruining the authenticity of the event for those participating, and those spectating. To achieve this, the president of the area Civil War society dressed me in a union greatcoat and cap. This was so that from the back, close to the battles I would look like I belonged.

My traveling companion was dressed similarly as he was shooting video for a local production company. We looked WAY too authentic as at one point several soldiers shot at us as we did our own shooting from under a bridge, smack dab in the middle of a running battle.

One soldier guarded the cannon before the battle.
This man looked almost exactly like General Ulysses S. Grant.

Well, we didn’t KNOW they were going to be battling there. It just looked like a good location from which to grab some images.

Although the Friday before the event had been clear and warm, Saturday was abysmal. Cold. Rainy. WET. Wet wool smells rather like wet sheep.

Reloading  A Rebel sergeant reloads his rifle in the rain while worridly watching the advancing Union Army.
Even in the rain this red-headed Reb was intense during the battle scene.

I wrapped the camera and the different lenses in plastic wrap to keep them dry. What a major pain in the tookus! The wrap kept coming unwrapped and I wound the stuff so tight around the zoom lens I couldn’t get the zoom to zoom.

But perseverance usually pays off and this time was no different. Good images can come from bad times. Well, not “bad” times – just trying times….the kind of times that can test a woman’s dedication to getting the job done.

And you just have NO idea what a Union Cap can do to one’s hair!

This year’s event will be February 19, 20 and 21, 2011.

Color Guards

Flag bearer  Many of the soldiers on both sides were very young - like this unit flag bearer.
This young man carries his unit's flag.

One of my Flickr contacts had the following to say about this young man acting as a flag bearer. “The honor of carrying the colors was accorded to the bravest (and wherever possible the most physically imposing) grown men of a given unit. A child this young might have served as a musician and certainly could have posed for a photographer with his unit’s regimental or national flag. However, the chances of his being the actual “flag bearer” were about nil.

And from Richard Lemmers, a National Park Service ranger at Gettysburg, “The soldiers designated to be regimental flag bearers were part of what was called the Color Guard.

Soldiers knelt and prayed before the battles during the re-enactment.

“I’m not sure of how it was in the artillery or cavalry branches in the armies, but in the infantry tactical drill books, which trained the men on how they were expected to fight in formation, the color guard was comprised of 8 sergeants and corporals selected from the various 10 companies in the unit. They were selected for their military bearing. They were usually the bravest and toughest non-coms.

“In most Union infantry regiments the color guard actually had two flags to look after, the National Color and the State Color. In a battle line the color guard would be about in the center of the formation in between the two center companies. The company whose commanding officer was closest to the color guard was referred to as the color company. The color guard, it may surprise you to know, was under orders not to fire their weapons unless they were in very close proximity to the enemy. This was to insure they had enough ammo to defend the flags. It was a disgrace to the unit to lose their flags. The men had to also be skilled at bayonet drill. In Confederate units there usually was only one flag, but they still had 8 men in the color guard.”

For more information


Calico Ghost Town
P.O. Box 638
Yermo, CA. 92398
(760) 254-2122
Fax: 1-760-254-2047

For more about the boys of the Civil War:

Being a civil war drummer:

Watch and listen to the video:


Too Young to Die: Boy Soldiers of the Union Army 1861-1865 by Dennis M. Keesee

7 thoughts on “Hoop skirts and harlots”

  1. My last comment should have read “…just as they would have been recorded (had it been possible) in historical documents…”
    However with Miss Hartley’s own ‘re-enactment’ of events you get the picture anyway…

  2. Love the way most of the images have been presented just as if they would have been if recorded in historical documents of the time.
    Adds to the event and the narrative.
    Another strong photo-journalistic piece from Miss Hartley.

  3. CW re-enactments can be great !!! Back a few yrs. ago, I was able to attend one in Franklin, TN. There were 4,000+ folks in period costumes. It was GREAT !!! I was even able to get in close during the actual battle re-enactment. I don’t like “war,” but … this was still GREAT !!!

  4. Fantastic story and images, Lara. On a few visits to Civil War battlefields with my military units (we called them “staff rides,” and they were focused on learning the lessons of leadership demonstrated on the battlefields), we were accompanied by a pair of re-enactors, one Union, one Confederate. They were extremely knowledgeable and added immensely to our experience. They were very committed to their studies of their respective roles, wearing only what their counterparts wore 150 years ago. One of them, who made his own hard tack and only ate that with water during our entire outing, told me that, at points during re-enactments, some participants will suddenly find themselves “in the moment.” Akin to a déjà vu experience, for just a fleeting instant, the re-enactor will be transported back in time, will really be on that battlefield. Hard core re-enactors live to experience those moments.

  5. A story dear to my heart with genealogy in mind. Absolutely fantastic photos and wonderful article.

    thank you 🙂


  6. Your photos of the event are amazing! You did a fantastic job of capturing many great deep feelings and expressions. Thank you!

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