Women’s work in Alexandria

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Pageant Tracey McIntire dresses as a Union soldier and organizes her battle gear March 26 at the Fort Ward Museum.

They weren’t able to go into battle themselves, but women were an integral part of the Civil War, as evidenced by Civil War Women’s Day on March 26 at the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site.
Elaine Kessinger, VJ Kopacki and Darline Demott portray Civil War-era women March 26 at the Fort Ward Museum.

“We are a group of volunteers who help the Fort Ward Museum interpret Women’s History Month by presenting the Civil War from a woman’s perspective,” said historical interpreter Elaine Kessinger. “Today we represent how women supported the war effort with care boxes, writing letters and ensuring that soldiers heard from home.”

The event highlighted the dress, skills and contributions of women on the home front, in camp and on the battlefield during the Civil War.

“African American women were basically intelligence agents,” interpreter Elisa Jagne said. “I represent an African-American woman who can go back and forth behind enemy lines and report information in favor of the Union. And like Harriet Tubman and others have done, these women were able to help liberate their own people through the Underground Railroad.

Jagne noted that the clothing worn by undercover spies was key to their success.

“These women wouldn’t wear the sack coat I’m wearing right now,” Jagne said. “In order to disguise ourselves, we dressed as ordinary slaves at that time. It allowed us to infiltrate the South and bring back information.

Tracey McIntire presented a book exhibit featuring some of the women who disguised themselves as men and fought in the Civil War.

“Union or Confederacy, women played a decisive role during the Civil War.”

— Historical interpreter Elaine Kessinger

“These are books that I suggest people read if they’re interested in the subject,” McIntire said. “Rosetta Wakeman, Sarah Emma Edmonds – both managed to dress up and fight.”

Among the topics discussed on the program were Soldier Aid Societies and relief efforts usually initiated by women to support both armies during the war.

“These soldiers were brothers, sons, fathers,” Kessinger said. “Union or Confederacy, depending on your sympathies, women were instrumental in the Civil War.”

Fort Ward is the best preserved of the Union forts that made up Washington’s Civil War defenses and offers special programs throughout the year. www.alexandriava.gov/FortWard

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