Woman Fights to Share Civil War : History: Some national parks will not allow her to play part of soldier at battlefield re-enactments. She charges discrimination and has filed a lawsuit.


When Lauren Cook dons her Confederate soldier's uniform and lines up for a march, she sometimes almost feels she's traveled back to the Civil War.

But although many American women are serving in the Persian Gulf, Cook says some national parks won't let her join "living history" portrayals of Civil War events because she's female.

"It's illegal and it's a matter of principle," said Cook, who filed a federal lawsuit last month asking that the Department of Interior be ordered to let women join Civil War events at national parks.

It's exciting to carry a musket and simulate Civil War conflicts, said Cook, who works as a spokeswoman for the George Mason University law school in Arlington, Va.

"You get what we call a 'period rush,' " she said. "There are times . . . when you absolutely feel like you're time-traveling--when you're actually out there marching along and there are no 20th Century intrusions at all."

Cook and her husband, Fred Burgess, spend most weekends involved in Civil War events. They even had a Civil War-era wedding last fall at Gettysburg, Pa., asking all guests to dress in period costume.

The National Park Service doesn't allow actual battle re-enactments, instead holding "living history" portrayals such as camp-outs and marching and firing drills, where the public can talk to the "soldiers." Battle re-enactments are held on state and private land.

Although Cook works hard to impersonate a man--binding her chest, wearing her hair short and talking with a husky voice--one park official says that isn't good enough.

The programs at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md., are intended to reflect what actually happened during the Sept. 17, 1862, battle, said park Supt. Richard Rambur.

"If you're going to portray anything here at Antietam you have to portray an accurate picture," he said.

The park also restricts children from portraying soldiers, he said, adding that although some children may have fought at Antietam, "it does not portray the norm, and that's what we do here."

More than 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or reported missing at Antietam. The park holds about a dozen weekend events a year to portray different facets of the battle.

Rambur said those events include roles for women: rolling bandages, trying to find a loved one on the battlefield or portraying Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, who served during the battle.

But those aren't the roles Cook has trained to portray. As a member of the 21st Georgia volunteer infantry and two other Civil War organizations, she's learned to play the fife and has studied military tactics.

"I think I do a far better job than a lot of the men out there," she said.

Some national parks have allowed Cook and other women to march and join firing drills as male soldiers. But she was barred from participating at Antietam, and stayed away from an event at Harpers Ferry National Park in West Virginia after being told she would be excluded.

At a re-enactment last year of the surrender at Appomattox, she successfully passed herself off as a man.

Her lawyer, Clint Bolick, describes the U.S. District Court lawsuit as "a straightforward sex-discrimination case." No hearing date has been set for the suit.

Cook argues that the National Park Service should have a uniform policy rather than leaving the decision up to each park superintendent.

Historians estimate there were about 400 women among the 3 million Union and Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, and Cook said documents show that at least two of them fought at Antietam. The women signed up under men's names and disguised themselves as men, she said.

E. Philip Schreier, a longtime Civil War re-enactor and the great-grandnephew of Confederate Gen. Pierre Beauregard, said he sees no reason why women can't join battle re-enactments, but added he's sympathetic to the Park Service view about events where there is close contact with the public.

"If the Park Service knows she's a woman, then she's not doing it as well as it could be done," Schreier said.

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