Papa Report #21


Papa Was A Boy in Gray Book Tour

with Prize-Winning author Mary w. Schaller


Report #1 from Robert E. & Ulysses: September 30, 2001

Dispatches from Chesapeake, VA

Welcome: Civil War Days!
Ulysses: Welcome to the 9th Annual Civil War Days sponsored by the Chesapeake Public Library in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Photo: Mary talking to one of the many young visitors at the Civil War Days. You can see Robert E. and me next to the PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY books on the left.

Robert E.: Mary, Marty, and we arrived here on a warm September Saturday just in time to be greeted with a firing from the cannon belonging to Battery M, Second United States Artillery.

Ulysses: Ah, the smell of gunpowder brought back many memories.

What's a Vivandiere?

Robert E.: Mary had been invited to sign copies of PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY at this event, so she decided to dress for the occasion. She wore a special uniform reminiscent of the one the vivandieres wore during the War Between the States.

Ulysses: Ahem, Robert. Folks out there may not know what a vivandiere is. That's a mighty high-falutin' word. You had better explain.

Robert E.: The word was originally French with its roots going all the way back to the 12th century. "Viande" means "meat" coming from the earlier Latin word "vivenda" meaning "food" in general. By the 15th century, "vivandiere" had come to mean "Hospitality giver." By the early 18th century, the word had evolved to mean "one who sells food and drink to soldiers." Vivandieres or "Canteen keepers" made their first appearance in the French armies in the mid-1600's and were regularly seen on the European battlefields by the late 1700's.

The vivandieres originally were the wives of some of the soldiers. These women stayed in the barracks or the camps and were responsible for doing the soldiers' laundry and selling them food and drink. Over the next hundred years, the role of the vivandiere assumed a more dignified position within the French Army. The women were enrolled in the regiments and were allowed to design and wear military uniforms -- with long skirts, of course. Vivandieres often carried a small keg of brandy strapped over their shoulders used to revive injured soldiers on the battlefield. This keg become a distinctive symbol of the vivandiere.

By the time of the Second Empire under Napoleon III (mid-1800's), the term vivandiere was replaced by the term "cantiniere," meaning Canteen woman. By now, they were officially made a part of the French Army complete with pay and awarded medals for their services on the battlefield. Their uniforms had become very picturesque: short gray or red wool jackets over canvas or muslin shirts, loose wool trousers covered by knee-high skirts embroidered with gold braid. This shockingly short skirt was, in turn, covered by a small white apron. Women wore small black hats, often decorated with ostrich feathers. These hats usually displayed a metal badge bearing the cantiniere's unit number. Sometimes the women wore small fancy swords from their belts. These swords were for dress parades and formal occasions only. When on the battlefield, the cantinieres always wore pistols for self-protection. Photo: Mary at the Barnes & Noble book tent with fellow author Dr. Keith Dickson. They are talking to one of the many Confederate re-enactors. You can just glimpse me on the table to the left. Behind the tent are the large wheels belonging to a reproduction field coffee-maker. Many of these industrial-size coffee machines were in use in the Federal campsites during the Civil War.

Ulysses: When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, both the North and the South adapted many ideas from the French Army such as battle tactics and uniforms, especially the kepi hat. The wives and sweethearts who followed their loved ones to the battle front were not slow in imitating the French idea of vivandieres or cantinieres. Many regiments of the Union Army soon had their own vivandieres among them.

Robert E.: Initially, many women in the South thought dressing up in mannish uniforms and going into battle was unladylike behavior, but that didn't stop a number of very determined young ladies who were as anxious as their brothers to "do their part." Like their French counterparts, the American vivandieres on both sides wore self-designed uniforms that looked like those of the French Zouaves. The vivandieres soon showed their usefulness. After battles, and sometimes even while the guns were still firing, the vivandieres were usually the first ones to reach the wounded. They carried kegs of many canteens filled with water for the soldiers, and often they had bandages in their haversacks for first aid until the surgeons could treat the injured. Behind the lines, the cantinieres helped keep up the soldiers' spirits by reading the Bible to them in the field hospitals and by writing letters home for the soldiers.

Ulysses: Some of the better known of these unsung heroines were Marie Tebe of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Mistress John Bahr of the famous Confederate unit, the Washington Artillery of New Orleans. Read more about vivandieres during the American Civil War.

Mary as a Cantiniere:

Robert E.: For Civil War Days in Chesapeake, Mary portrayed a cantiniere of the 33rd Virginia Volunteers, even though there is no historical record of this regiment having a cantiniere. Mary chose the 33rd Virginia because she is an honorary member of this unit. Mary wore a white full-sleeved blouse decorated with golden embroidery, a gray wool Zouave jacket decorated with 11 yards of gold braid, a long black skirt, black riding boots, a black leather belt with a Virginia State buckle, and a small black hat decorated with a yellow hat band and two yellow ostrich feathers. One side of the hat is turned up and held in place with a pin that looks like an Irish harp in honor of the 33rd which was made up of many boys from Ireland. Photo: Mary dressed as a cantiniere of the 33rd Virginia Volunteers. Behind her is the Coast Guard Surgeon signing up another recruit.

Ulysses: Since the day was very warm, Mary stayed in the shade of the book tent and drank a lot a water while she fanned herself with a painted wooden fan. She told us she didn't see how we soldiers could fight a battle while wearing such heavy clothes.

Robert E.: But we did. It was the accepted Army uniform in the 1860's.

Ulysses: Mary's table mate was Dr. Keith D. Dickson, author of THE CIVIL WAR FOR DUMMIES. It happens to be a most interesting and well-written book. Dr. Dickson is an Associate Professor of Military Studies at the Joint Forces Staff College, National Defense University.

Robert E.: Ulysses and I felt right at home in such good company.

Civil War Days Event:
Ulysses: The Civil War Days Event was particularly fun for the children. A unit of the United States Navy (circa 1860) conducted the School of the Sailor for youngsters interested in the sea, while several of the Confederate infantry units took turns conducting the School of the Soldier.

Robert E.: There was even a 19th Century Coast Guard Surgeon there who interviewed the naval recruits and wrote out health examinations with a real old fashioned dip-ink pen. Meanwhile, the young Army recruits learned to march and drill while carrying little broom sticks, just like many of the Southern soldiers had to do when there was a shortage of rifles. Photo: Mary talking to one of the many young visitors at the Civil War Days. You can see Ulysses and me next to the PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY books on the left.

Ulysses: Both U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were in attendance with their wives. They nodded to us as they walked by. I understand they gave a wonderful press conference inside the library, but we were so busy at the book tent we were unable to attend. Robert E. and I received many compliments!

Robert E.: Meanwhile, there were demonstrations by candle makers and blacksmiths. Children could take mule rides -- a very different experience than the usual pony ride -- and they could play some of the games the children of the 1860's once played. Throughout the day there was live period music. A most enjoyable experience!

Last Report: Robert E., Ulysses, Abe, & Sacagawea!
We had a wonderful time at the Chesapeake Civil War Days, but we were glad to return to our air conditioned hotel room! This is Ulysses', Abe's, Sacagawea's, and my last report. Winter is coming, and that means the end of our campaign season.

Extra Report: King Hal & the Bard!
But there will be one more report about another place and another century. Stay tuned for King Hal and the Bard when they tell you their adventures at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.