Biblical parables and shop-worn cliches aside, my feet hurt. I simply cannot imagine marching hundreds of miles with these medieval torture devices on my feet, only to be thrown into some of the most brutal combat our country has ever seen.
Ok, so I’m overstating the case. But, these shoes are not Nike Air Jordans (Yes, I’m dating myself here). They are authentic recreations of the typical nineteenth century footwear worn by Confederate soliders on Civil War Battlefields during one of America’s darkest times. The soles are thin but hard, and they are fastened together by iron nails, as you can see in the photo. The nails create the contact point with the ground, which makes the shoes slippery on hard, smooth surfaces (such as the ubiquitous hardwood floors of that era), as well as hard and inflexible on the bottoms of one’s feet.
After about 30 minutes of wearing them, my feet felt like I had hiked on a concrete path for 10 miles. The souls of the men that wore these on long marches and into battle had to be harder than the soles on their feet.
This, of course, is the point of Living History. Civil War Re-enactment is much more than playing dress-up and fantasizing about daring adventures in the days of yore. Re-enactment is about treading where the people of the past have tread and experiencing what they experienced as best as one can with our modern sensibilities. In its purest form, Living History is about empathy and education. To an observer it may seem silly. To a participant, it is often quite serious.
I wore these shoes during a happy and light-hearted affair, but when I sat down after the fanfare was over, rubbing my sore feet while relaxing in one of our whirlpool suites, I reflected on the people that have come before. Something as simple as a shoe, and the very real pain it caused, was enough to help me appreciate the hardened force of will that must have permeated the armies of the Civil War, both Federal and Confederate. Tough men in tough times doing tough things.
This is why the work of those who would educate us about the historical mileu is so important. Mort Kunstler, for example, is a renowned artist of Civil War scenes. His work is authentic, inspiring, and evocative. He brings out the human and emotional element of some of the quieter but more poignant moments of the American Civil War. We were honored to host this eminent artist at a reception in our historic inn, especially since the scene Mort Kunstler depicted in Unconquered Spirit occurred just two blocks from our house, which was standing at that time. In fact, only a few months after Generals Lee, Hill, and Longstreet came together in front of the courthouse in the Town of Orange (the scene from Unconquered Spirit), a number of Lee’s officers, including the famous J.E.B Stuart, attended a wedding party right in our parlor! Thus, with several folks (including Sharon and I) dressed in period-appropriate clothes, the reception took on a meaning and a flair akin to that of the Civil War wedding reception that, according to one contemporary diarist, continued until 4 o’clock in the morning! Town and County officials, local residents, historians, and friends celebrated Mr. Kunstler’s work with food, wine, and good cheer. The following day, Mr. Kunstler signed his prints on the historic steps of the Orange County Courthouse, which was the backdrop for his recent painting.
We would like to extend a special “thank you” to Steve Silvia of J.S. Mosby’s Antiques and Bill and Nancy Graham for providing authentic period clothing, as well as Brian Pratlow for serving as part of our honor guard and as a greeter. Our favorite local caterer, Chef Paul Diegl from Real Food provided some of the food. Also, thank you to Frank Walker, emminent local historian and Civil War tour guide, for helping to organize the event!