Author provides in-depth look at Civil War uniforms

Kenn Woods, author of "The Soldier's Words," has used historical methods found in his research to work on his own Confederate reenactment garb. Photo courtesy of Ashby Woods

FRONT ROYAL – Although Front Royal author Kenn Woods started his new book “The Soldier’s Words” as a reference tool for reenactors who want more information about historical accuracy for Confederate uniforms, it turned into an exploration of various obscure topics besides just what the soldiers wore.

Himself a reenactor since 1988, Woods wanted to consult primary source material for a verdict to “armchair expert” debates on whether the ragged quality of Confederate uniforms was an outcome of being poorly supplied or simply a myth.

“The Soldier’s Words” gives insight to Confederate soldiers’ battle garb, weapons and medical practices through chronological highlights from around 6,000 diary entries and letters from soldiers and onlookers, interspersed with separate comments and interpretation from Woods.

“Even if you’re a Civil War buff … about every three pages you’re going to learn something new,” he said.

Some anecdotes describe the creative ways Confederate soldiers would replace their worn attire: writing home for civilian clothes, salvaging garments from deceased enemies and even breaking rank in field to steal clothing off of scarecrows.

Woods said his experiences during yearlong weekend tactical reenactments and attempts to follow recorded recipes for things like dye and soap gave him a more practical knowledge of what conditions were like for Confederate soldiers. His comments apply that experience from the weekends spent with his fellows.

“Reenacting … it’s a lot of the camaraderie, the camping and the battle’s just a plus,” he said.

During the research process, Woods consulted professors from various universities but found most of his material through primary sources from places like the Museum of the Confederacy, the Library of Congress and the Archives Room at Handley Library. Woods said he grew his fingernails out in order to handle some of the documents with the greatest care he could muster.

“Some of these letters were the originals in these archives, and they’re crumbling because the paper back then – especially what the soldiers would buy – it wasn’t that good a quality, so you have to be very gentle when turning pages,” he said.

Another challenge in his research was simply reading what soldiers had written. During down time, Woods’ coworkers would assist him in trying to decipher their script, which in some cases was written in layers going different directions on the same sheet of paper.

Despite the long hours of work involved in cataloging his research, Woods enjoyed the process and said he is proud to publish an exhaustive reference incorporating obscure sources that’s still very readable.

“The Soldier’s Words” is available as a Kindle edition for $9.99, in hardcover for $53.95 and in paperback for $38.95. At a rather hefty 1,043 pages, it’s more accessible as an ebook for those simply wanting to read through it, but Woods said physical copies make for impressive additions to collections and libraries. Readers can purchase the book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Books a Million.

Woods will be revisiting and expanding his research beyond his initial 200-mile radius for a sequel, which he said he hopes to publish by next summer. In the meantime, he said he plans to sign and sell copies and gauge reader interest at the 151st Anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek in October.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com