Civil War

Women on the Civil War Battlefront

Published by the University Press of Kansas in May 2006, cloth cover, ISBN 0-7006-1437-0, $34.95. The book is now available and may be found on their website: www.kansaspress.ku.edu. For additional information, their e-mail address is: upress@ku.edu.

Kristie Miller, columnist and Washington Correspondent for the LaSalle Daily News Tribune, Illinois, devoted her column to Women on the Civil War Battlefront on August 25, 2006:

“[Hall's] extensive research...reveals that women served in more capacities and in greater numbers than was previously imagined. ... He shows that women performed heroically not only when they donned uniforms and marched into battle, but in support roles as well.”

 

BOOK REVIEWS

 

By Mauriel P. Joslyn
Journal of Southern History
February 1, 2009

“The book is well structured, with topical chapters. … The author covers the experiences of women from both sides in a mostly evenhanded way, especially regarding military service. [The case studies and Honor Roll] sections yield fascinating facts on individuals and, for me as a historian, prove Hall did the research needed for a really good history.

“The amount of detail uncovered by the author's own detective work is certainly impressive, and unlike many academic books that have been published recently, Hall's comes with excellent endnotes and a detailed bibliography. ...A section of primary sources and official documents adds solid text. …

“I recommend this book to readers interested in the female experiences of a nation at war; it is well written and would hold the interest of casual readers.”

Mauriel P. Joslyn, Sparta, Georgia, has an M.A. in History from Georgia College & State University. She is an adjunct professor of history at Georgia Military College, and is the author of several Civil War books, including Valor and Lace: Roles of Confederate Women.

By Professor Sheila Culbert, Dartmouth College
Historian
December 1, 2008

“In addition to serving in the armed forces, women also worked as spies... .With a few notable exceptions, many of these women remain anonymous. But the glimpses the reader gets of their lives add still further to the reader’s understanding of gender, class, race, and the social environment of the mid-nineteenth century. Hall demonstrates that, indeed, thousands of women participated in various frontline capacities as soldiers and spies, as well as saboteurs, smugglers, and scouts.

“Hall has done extensive research to uncover as many stories as possible about the women who served in the war, and has included an honor roll with short biographies on each of the women he has identified. Indeed, because he does not attempt to situate his own work within the context of other scholarship on women in either this war or other military conflicts, or to include any theoretical analysis, the value of the book comes from the accumulation of these stories of women who served their country on the frontlines of the American Civil War....

“His book will serve as an important and helpful starting point for the increasing number of scholars wanting to know more about these remarkable women.”

Reviewer Sheila Culbert is a professor of history and has served in several academic roles at Dartmouth College, including Vice President of Communications and special assistant to President Jim Wright. She has since become headmaster of Loomis Chaffee School, a coed, college prep boarding and day school in Windsor, Connecticut.

By Joan E. Cashin, PhD
Journal of Military History
October 2007

“Since the 1970s, the public has debated whether women should assume combat roles, with both sides of the debate typically assuming that U.S. Women have never taken part in battle. Yet this is not an accurate summary of the history of warfare. As [Hall] and other writers have demonstrated, U.S. women have already served in combat, in the Civil War. ...

“Hall has examined many sources, including government records, correspondence, unit rosters, newspapers, the Southern Claims Commission, and memoirs. Throughout the text, he takes a biographical approach, sketching the lives of individual women. ...Hall estimates that at least one thousand women, maybe several thousand total, served in both armies. This estimate is the result of meticulous detective work . The author carefully matches legend against historical evidence for a number of figures, such as Loreta J. Velazquez, and he debunks some false claims. ...

“Hall presents brand-new information, such as three accounts of women who served as Confederate officers, although he does not explain how they got away with it. ... Scholars may not agree with some of Hall's arguments about causation.... The author has nevertheless discovered a great deal of fresh, compelling, and fascinating material. [The book] is a gold mine of information for military historians and historians of gender.”

The reviewer is an Associate Professor of History in the Department of History, Ohio State University. She specializes in social history, including the antebellum, Civil War, and reconstruction eras. Her books have been published by Oxford University Press, Harvard University Press, and The Johns Hopkins University Press.

