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A House Divided
Posted at 11:54 AM ET, 07/21/2011

Blogging from Camp Manassas: Getting fitted for Civil War garb before the Bull Run anniversary

Blogging from the scene at Camp Manassas as events for the 150th anniversary of Bull Run kick off.

Cindy Warlick, purveyor of Civil War-era garb and memorabilia is fitting out a customer with a dress. There’s a ball tonight and the two are twittering over it.

“Do you want a hairnet or a bonnet?” Cindy asks the customer while holding up a gold framed mirror.

The customer tries it on, chooses a bonnet and asks if women wore pearls back then.”

“Oh sure. [Queen] Victoria made them very popular.”

Warlick is a camp sutler, who were merchants that sold goods to armies in the field. Her store, Heirloom Emporium in Strasburg, travels to reenactments in the region. She says she visits about 30 each year.

It’s hot at 10 a.m. and a woman is examining wicker fans. The shelves are filled with hats, candles, toothbrushes, shaving kits, the basic necessities of Civil War camp life.

Warlick wears a brown dress with four leaf clover patterns. Straight pins hold a green apron to her bosom and she wears a hairnet, the turquoise plastic glasses pushed atop her head the only modern accent. Most of the clothes on her shelf are made by hand in homes, including women’s underpinnings made by the Amish.

One of her top customers, a cavalry reenactor from Parris Island, S.C., hands her pants. Ten buttons busted off in the washing machine and he asks her to sew them back on. In the meantime he buys another pair.

Another man, with a thick southern accent and a thicker beard, comes in wearing a top hat and great coat. “Good morning, ma’am.” A Union colonel drops in, “Morning, Cindy.” A Confederate general, “Good Morning, Cindy.”

“It’s a family out here,” Warlick says. “You may go to a family reunion maybe once a year, but you see these people 30 times a year.”

Her husband, Don, is a reenactor who coordinates the cavalry. He is bearded and is sitting by a fan to cool down.

Warlick became a sutler 22 years ago.

“My husband belonged to a cavalry unit and we would go and the women would just sit around and cook. I’m not too good a cook anyway so I decided to start this.”

It is not the most profitable of industries and has been tough the last few years. She estimates a quarter of all sutlers have disappeared because of the recession. Young women, too, are disinclined to enter the business, she said.

“There haven’t been a lot of younger women to get into this. It’s hard work. You have to set up the tent, eat moldy bread, the weather is bad—we’ve been knocked down by three tornadoes. They fall out.”

But then a mother comes in with her young son dressed like Huck Finn. She is holding a hat and asked if boys in the Civil War wore them.

By Timothy R. Smith  |  11:54 AM ET, 07/21/2011

 
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