Charity Scams–yes, even then

August 30, 2008

Would you believe that we in the 21st century are not the first to experience charity scams?  Well it’s true.  And I’m sure it goes back as far as you can possibly imagine, but because the Civil War era is the one I “study” that will be the one I mention here.

I’ve started several novels (finished two) that take place in and around Harrisburg, PA in 1863.  To write about the citizens of that time, I had to do a lot of research and much of it involved Camp Curtin Army camp.

When the camp was first set up, there was little in the way of authority.  The officer in charge changed as often as a group was brought in or shipped out.  So the troops were at the mercy of the public.  And the public were as generous as they could be. 

Trains loaded with grain, and cattle were sent to feed the thousands that camped and eventually, trained there.  The local establishment kept the flour mills in business.  Local bakers as well as the Harrisburg Hospital for the Insane prepared hundreds of loaves of bread, and local farmers sent vegetables, wives baked pies and cakes. 

So where are the scams?  There are always some nere-do-wells who just want to get that last penny from the government.  Some providers of hardtack, bread, flour and even animal feed sold old product, moldy and rotting food as fresh.  Even the cooks at the camp took advantage of having vast amounts of food available and would steal it and resell it back to the army.  One of the most common was the drying and reselling of used coffee grounds-cheap,  Most of the old coffee went to the public.

And there were legitimate groups who collected money for the support of the soldiers, to give them a meal as they traveled to the army camps, to give them Bibles, and religious tracts, and as the war continued, to provide the orphans and widows with help to pay bills and live. 

What can I say?  There isn’t much new in the world–some of the people that claimed to be working for these groups, were not, and they made off with the proceeds collected from those with little to give in the first place.


For WOMEN ONLY: Women’s Woes in the early days

August 26, 2008

Here I sit suffering from lower back pain–again.  Without going into too much detail, I’m goingthrough menopause at a latish age.  I had a hysterectomy back in the 1980’s but kept my ovaries, thus the pain.  You guys have no idea how lucky you are not to have this unique experience.

Everything in my life today triggers questions about the past.  How did the women deal with their cycle?  Not just the inconvenience of bleeding, but the pains, discomforts and incapacitating conditions.

I use to get migraine headaches, continues back and cramp pains to the point of fainting, and all that topped by the flooding and embarrassment when it wasn’t contained.  So I’m thinking that what I read about women secluding themselves during this time is probably true.  I’ve also read that they used “rags” that were bleached, washed and reused (like cloth diapers).  As for the pain– I’m not learned in all the names and uses but my references tell me that there was an opium derivative available and many women became dependent on it, and hooked.  Makes you wonder is the cure is worth the risk… today I’m saying it is, tomorrow– nah, nothing is worth becoming an addict in any time or age.

Laundry – Then and now

August 21, 2008

When you separate your wash and head for the laundry room, think about your ancestors. 

beating clothing to clean

beating clothing to clean

Clothing had to be treated for spots and stains with bleach soaking before each piece was scrubbed against a ribbed board using lye soap.  This is followed by boiling vats, where the garments, sheets, linens, etc. were stirred with wood paddles, then moved to a second vat, this one of rinse water.  The wash load is stirred and left to soak to remove the soap.  They were then wrung out by hand, and thrown over bushes, tree branches, or if the laundress was lucky enough to have a rope and place to tie it off, a close line. 

flat irons

flat irons

AND she’s not done.  When the garments were dry, she had to dampen each item that needed ironed, and twist them in a tight ball.  Ironing was no picnic either.  The “iron” used was a cast item that was heated on the wood burning stove, and held using a towel, or flour bag to keep from burning the ironer’s hand.  AND everything was ironed.  Sheets, pillow covers, linens, handkerchiefs, as well as clothing. 

It’s no wonder the nineteenth century women didn’t wash clothing often.  They hung their worn garments out to air for a day or two, and put sprigs of dried flowers and spices in their wardrobes, and carried pretty linen handkerchiefs soaked in scent to ward off the onsent of body odor.

I can remember helping with the wash as a pre-teen.  The wash tub was partially filled with cold water, and water heated on the stove was added.  I think we used Ivory laundry soap, I can remember the fine slippery flakes.  Items to be washed were added and I don’t quite remember if there was an automatic agitator or not, I think there was.  My job was to feed the items thought the wringer, and it was automatic, I caught my hand in it several times.  The cleaned wash was dropped into a tub of cold water on the other side, THEN it was again wrung out, and put into baskets to be hung on clothes lines in the back yard, with clothes pins to hold everything in place.  At this time, we had a baby in the house so much of the wash was diapers (no disposables back then).  Each step in the wash cycle was timed but by my mother, not an automatic timer.