By Anne E. Marshall
Civil War History, 2007

“[Hall] has sifted through an enormous amount of old and new evidence regarding women's experiences as Civil War soldiers, nurses, scouts, and spies. ... [T]he women he profiles responded to wartime exigencies by pushing and violating gendered boundaries of dress, speech, behavior, and occupation in important ways. Organized around wartime activities, such as soldiering, spying, and dying in service, Hall discloses one fascinating story after another of women who cross-dressed, deceived, and lied about their purposes and identities to participate in the Civil War. ...
“Hall's research is exhaustive and will become an essential source for anyone interested in women and the Civil War. Especially helpful to future scholars will be the appendices, which contain profiles of and documents relating to female participants. The major shortcoming of the volume, however, is Hall's failure to address larger questions raised by women's participation in the Civil War. ...
“Hall has done a masterful job of compiling evidence and case studies of individual women whose wartime participation deviated so clearly from the accepted gender norms of the day. He has, however, left for others the task of analyzing and assigning collective significance to their actions.”

Anne E. Marshall, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.

By Ann Stinson, Book Critic
The Star-Democrat, Easton, MD
June 22, 2007.


“Ask anyone to name any woman who carried a rifle in the Civil War, and you'll likely get a blank stare. Clara Barton doesn't count; she was a nurse.
“Richard Hall, of Brentwood, has filled in the historical gap with a fascinating, scrupulously researched book about the unsung heroines who took up arms on both sides of the conflict....Many were only revealed as women when they were wounded or died on the battlefield....
“Hall's research reveals that at least a thousand, possibly several thousand women served as soldiers in the conflict....An appendix to the book adds extensive corroboration to many of the events, and a useful index completes the book.
“Women in the Civil War had a mostly hidden history until recently, Hall writes. `Many loose ends remain.' Thanks to his research, future scholars may tie them up as new material surfaces.”

Civil War News Book Review

“Hall's newest book should be a hit with both avid Civil War historians and general readers....Hall provides new insight on old ideas and validation of many new areas where the contributions women made during the war were not previously discussed....[He] also uses an extensive series of case studies and illustrations to make the stories of each of his subjects come alive....This book is a bargain and will surely line reference shelves at university and public libraries for many years to come.”

For complete review, see Civil War News.

Reviewer Richard J. Blumberg has a master's degree with honors in Civil War studies. He is past president of the Houston Civil War Round Table.

By Shirley Anne Leckie
Journal of American History
March 2007

The result of [Hall's] painstaking labors is a work that demonstrates, even after a full chapter devoted to debunking myths, that innumerable women...violated gender norms to serve as soldiers in the American Civil War. ... Hall notes that women served the military in many other capacities.... But the major focus for Hall is on identifying the actual cases of women who took up arms....[He] suggests in his conclusion that a women's rights movement had raised the expectations of many women by the 1860s, and they may have taken advantage of opportunities unavailable during more settled times. ...
Overall, Hall has not provided his readers with unifying theories, but that is not his intention in this well-researched and carefully documented volume. Rather, he has sought to separate the actual cases of female service from the mythical cases, or in other words, the wheat from the chaff. In doing so conscientiously, he has provided grist for further scholarship.... Shirley Anne Leckie

Shirley Anne Leckie is a professor of history at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, and author or co-author of several books about 19th Century military life. Her works include Unlikely Warriors: General Benjamin H. Grierson and His Family (1984); and The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West (Revised edition, 2003).

By Jo Freeman
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Spring 2006, Vol. 104, No. 2. pp. 324-25.
Women on the Civil War Battlefront (University Press of Kansas, 2006).

“Richard Hall demonstrates convincingly that women did everything men did in that war, and in greater numbers than heretofore thought possible. ... At least a few hundred women served in either army for significant periods of time. They were found out when death, disease, or injury resulted in removal of their clothes. ... By the end of the war, many women who had served well were deliberately shielded by either the ranks or officers when discovered; they were too valuable to lose. ...

“[In addition to the female soldiers] Hall writes engagingly about other women who also put themselves in harms' way. Nurses treated the wounded while battles raged around them. ...Women spied for both sides, as soldiers dressed as men and as civilians dressed as women. ...Others were scouts, riding out surreptitiously to find and deliver news of troop movements to eager generals.

“This book is the result of meticulous research. Hall is careful to tell the reader when stories cannot be checked against known facts, to assess those that might be true, and to discount those that cannot be supported with at least some verifiable facts. By the end of the book, whether or not women can handle combat is no longer an issue. They did, they can, and some day they will be allowed to serve in all service capacities not in disguise, but as women.”

(Jo Freeman is a well-known feminist scholar and political activist. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago and a J.D. From New York University School of Law. )

Richard Hall Responds to Book Reviewer

Women on the Civil War Battlefront by Richard H. Hall jointly reviewed with They Fought Like Demons by Blanton & Cook in “H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences,” November 2006. Reviewed by Thomas Bahde, Department of History, University of Chicago.

“[Both books display] a deep conceptual flaw...that seeks to justify the extensive and multiple contributions of women soldiers vis-a-vis their male counterparts, rather than on their own terms....

