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Combat Frock: Women Re-Enact The Civil War

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    A Union Army band marches into the "Crossroads of Destiny" battle at the 150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Re-enactment, on Thursday. The re-enactment activities officially began Thursday and last through Sunday.
    Chloe Coleman/NPR
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    Brandi Cole, of Ohio, trains horses to be ridden in a cavalry unit, working with them so they become accustomed to the sound of gunfire.
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    Amara Jachim, 12, of Michigan, poses in her Civil War-era costume. "It gets pretty hot but it's still fun to wear," she said.
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    Les Peplinski, Ontario, Canada, rests after the "Devils to Pay" battle. Peplinski portrayed a color sergeant in the 4th Regiment of the Confederate Army. The color sergeant was responsible for attending to a company's flag at all times.
    Chloe Coleman/NPR
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    Dianne Soccio (left), of Delaware, and Adalee Flaherty, of Pennsylvania, chat in the Union Army camp. Flaherty does not limit herself to the Civil War; she also has participated in Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, and pirate war re-enactments.
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    Marching back to camp after the Crossroads of Destiny fight.
    Chloe Coleman/NPR
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    Meghan Halley, of Ohio, served as a vivandiere, or canteen keeper. Her father, brothers and husband also participated in the re-enactment.
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    Dr. Izabella Hunt-Jones, of Nevada, participated for the second time as a Confederate soldier, formerly acting as a nurse. Her husband built one of the cannons that was used in the re-enactment.
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    Emily Kelley, of Michigan, steadies her hat in the breeze. Kelley's interests were both history and fashion; a professor at Western Michigan University inspired several students to participate.
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    Mackenna Meek (right), 8, of Ohio, sits along the battlefield sidelines as her father marches in as a soldier in the Union Army.
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    Corrie Tice (left), and Paula Abel, of Pennsylvania, observe the Crossroads of Destiny battle from a distance. Both women had family members participating as soldiers.
    Chloe Coleman/NPR
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    A women observes the battlefield from the Union Army camp. The fight had moved directly adjacent to the camp.
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    Leeanne Boles, of California, fans herself from the sidelines of the battlefield. Her fianceĀŽ was portraying a Confederate lieutenant.
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    Debra Glisson, 17, of New York, watches the re-enactment from the Union Army camp. Glisson noted she is "is not a history person but has learned a lot, and the importance of the battle came through."
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    An onlooker watches as the battlefield clears following the last battle of the day.
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This week marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and in the spirit of the Fourth of July, a friend and I set out to experience our first Civil War re-enactment. Armed with my camera, I attended the re-enactment of the battle with a specific question in mind: What inspired women to participate?

I originally wondered why women would want to put on heavy clothing in the July heat and re-enact a time when they had a lot less freedom, and both participants and enthusiastic spectators were more than willing to explain.

Several women told me they became involved to have a shared experience with the men in their lives. Leeanne Boles traveled from California to attend the re-enactment with her fiance. Monica Williams of Halifax, Va., has been participating in re-enactments with her husband for 13 years. Corrie Tice of Philadelphia wanted to join in as a father-daughter bonding experience.

Carole Hackett (left) and her twin sister, Cheryl Hackett, from West Virginia, participated in the re-enactment as part of the Confederate Army artillery.

Carole Hackett (left) and her twin sister, Cheryl Hackett, from West Virginia, participated in the re-enactment as part of the Confederate Army artillery. Chloe Coleman/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Chloe Coleman/NPR

Fashion also influenced some women's decision to travel to Gettysburg. Emily Kelley, of Kalamazoo, Mich., is part of the Living History Experience. A fashion professor at Western Michigan University inspired her, and several other young women, to don the period-based clothing, some of which they made themselves. Adalee Flaherty, of Pennsylvania, says she dresses up not just for re-enactments but to teach her special education students. She noted that women of the era "were very demure, unlike my character. But it's good to be different for a change."

Several of the women participated in the re-enactment as soldiers. Carole and Cheryl Hackett, twins from Parkersburg, W.Va., said they've "loved this stuff since we were little. We started out playing 19th-century-era music." Eventually, they moved from playing music to joining the Kanawha Artillery, Battery D.

And although the re-enactment is deeply entrenched in American history, Les Peplinski gestured for us to come speak with her and whispered: "I'm Canadian!" From Ontario, Peplinski is the only female color sergeant (keeper of the flag). A history teacher originally got her interested in re-enacting, and she noted that her Confederate regiment "is an extended family; we sleep in the dirt together." The character she plays is an amalgam of female soldiers of the Civil War, but she said her character "has become her own personality over the years."

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