Today I take the wash to the machine, load it, add the liquid soap and Borax (yes I still use it), make sure the settings are for cold wash and rinse, set the timer and type of load and I’m done until the time is up and I can move the damp (was spun in the washer after rinsing) clothing into the drier, set the timer and temperature, throw in a drier sheet, and load a new wash load, before going back to my other chores until the machine buzzing alerts me that its done. 

I often wonder when women of that earlier age had time to do anything other than laundry.  And some did wash for others in their home to earn money.  And remember they had to bake their bread, churn their butter, and everything was cooked, baked, and even canned from the things they grew themselves or bought at markets from others.  I’m guessing that you learned to appreciate what you had when you had to work so hard to prepare it.  And we didn’t even touch on making clothing, stitching linens or quilting blankets.

Pets–then, and now

August 15, 2008
One our first, Patches lives alone in the upstairs bathroom

One our first, Patches lives alone in the upstairs bathroom

In the nineteenth century animals that lived around or even in the home were not “pets” as we know them today.  They were working members of the farm, business, and/or home. 

Two of our mouse catchers, Mrs. Fletcher (grey), and Mr. Moe (multi colored)

Dogs guarded property and people; cats took care of rodents. 

Other types of animals, fish, birds, ferats, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, snakes, and such were not brought into the house, let alone made to feel that they were part of the family. 

What caused this major change in attitude?  I think its because we have so much time on our hands that we need to find someway to occupy us.  Because there are more single parent homes today, and even men and women living alone they have pets to provide company for themselves and for their children.  For the childless couple, pets are a way to vent our (we’re such a family) parental needs. 

McYellow thinks he's the boss, he is the oldest

McYellow thinks he's the boss, he is the oldest

It’s interesting to see the many ways that the times have changed our lives.  Development’s of time saving machines, speedy transportation, the appearance of the Internet, and electronics have put us in a future that the Civil War era population could only speculate on, if they had the imagination to do so.  But in my thinking they were far too busy just surviving to be concerned with space age machines.

our newest and youngest

our newest and youngest, Ms. Marple (she's bad)One of our first cats. Patches lives in the upstairs bathroom

Around the house–

August 13, 2008

Highspire from the PA turnpike bridge

This post is just a little about our home.   We’ve lived in the same house for forty years.  When we moved in there was an active corn field behind us.  It was a narrow strip of land, but several blocks long.  An assortment of wildlife found its way into our yard and even into our house.

Wetlands behind our house.

We have had an assortment of stray cats, groundhogs, mice, bats, turtles, moles, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, and even a deer just last year find their way into the field, now just a field of weeds and groundhog burrows.  The mice. two bats, and two turtles found their way inside our house. 

Pennsylvania Canal on the other side of the field

Let me just preface this next part with a note that neither my husband nor I can or want to kill any living thing, and that include bugs and insects for my husband, I don’t go that far.  We caught both bats (YUCK!!).  One had been in the house (upstairs room that we used for storage) for a while.  We found the evidence.  That one had to be “dealt” with, but we couldn’t do it so a neighbor helped with it.  The second one was only a few years ago.  We had our cats, and they had a ball chasing this flying rodent from room to room before we captured it (hubby caught it in a fishing net on a pole, and I put a broom on top of it to keep it from getting loose.)  This one had just gotten into the garage and from there into the house so we felt save in turning it loose.   In case you don’t know, bats will return to a nesting place, but if they haven’t established living quarters, most likely it will not. 

The cats have been taking care of our mice population that swells as the weather gets colder.  We’ve been successful about fifty percent of the time in capture and releasing them. 

One of two Turtle X-ing signs

The first turtle we found was in the basement and we can only guess it came up through a french drain.  It was only the size of a quarter and was a snapping turtle.  The second one was today.  It was a box turtle and was the size of my husbands hand.  Because the township has put in a park on the other side of the empty field, and the park borders the old Pennsylvania Canal, and reservoir, we carried the turtle back there and turned it loose in the trees and weeds around the water. 

The pictures in this post are of that release area, and the “turtle” crossing signs warning cars of the reason for the 25 MPH speed limit.  Its a beautiful park and a real tribute to the Civil War era when the Canal flourished, and White House Lane (the street passes the park) was the location of a White House Inn, a resting place for Canal travelers.


August 11, 2008

I don’t know about you but family means a lot to me.  Not all family members are stellar, not worthy of mention but they are family.

