I Got Felt Up at a Civil War Reenactment

I really had no idea that this was the kind of thing I was missing at Civil War reenactments. This image was pulled from a new photography book on the fascinating world of reenacting titled, Whistling Dixie by Anderson Scott. You can find additional images at the Wired article.

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So, is this part of the courting practices of the antebellum South that is being depicted here? I don’t remember ever seeing anything close to this in Gone With the Wind or a Mort Kunstler print.

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40 thoughts on “I Got Felt Up at a Civil War Reenactment

  1. Christopher Graham

    They’re reenacting James Henry Hammond’s life. This is the only PG picture available.

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      1. Christopher Graham

        Hammond’s diary and letters are a cornerstone of historiographical writing on honor and paternalism in the south. Hammond himself, an ambitious planter and politician, coined the term “King Cotton.” His political career in South Carolina was derailed, however, when his fondness for sexually groping his nieces (members of the Wade Hampton family) became public. He wrote explicitly about the incidents in his diary. (His sexual appetites are of interest to historians these days because of a fairly well documented same sex affair in his youth.)

        In short, he was a super-creep. This photo reminded me of him.

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        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I did not know about his sexual exploits. I need to go back and read some more Hammond. Thanks. :-)

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          1. M. Douglas-Llyr

            @Christopher: Good call on that photo and Hammond!

            @Kevin: Last year I read “Secret and Sacred: The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, A Southern Slaveholder” (Univ. of South Carolina Press). Interesting man; and quite scandalous, with absolutely no shame!

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          2. Nathan Towne

            Kevin,

            If you are interested historian Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University has written a very scholarly study of Hammond entitled “James Henry Hammond and the Old South,” in which she studies his sexuality in some depth.

            In his late teens and early twenties Hammond had secretly carried out a homosexual relationship with future Confederate States Representative from South Carolina, Thomas Jefferson Withers. Some of the personal correspondence between the two men, dated from 1826, still exists and is housed at the library at the University of South Carolina, in which they make several explicit references to their sex life together.

            After serving as Governor of South Carolina for four years, his name was pushed by the state legislature for the United Stated Senate which initiated a bitter fued between himself and his wife’s brother Wade Hampton II who vigorously attempted to block his candidacy by threatening to reveal to the legislature and the press that Hammond had carried out improper relationships with all four of his daughters, the details of which had been revealed to the family over the last several years. He ultimately acquiesced and withdrew his name.

            In 1850, his wife Catherine, who had stuck by him, ended up leaving him taking their children after she found out that he had been carrying out an affair with one of his slaves Louisa, who ultimately bore him a child.

            In his personal diary, which is also available on amazon, he talks about his advances on Hampton’s daughters and highly implies that he had sexual intercourse with at least one of them.

            Faust’s biograpghy is worth reading. She covers his entire political career in considerable depth. However, it has been criticized, with some fairness, as irresponsibly trying to draw larger conclusions on slave-holding society based upon her findings with Hammond. It serves as a good biography, but suffers when she moves away from Hammond and attempts to comment on larger social themes.

            Nathan Towne

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        2. Brad

          I think (but would not swear to it) that Freehling briefly discussed Hammond’s sexual exploits (including the incidents with Hampton’s daughters) in Road to Disunion.

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          1. Nathan Towne

            Brad,

            Freehling covers Hammond’s career in great depth. In his diary, Hammond implies quite heavily that his relationship with one of the girls ultimately ended with intercourse.

            He later denies that the relationships went that far however in the same diary. Freehling accepts his word on this.

            Nathan Towne

            Reply
  2. Ken Noe

    A friend who researched the roles of young women at UCV reunions told me this was unfortunately common. Young women complained constantly about being pawed.

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      1. Ken Noe

        Take a look at the memoirs of Marietta Andrews and Evelyn Scott, for example. Cita Cook discusses how even Winnie Davis had to put up with a degree of verbal harassment and men constantly trying to kiss her, although in Winnie’s case, it usually involved former enlisted men cheering on their officers.

