Monday, November 05, 2007


There is another aspect of the Civil War that should be included in every history, the contributions and impact that women made in the conflict. Many of these women were not the stay at home type who saw their husbands, fathers, and brothers march off to war. The maintained farms, worked in factories, nursed the wounded, clerked in government offices and, in about 1250 cases, donned a male disguise and actually carried a musket.

Others left diaries that gave insights into the civilian side of life on the Home Front, or in some cases, when the front reached their home. The chronicled the struggles of life while the men were away as well as the struggle to get food on the table in a time that armies were stripping the farms bare. There were also insights into the political issues at the time. There might have been a few Scarlett O’Hara types, with their parasols and saying, “fiddle-de-de,” but a good look at the women of the period would find that they were a lot tougher than popular literature suggested. Especially since some of these women were African-Americans, who also endured being slaves.


Louisa May Alcott started working in a Georgetown, MD hospital helping wounded Union soldiers. She wrote letters to her family which described her experiences working there. Those letters became Hospital Sketches. She was more famous for her post-war novels, Little Women and Little Men.

Susie Baker was a slave in Georgia who managed to learn to read and write. She put those skills to good use while a laundress with the 33rd United States Colored Troops. After the war, she helped organize part of the Women’s Relief Corps, as well as becoming a nurse.

Clara Barton started her working life in the US Patent Office. She soon took up nursing and after the war, was instrumental in founding the America Red Cross.

Mary Bickerdyke served as a nurse in about 19 engagements in the West and as an agent of the Sanitary Commission. Her assistance was such that Major General Thomas Sherman made her the only civilian woman allowed in his area of operations. At the end of the war, she was allowed to ride at the head of a group of Sanitary Commission agents at the Grand Review. Post-war she worked on securing pensions for Union veterans and even secured one herself. She was more known to the troops as “Mother” Bickerdyke.

Elizabeth Blackwell put her status as the first female medical doctor to good use, helping found the Sanitary Commission, which was a great help to many Union soldiers, in camp or in the hospital.

Mary Elizabeth Bowser was an African-American servant working in the Confederate White House. She also was a very well educated woman who picked up lost of information that the Union was able to use, some of that from CS President Jefferson Davis!

Kady Brownell was a color-bearer in the 1st Rhode Island at the First Battle of Manassas, VA, the unit her husband was also serving in. She was officially on the rolls as a “Daughter of the Regiment,” as well as a vivandiere, or sutler. The couple also served with the 5th Rhode Island.

Florena Budwin enlisted in the Union Army with her husband. Both were captured and sent to Andersonville, where he died. She was transferred to the Florence, SC prison, where she died.

Frances Clayton followed her husband into the Union Army, participating in 18 engagements until her husband was killed in the Battle of Stones River in 1862. She was wounded in the same battle and her gender was discovered as she was being treated. She was one of about 1000 women who disguised themselves was men and followed the Union colors.

Lizzie Compton never gave up trying to enlist as a Union soldier. She claimed to have been in seven different units.

Pauline Cushman tricked some Confederate sympathizers in New Orleans by accepting $300 just to go on a stage and present a toast to the CSA. She made the toast, received the money, and used it to start her career as a Union spy.

Frances Day entered the 126th Pennsylvania as Sergeant Frank Mayne in order to be near her sweetheart. She deserted after her beau died of illness.

Dorothea Dix broke gender barriers by becoming the first female superintendent of US Army nurses. As a matter of fact, the demands placed on manpower by the war effort led to women being hired by many departments of the Federal Government.

A little girl named Emily disguised herself as a boy and joined a Michigan regiment. She died at Lookout Mountain, outside Chattanooga, TN.

Anne Etheridge followed her husband into Union service, but did not follow him when he deserted. She became a “Daughter of the Regiment” in the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Michigan before the war’s end.

Ella Gibson was elected chaplain of the 1st WI Heavy Artillery.

Cornelia Hancock started her nursing career in the camp hospitals that sprang up following the Battle of Gettysburg.

Mrs. Judith Henry became the first woman to die in the war when she was hit by Federal artillery at the First Battle of Manassas

Albert Cashier was injured in an automobile accident in 1911. In the hospital, it was found that “Cashier” was actually a woman named Jennie Hodgers who disguised herself as a man, served in the 95th Illinois Infantry, and kept the deception into the 20th Century.

Clara Harris was a close eye witness to the Lincoln Assassination.

Julia Ward Howe was taking a carriage ride with her husband when she spotted a group of Union soldiers singing “John Brown’s Body.” She remarked that there should be better words to that tune. That night, she could not sleep and began writing a poem that she felt was better suited for the music. The poem became “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and was a great hit with the troops. Sadly, the Atlantic Monthly only paid her $4 for the poem.

