Not Just Whistling Dixie
For years, Lauren Cook Burgess had bound her chest tightly under a uniform and pretended to be a man at dozens of Civil War re-creations. But Cook says that once the U.S. Park Service, which sponsors the reenactments, realized she was a woman, it declared her inauthentic and inadmissible. From Antietam, Burgess beat a tactical retreat. But she was not going to allow the Park Service its victory.
Up in arms over what she considers sexual discrimination, Burgess counterattacked in the courts, where she is suing for a ruling preventing the Park Service from excluding women and minorities. "I'm angry about it," she said. "I really don't think the Park Service accurately portrays women's roles." According to Burgess, historical evidence shows that at least three women actually fought at Antietam.
A college administrator and full-fledged Civil War fanatic, Burgess, 36, has been fascinated by the subject since childhood, when her mother, an amateur genealogist, would keep her spellbound with stories about a relative who served as an adjutant to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Burgess even married her husband, Fred, in Gettysburg, Pa., in a Confederate-style ceremony, cutting the wedding cake with a Civil War saber.
The Burgesses' home in Fayetteville, N.C., is packed with Civil War memorabilia, including period clothing, Confederate flags and a 10-pound reproduction Enfield rifle that fires real bullets. This year Lauren spent her summer vacation documenting some of the estimated 400 women, on both sides, who disguised themselves as soldiers.
The Park Service, which denies that it singled out Burgess because of her sex, is waving a white flag of conciliation. Burgess, it says, is free to attend other living history projects. But Burgess, whose lawsuit is still pending, wants unconditional surrender. The Park Service promised volunteers $6 in expenses for joining the Antietam reenactment. In addition to the ruling she's fighting for, she wants her money.