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    1. WD

      Corey,
      I left CW reenacting/LH by 2000 after 19 years in it, mostly doing campaigner/hard core events, NPS/historic site programs, etc. Starting in the 90′s, I started to see some demarcation lines getting blurred, and that was a good thing. Logic told me this slow march would continue. Some friends of mine convinced me to return for the 150ths, and I thought I’d see more advances in the last 10+ years. NO!!! CW reenacting has devolved to the level it was in the 70′s, and that’s about the nicest thing I can say about the current state of affairs.

      Reply
  3. Ben Allen

    Don’t look to “Gone with the Wind” to verify anything about Southern society. That movie is a bunch of &%$$#^&*(*()^$$^^&@@! Kunstler is better, but Don Troiani is the best. :)

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  4. Wallace Hettle

    Carol Bleser edited Hammond’s diaries–The Secret and the Sacred, I think the book is called. I assigned it once (not just for the dirty bits, but his actions as a slaveholder). The students were so disgusted that the discussion fizzled.

    Reply
  5. Timothy Orr

    So, this is for the non-reenactors: This photograph looks like it’s showing a “courtship dance,” a fairly popular game at reenactors’ balls. The women line up on one side of the dance floor, and the men line up on the other. There are three chairs in the middle. The woman at the head of line sits in the middle chair and the first two men in line sit on both sides of her. The band plays music and the two men whisper sweet nothings into her ear. Then, she selects one of the two men, the one who has wooed her most effectively, and she dances with him down the gauntlet. To the other, she leaves an object (usually a fan, but in this case, it appears to be the hat.) That lonely fellow moves to the center chair and the next two ladies in the column sit on both sides of him, and they whisper sweet nothings to him. Thus, the cycle continues until the band gets tired of playing. Don’t ask me if this was a popular dance during the Civil War Era. I know it is popular among reenactors. I’ve seen it quite a few times. I cannot say I’ve ever seen any groping.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for adding some context to this image. I wonder if the book offers any kind of explanation.

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    2. Bob Huddleston

      Thanks for the explanation. When I looked again at the picture, it does appear that the left man’s right arm is several feet in front of the woman, marking it as a deceptive shot. I too would be curious to see the author’s discussion.

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        1. Bob Huddleston

          Maybe a foot. :>) But it does bring up some interesting “memory” issues. If the shot does not show the dude grouping, then Alexander Scott needs to explain why he included it. If it is grouping — well it is sad that Hammond’s heirs are still active!

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          1. Andy Hall

            The photos published in WIRED certainly have a Confederates-in-the-Attic vibe to them. They may or may not be representative of Scott’s book as a whole. But given the description on Amazon:

            Scott’s photographs convey the earnestness and enthusiasm of this subculture while exposing its idiosyncrasies and contradictions.

            I’m quite sure there will loud carping and whining about it being a “hit piece,” Dixie-bashing, etc.

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            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              I don’t know if you noticed, but one of the photographs shows a rather large woman in a pink dress, who bears an uncanny resemblance to our friend, “Amanda”. :-)

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    3. Vicki Betts

      It’s called a German. See _From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-Century Dance_, By Elizabeth Aldrich, pages 17-18.

      Vicki Betts

      Reply
  6. Pat Young

    This is a metaphorically laced living vignette depicting Southern Unionists (left) weakly focusing on Dixie’s secondary erogenous zones while aroused Secessionists (right) have already gained her fickle allegiance. Don’t despair, the fling will only last four years. [Pretty girl]

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  7. Rob Baker

    I must say, I’m pretty active right now on the reeancting circuit. I’m going to have to buy this book to see what in the world is going on here.

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  8. James F. Epperson

    I suspect there is no actual contact, so the image is a good piece of optical allusion. My wife is more offended by the leering way the othe man is gazing at the woman’ chest.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Contact has clearly been achieved. :-) The individual on the right seems to be covering up something with his hat. All around weird scene.

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  9. Dudley Bokoski

    Except….that’s not the hat of the man on the right, but of the man on the left. The man on the right is wearing his own hat. Much more disturbing, if you look under the woman’s left elbow you see a hand (presumably that of the man on the left) reaching around her. Which would have to mean a)one of his arms is much longer than the other and b)he’s trying to pick the pocket of the leering dolt on the right. Talk about falling in with a bad crowd.

    Reply

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