Monday, May 07, 2007

Fighting Fashionistas

One of the persistent myths about the Battle of Gettysburg is that Robert E. Lee came to that town in search of shoes for his ill shod or barefooted soldiers. This story is based upon the false premise that Gettysburg was, at that time, a prominent producer of footwear. It was not.

What is true however is that a goodly number, if not the majority, of Lee's army was significantly sartorially challenged.

According the website "It was not uncommon for the uniforms to be ill-fitting, with sleeves either too short or too long, and to have buttons missing.....Those lucky enough to have a fitting pair of shoes would often nail horseshoes to them to prevent the soles from wearing down." Soldiers garnered clothing wherever they could. Occasionally Rebel soldiers were seen wearing women's hats into battle in order to provide them protection from the sun and heat.

Additionally, and possibly explaining the millinery preferences of at least some of the Southerners, was the fact that ".....their ranks also included women (posing as men)." (op. cit.)

While the morale of these soldiers remained high due to their victories in battle, General Lee realized the extreme importance of physical comfort to his troops in maintaining that enthusiasm and confidence. He also was aware of the increasing prevalence of flowered bonnets on the battlefield, particularly among the more heavily hirsute, and the increasing grumbling in the ranks about the overall drabness of their ensembles.

He gathered his next-in-commands in council and posed the issue to them. The room was filled with cigar smoke - and total silence.

"Come now gentlemen. Surely at least one of you must have some thoughts on the subject. How about you Jeb?" Lee said, looking at General James Ewell Brown Stuart - as a cavalryman one of his most dashing and fashion-savvy officers.

"I'm a-sorry." replied the horse-soldier, who had a slight speech impediment that caused him to insert the letter "a" inappropriately into words. "I am-a drawing a complete blanak."

"Of course" said Lee. "And how droll of you to self-effacingly disguise your brilliant idea in a pun. Gentlemen. Tomorrow we march to Lancaster Pennsylvania to take advantage of their annual sidewalk sale of high fashion shoes.

It was on his way to this shopping spree that Lee's troops happened upon the Union Army at Gettysburg. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So we will never know:

(a) what would the shoes cost in Confederate dollars?

(b) How would the Union troops have reacted to Pickett's Sashay?

Please check out the following links for other observations on the world of haute couture footware in our travels to Florence Italy (part 1, part 2 & part 3) & Quebec City, Canada.

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