Elizabeth Keckley, an African-American seamstress, was the closest confidant of First Lady Mary Lincoln. She also worked for Confederate First Lady Varina Davis.

Mary Livermore bucked more traditional women’s roles to co-direct the Chicago office of the Sanitary Commission.

In 1864, near Florence, AL, Confederate troops captured a Federal soldier named Frank Miller, shooting him in the leg while he tried to escape. Upon searching him, it turned out that he was a woman, named Frances Hook. She had enlisted with her brother, only to see him die at Shiloh.

Mary Siezgle was another woman who enlisted in the Federal Army in order to be near her husband. They served in the 44th New York Infantry.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was first published as a serial in the National Era. The following year it was released in book form. It sold 1,000,000 copies, a mega-best seller in its time. During the war, President Lincoln met Stowe and remarked to her, “so you are the little woman whose book started this war.” (Really interesting was that the villain, Simon Legree, was described as a Northerner.)

Mary Tepe, known as French Mary, was a vivandiere, a female sutler. She sold pies, tinned meat, personal care items, and sometimes whiskey. She also mended and washed soldiers’ uniforms. She became a vivandiere when her husband enlisted in the 114th Pennsylvania. At Fredericksburg, VA she was wounded while tending a group of wounded. She was decorated for braving 13 battles while serving her husband’s unit.

Franklin Thompson enlisted into the 2nd Michigan Infantry during the first call up of volunteers by the Lincoln Administration. After demonstrating to the surgeon the ability to handle a musket and tear a cartridge (and not much else) he was mustered in. There were two reasons he did nit have to serve in the Union Army, he was a Canadian, and he was actually a she named Sarah Emma Edmonds. Following the war, her comrades campaigned successfully for her to receive a pension.

Several Union soldiers noticed the peculiar way John Thompson was putting on his socks. Further investigation discovered that “Thompson” was female.

Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave, became the most well known “conductors” in the Underground Railroad, the system of safe houses that assisted escaped slaves. She also served as a scout for the Union Army in South Carolina.

Residents of Richmond, VA took no notice of the woman who was wondering the streets, talking to herself. “That’s just Crazy Bet,” they would say with contempt for the local Unionist. In fact, Elizabeth Van Lew’s insanity was an act covering the fact that she was running a spy ring that extended into the office of President Jefferson Davis himself.

Elizabeth Cooper Vernon was training male volunteers in military methods at the start of the war.

Jennie Wade was the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, having been struck by a stray bullet while baking bread on 3 July, 1863.

Private Lyons Wakeman died of illness during the Red River Campaign. The 153rd New York soldier was really Sarah Rosetta Wakeman.

Mary Walker, M.D., was the only female surgeon in the Union Army. She was also the only woman to receive a Medal of Honor during the Civil War. (It was revoked in 1919 and reinstated in 1977)


Two brothers, Sam and Keith Blalock, members of the 26th North Carolina, were seen to have a really close relationship. It was because “Sam” was actually Keith’s wife, Malinda.

Belle Boyd made sure Major General Thomas Jackson knew about Federal troop movements in the Shenandoah Valley, VA.

Mary Chesnut was the wife of James Chesnut Jr, an early Confederate Congressman. She began writing a diary about what she saw and heard throughout the war. She witnessed the bombardment of Fort Sumter from a rooftop and documented everything until the war came to an end. Her diary is considered one of the most detail personal accounts of the period.

Mary Ann Clark was one of 250 known Southern women who disguised themselves as men and fight for the Cause. She was a Lieutenant under Braxton Bragg.

Kate Cumming’s diary of her experiences as a nurse was published in 1866 as “A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.”

Rose Greenhow might have survived falling out of a lifeboat near the Cape Fear River, NC, is she had undone the belt with $2000.00 in gold that she was wearing.
Mrs. Judith Henry became the first woman to die in the war when she was hit by Federal artillery at the First Battle of Manassas.

Charlie Hopper looked to be about 16 to the members of the 1st Virginia Cavalry. It is not known if they ever found out if “Hopper” was really Charlotte Hope.

Sarah Morgan was another diarist whose detailed accounts dive a look at how things went in the South.

Sarah Jane Ann Perkins served in a Confederate artillery battery until captured at Hanover Junction.

Mary Pittman, disguised as a Lieutenant Rawley, rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest. She took up spying, but defected to the Union.

Sally Tompkins became the only woman commissioned in the Confederate Army. It was a reward for running a successful hospital. Her hospital was the most successful in the Confederacy, with only 73 patients out of 1300 dying under her care.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez, over her husband’s objections, followed him into Confederate service. She took the name Harry T. Buford and was identified as a Lieutenant. In her memoirs, she details her participation in battles as diverse as Ball's Bluff and Shiloh.

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