My husband’s family has a reunion every year on the same Sunday in July, and though its been held at different places, for the past ten or more years its held at a State Park.  Organization is simple, someone rents the pavilion, and lets major family members know for sure the date and location.  Someone provides a few simple games for the children (there’s boating on the lake, too), and a notebook for attendance and update in contact information.  A collection ($5 for each family group) is taken to pay for the next years rental, and some years they have enough money left over to pay several years.  It is a covered dish picnic, with each family providing a meat, vegetable, and desert dish and drinks that would feed their attending members.  Upwards of fifty family members attend, coming from as far away as Florida (we are in Pennsylvania).  It’s a great time to catch up and get reacquainted with aunts, uncles and cousins.

What has this to do with the Civil War? A lot.  In the nineteenth century, these yearly gatherings weren’t necessary as families were closely involved with each other most of the time.  Living near the same towns, they gathered for church meetings, quilting bees, and other community doings.  Even the children’s schooling was centered around the community, and family needs.  Allowing the children the summer “off” is a throw back to that time and need.  The children helped with the farming chores during the growing and harvest times.  They helped with the butchering, canning and smoking of meats.

Folks had to rely on their families for help and support.  Not just their blood relations, but their church and community families.  They helped their neighbors with harvests, wives helped other wives when babies were born, or when someone was ill.  They kept an eye out for each other.  They didn’t have hospitals in every town, nor stores for produce and food products.  They grew and processed these themselves.  They killed the stock, cleaned and prepared it for storage and eating.  How many of us today know how that was done?  Only those involved in the modern day versions, or those old enough to remember. 

I’d love to hear your early experiences with family.

South-Central Pennsylvania– Hershey Amusment Park

August 8, 2008

It’s not the cheapest trip you can plan, but if you plan it carefully, it can be a fairly priced day out for the family.  Check the website for specials, daily, two-day and more passes.  But remember that parking isn’t free, costing ten dollars for a car, and it goes up from there.  There is lots of parking and trams that take you to the park, and Chocolate world (free admission).  And don’t forget the rose garden (a short drive away), the museum, and Zoo America.

It was in the late 1980’s that my husband and I were last at the park.  We went with family and rode many of the rides.  The Sooper Dooper Looper was new then and the lines were long and the wait hot, but we loved the roller coasters. 

When I was a teen, we would go to the park often.  Riding the Comet, and Coal Cracker, they’re still there.  The park was a quieter place back in the 1960’s, better?  Nah.  It had to grow or be pushed out of existence, I know that but I’ll still have my memories.

Today there are 60 rides in numerous park areas.  These rides include eleven coasters.  You can check them all out at the parks website.  prices too 

The food concessions are costly, especially for a family, so consider that the parking lots have shaded areas where there are picnic tables.  You can’t take food or drink into the park, but you can put it in your car and leave the park, get a hand stamp, and enjoy a quiet lunch away from the crowds, and cost effective. 

As with all vacation trips the most important thing to remember is to enjoy your time away (and bring a bathing suit for that water park).

Washington DC today

August 6, 2008

This past Friday, my husband and I took advantage of an offered bus trip with a group of folks that we know.  The main point of the trip was to go to the Marine base in Washington and view the silent drill team, but there was one other short sightseeing stop on the way.

My only complaint with the stop to see the World War II monument was that we didn’t have more time to walk around the plaza and see some of the other monuments.  Having only an hour limited our straying, but it also put a return trip on our must do list.  (

Our group ages ranged from 45 to 95.  Some of the men with us had deep feelings about the war and the men lost there.  We all felt the reverence and where in awe of the huge fountain and for me the wall of gold stars (4000 of them, each depicting 10,000 men lost to that fight). 

A gentleman that I know very well was especially effected.  He and his wife found the block engraved with The Battle of the Bulge.  He fought there, was wounded, and lost many friends.  His daughter was born days before he arrived at the England hospital. Together the couple mourned lost comrades and the recent lost of that daughter.

This stop at the Washington Plaza was the highlight of the trip.  We had a delicious and generous dinner at The Crystal Mall, and went on to the Marine Base, arriving at seven PM as instructed.  The tickets are free to this event which takes place every Friday, but you must call ahead as they are often booked, and you must get a ticket.

After being taken to our seats by one of the crew of handsome and very impressive Marines, we were told that the program wouldn’t start till 8:45 or after dark.  We were seated in bleachers in the furthest corner (end zone area) of the field with a line of trees directly in front of us running parallel to the field.  With only two areas set up for the bleachers, you could say that we had the worst seats in the house. 

We were treated to a talk by a Marine who gave us some background on marines in general and the history of the base.  The temperatures were in the high 80’ies (and did I say we were sitting out side without overhead shelter?)  Though they had water available it wasn’t convenient to climb down the packed bleachers to get it, so we waited. 

