Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I cringe a bit now when I think about how often the words "In Baltimore, we did ..." came out of my mouth when I first moved to St. Louis back in '91. Years later, a guy from D.C. moved into our dance community,* and those same words would come out of his mouth too. He was a bit of a dick and I'm so glad he's since moved away, but I know where those words came from--this East Coast idea that you've got the best, newest ideas, and if only people would listen and change their ways, their lives would become ever so much better .

Civil War reenacting today has that same East/West divide. There's a joke about East Coasters never making it to events over the big, scary mountains. On the military side, many of their reenactments happen in places everyone has heard of: Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Antietam. On the civilian side, a lot of the doyennes of reenacting are based on the East Coast. They hit the web early and have become the "voice" of authentic reenacting. Contradict them at your peril.

On the East Coast, it's easy to get the idea that you're the birthplace of the country, that with your rich history comes profound wisdom. What doesn't get taught is that people have lived in the Midwest for just about as long. These were interesting people too, not unwashed savages. During the Civil War, they kept up with the latest news and fashions, and fought important battles as well: Carthage, Lexington, Wilson's Creek, Pilot Knob. There's a plausible argument that the Civil War began in Missouri and lasted here the longest.

As reenactors, we've put on some really cool events in the Midwest and often have the run of entire historic villages. The nation's most respected Civil War movie company is based in Kansas City. There are some amazingly authentic reenactors out here as well, people who look like they've stepped right out of a daguerreotype, but in color.

image courtesy of Anna Allen

As a rule, Midwesterners tend not to need to contradict, to prove their point at all costs. I've learned a lot from living in the Midwest, not the least of which is the ability to nod politely and go on doing my thing.

I was struck by all of this as I researched the sanitary fairs, because up cropped a significant power struggle between the U.S. Sanitary Commission (U.S.S.C., based in Washington, D.C.) and the Western Sanitary Commission (W.S.C., based in St. Louis). Both were founded within months of each other, but the U.S.S.C. wanted to control all the aid work throughout the country.

The W.S.C., ironically enough, was run by East Coast transplants such as Anna Clapp. They had a legimate fear of letting go of the funds they had raised, suspecting that the bulk of it would go to troops in the Eastern theaters, leaving their home troops under supplied.

The U.S.S.C. sent delegates out to St. Louis to pressure the W.S.C. into folding its activities under the former's umbrella, claiming that they could better handle relief efforts. I can only imagine the polite fury expressed in those meetings. The W.S.C. politely thanked them and went on doing their thing. Their sanitary fair in 1864 raised more per capita than any other.

*I actually know a surprisingly high number of Marylanders here in St. Louis. One of the reasons it's a surprising number is that Maryland is a really tiny state. I think all states should have only so many counties as a school child can memorize. Maryland has a very sensible 23.

Still no news on the job, but you all and some dear friends have managed to chin me up a bit. I'm still not thinking positively, but I'm trying my darndest to think neutrally.

Current backlog:

  • 12 papers. I did grade 3 this morning, but they were last-minute revisions, aka attempts to keep from failing.


Lynda said...

I enjoy reading your blog. As someone who has been involved in the east coast civil war community, I know what you are saying about them believing that they are the best and brightest. We haven't been involved for the last 4 or 5 years because of our job, and reading your blog makes me kind of miss it. I don't miss the politics and cliquishness of the civil war community, but I do miss the events and the friends that we had. I love your info on the Sanitary commissions...used to do a lot of that with a group in Maryland. I'm glad I stumbled onto your blog.

Anonymous said...

I especially love the great photo of the ladies in their dresses.