When I began to visit the Library Company’s Print Room to view the McAllister Collection of Civil War ephemera, I was both fascinated and overwhelmed by the collection and the scope of the subject. Not only did the Civil War seem much too epic an event to ever find an angle to explore in a short animation, but most of the materials and objects in the collection sent my mind reeling. In an accordion binder, there are sheets filled with ribbons mourning Lincoln’s assassination. I reached into another binder and pulled out the end of a noose used to hang a Confederate soldier.
I began reading about the history of the Civil War and I watched the Ken Burns miniseries. But it wasn’t until I was taking a break from research that I discovered my topic. I opened Stieg Larsson’s mystery novel The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and was fascinated by the first few lines:
An estimated 600 women served during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men. Hollywood has missed a significant chapter of cultural history here—or is this history ideologically too difficult to deal with?
Popular culture is often a source of inspiration for my animations and this project has not been an exception. When I began the research process, I expected to unearth my animation’s topic from the 150-year-old materials in the Library Company’s collection. However, I found inspiration in Larsson’s widely read book.
Even though the history of the women soldiers of the Civil War was news to me, it seems to be well known to many. Fortunately, there are several excellent books on this subject. Some of them are:
They Fought like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook
An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman by Lauren Cook
She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War by Bonnie Tsui
Armed with the bibliographies in the above books, I returned to the Library Company and was able to locate articles that mention women soldiers in two different issues of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper from 1863.
Last month I went to West Virginia to interview a woman who has been disguising herself as a male soldier to participate in Civil War re-enactments for the past twenty-five years. In my next post, I’ll write about our visit.