The program started with the Marine Band (either two bands or two parts of the same band preformed at various times) and they were great.  Then there were introductions, and finally after a half hour the drill team appeared.  Because the marched past us to reach the field (and back the same way an hour later) we did see them.  But the only viewers who actually saw the performance were those sitting in the seats horizontalto the field with the spot lights behind them and on the troops.  I suspect these were the families and dignitaries invited to the base. 

To sum up.  We were disappointed that we didn’t see the drill team ( one of our group passed out from dehydration and was taken to the hospital which also put a damper on the evening) but the visit to Washington Plaza, and the supper, and of course the conversation with friends was worth the trip. (

If you get the chance to go to this program, be sure you’re getting good seats (they don’t allow you to wander around the field) and take a lot of water.

AND so much more (resources for Civil War Women and their stories)

August 4, 2008

The women in the previous posts are just the most well known of those who work to help the cause the loved and believed in.  As I mentioned in the first post on spies, many of them will never be known as they covered their tracks, kept no documents, and were as well hidden as their covert activities at the time of the war.

I’ve read many other stories of the Women who spied, and there are many resources to finding out more. As well as the stories of the women who died with their men folk, some who died of desease and some who lived to tell the story of their service in letters, diaries and journals. 

There are many resources on line, but also in print.  I’ve listed some of them here.  But keep looking, new books and links are coming up all the time.  For you re-enactors, there are many Yahoo loops that will put you in touch with others of the same interest.  They talk about the details of living and clothing from that era. Enjoy.



These are some of the books in my own library, and some of the links on my favoirites:


A MIDWIFE’S TALE:  The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (a Winner of the Pulitzer Prize) 

Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York

ISBN 0-679-73376-0


MOTHERHOOD IN THE OLD SOUTH: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infant Rearing, by Sally G. McMIllen:

Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London

ISBN 0-8071-1517-7 (cloth)  ISBN 0-8071-2166-5 (pbk.)


THE CONFEDERATE HOUSEWIFE: Receipts and Remedies, Together with Sundry Suggestions for Garden, Farm & Plantation, compiled and edited by John Hammond Moore.

Summerhouse Press, P. O. Box 1492, Columbia, SC 29202

ISBN 1-887714-09-X (pbk.: alk.paper)


A BLACK WOMAN’S CIVIL WAR MEMOIRS: reminiscences of My life in Camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers, by Susie King Taylor (edited by Patricia W. Romero and Introduction by Willie Lee Rose)

Markus Wiener Publishers, 114 Jefferson Rd, Princeton, NJ 08540

ISBN:  0-910129-85-1


MOTHERS OF INVENTION:  Women of the slaveholding South in the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

The University of North Carolina Press, PO Box 2288, Chapel Hill, NC  27515-2288

ISBN:  978 0-80785-573-7


WHITE ROSES: Stories of Civil War Nurses, by Rebecca D. Larson:

Thomas Publications, P.O. Box 3031, Gettysburg, PA 17325



KATE: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse, by Kate Cumming

Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London

ISBN 0-8071-2267-X (pbk.)


VALOR AND LACE: The Roles of Confederate Women 1861-1865, edited by Mauriel Phillips Joslyn, ten contributing authors:  Journal of Confederate History Series, John McGlone, Series Editor Vol XV

Southern Heritage Press, P. O. Box 1012, Murfreesboro, TN 37133

ISBN 1-889332-01-1


WOMEN OF THE WAR:  their heroism and self-sacrifice / true stories of brave women in the Civil War by Frank Moore

Published by Ralph Roberts

ISBN:  978 1-888295-00-9


WHEN A ROSE IS NOT A ROSE, by Rebecca D. Larson

Thomas Publications, P.O. Box 3031, Gettysburg, PA 17325



BLUE AND GRAY: Roses of Intrigue, by Rebecca D. Larson:

Thomas Publications, P.O. Box 3031, Gettysburg, PA 17325



A YANKEE SPY IN RICHMOND:  A Civil War Diary of “Crazy Bet” Van Lew edited by David D. Ryan

Stackpole Books, 5067 Ritter Rd, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055

ISBN:  978 0-8117-0554-7


Web Sites: 

             with links to:


And Many died

August 1, 2008

Only an estimate can be made of how many women died while serving their country during the Civil War.  The authorities say that there were some 400 who can be proved to have died from illness, wounds, and some even of old age while serving as nurses, soldiers, vivandieres, and spies. 

All though some of the women who were caught an proven to be spies were jailed and sentenced to death, none were executed by either government.  Some did die while incarcerated, from illness or age, but none were hung or shot, though men and even boys in the same position were dealt with without mercy.

My next post will be a list of resources, books and sites, where you can read more of the interesting stories of these brave women.