Dyan Bohnert is a well-known Southeast Arkansas historian from Dumas, who spends her time sharing her knowledge of the Civil War and its hardships with people.
Bohnert treated members of the Southeast Arkansas TEA Party to an entertaining two-fold program at their June meeting at Monticello. Bohnert, who often portrays a medicine woman during her programs, cooked a Civil War-style campfire meal of a mixture of ground sausage, potato and onion bits, red bell peppers and eggs, which were all cooked in large iron skillets over a fire pit. For dessert, she prepared a dish of apples, brown sugar and cinnamon in the same manner. Some of the bread for the meal was dough that had been twisted around a stick and roasted above the coals, and the rest was bits of dough fried in a skillet and served with homemade jelly. When asked if this meal was a typical one for Civil War soldiers, she replied, “They ate whatever was available, but these ingredients were some which could be found in various combinations.”
The meal took several hours to prepare because of all the steps. The fire pits had to be dug and lined with stones. Then the cooking had to wait until the coal bed was right. Finally, the ingredients which were pared, chopped and sliced by TEA members were cooked in stages until all was ready.
Before the meal was served, Bohnert gave a very detailed recount of the Civil War Battle of Arkansas Post. Because she often re-enacts the role of a medicine woman during her programs, her focus was mainly on the part a medicine woman played on the battlefield.
A medicine woman was not a nurse or a doctor but was a woman who, due to necessity, had learned the skills needed to help sick and injured people in her community. Much of the medical knowledge these women had was passed down through generations from mother to daughter. Delivering babies, tending cuts and broken bones or other injuries often fell to these ladies who came armed with their herbal remedies, bandages and simple instruments. “During the Civil War these women often accompanied their husbands and sons when they left home to fight,” Bohnert said. “They went to help their men and to give them comfort.”
Then, because during major battles where hundreds or even thousands of wounded needed care, the medicine women often helped or even took the place of exhausted military doctors who had operated on the wounded around the clock for days. “Before the war, these women were mostly used to treat women, children and the elderly because it was not ‘proper’ for a woman to treat men outside her own family,” Bohnert said. “But, when the war broke out, that all changed. During the smaller battles, there might not even have been a doctor present, and during the larger battles many hands were needed to help. The medicine women were badly needed.”
At the end of the Battle of Arkansas Post, when the Union Army had rounded up all the Confederate survivors and loaded them onto barges to be shipped to Union prisoner of war camps up north, the medicine woman and the five most gravely wounded men were left behind. To ensure that those men would not survive, the Union army took all medicines, bandages and other medical materials with them. “But little did they know,” Bohnert said, “that they left that medicine woman in her own pharmacy of roots and herbs that she knew so well.” Miraculously, three of those gravely injured men, with the medical know-how of that brave woman, survived their wounds.
Bohnert’s program reminded the group that the human spirit and courage, added to a bit of common sense knowledge, go a long way to overcome even the most difficult situations.