“In a general sense, [Hall's] book is unfocused....it fails to advance beyond a summary of previous scholarship....Despite taking an early stab at engaging the scholarship on women's extra-political public action, Hall only weakly suggests that women's involvement in the military was an attempt to extend this action onto the battlefield. This promising idea is never substantiated, and Hall even comes to an opposite conclusion by the end of the book, stating (but not arguing) that participation in the war irrevocably damaged the nineteenth-century women's movement.1

“Between his promising introduction and his lackluster conclusion, Hall's focus wanders, never providing a comprehensive narrative or thematic structure. [His chapter on battlefront nurses] as a whole offers little beyond a synthesis of previous secondary work....2

“By expanding the definition of `soldier' beyond simply combat roles, Hall greatly enlarges the scope of women's military contribution to the Civil War armies beyond Blanton and Cook's tight focus on combat soldiers, serving as a welcome addition to the scholarship.

“After chapter 2, Hall's book becomes more diffuse and problematic....The last three chapters are downright puzzling, as Hall wanders through a series of `myths and apocryphal stories,' case studies..., and stories of African American women at war. These chapters have the distinct feel of being tacked on at the end – a final miscellany in a terminally unorganized book. It is not that the stories presented in these chapters are uninteresting or unimportant, but the reader is left wondering what to make of them, as Hall offers no guiding hand.3

“Aside from organizational and occasional factual issues, Hall]s writing itself is sometimes problematic, lapsing into a conversational tone that is too casual and colloquial to be taken seriously....4

“Despite their many flaws, Blanton and Cook, and Richard Hall have most centrally succeeded in making a case for greater numbers of female soldiers in the Civil War than has previously been suggested....If both books rely a bit too heavily on stories that cannot be fully substantiated, they at least paint a vivid picture of the likely range of experiences faced by female soldiers. In particular, Hall's extremely comprehensive Appendix A, `Honor Roll of Civil War Service,' will be consulted long after the rest of his book has outlived its usefulness.”5

If the introductory material and Chapter 1 were not sufficient to ground the reviewer concerning the purpose, focus, and organization of my book, then the Afterword also summed it up concisely. Following are some excerpts:

“When the war inadvertently created a need for large armies and vast numbers of medical care personnel on an unprecedented scale, women were ready and willing to fill the gaps and seized the opportunities. [Re: My alleged “opposite conclusion” emphasis is added] Ironically, the war otherwise stalled the momentum of the women's movement, dissipating its energies in the enormous task of fulfilling the immediate needs of the war effort....Women still would not gain the right to vote for another half century....

“This book presents a new synthesis of our state of knowledge about the activities of women in the war, imperfect though it may be. Numerous individual stories remain incomplete, often confused and contradictory. Their eventual clarification could add substantially to our knowledge.”

At one point the reviewer states that I uncritically accepted dubious sources and internet sources of questionable scholarly content. Clearly he must not have read my critical commentaries and my end notes very carefully. And when I exploded a number of myths and apocryphal stories quite directly, he found that “puzzling.” Go figure! - Richard H. Hall

NOTES

1. A failure to summarize previous scholarship would not be very scholarly. The notion that I come to an “opposite conclusion” by the end of the book is patently false. See following text.

2. A synthesis of previous scholarship was intended. However, I added a great deal of additional, original research findings. The reviewer also fails to note that I quote extensively from primary sources too, including memoirs of battlefield nurses.

3. I am puzzled that the reviewer is puzzled, and am forced to onclude that he did not read my introductory material and Chapter 1 very carefully. These set the stage plainly. The purpose of the case studies and exposure of myths also is clearly stated, namely to clear away the deadwood and to validate the cases where possible.

4. To each his/her own. I prefer not to write in stilted and stodgy fashion.

5. The second sentence of this paragraph is one of the more curious and off-the-mark statements in the entire review. The reviewer seems oblivious to the fact that a main argument in the book is about the need for careful substantiation of the individual stories, and I proceed to demonstrate good, poor, and non-existent substantiation as well as the methods used to sift and sort through the stories. As I point out, the result in any given case is not always black or white; we are left with a lot of gray.

 


Several of my writings about women on Civil War battlefields have been incorporated into anthologies and history textbooks. These include: 

Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenburg, The Women's War In the South (Nashville, Tenn: Cumberland House, 1999), Chapter 14 "Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, C.S.A" (from Patriots in Disguise, 1993). 

Robert J. Maddox (ed.), American History, Volume I: Pre-Colonial Through Reconstruction (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), Chapter 34 "Women in Battle in the Civil War" (from Social Education, February 1994). 

Sheila Allen, Making Connections: Reading and Understanding College Textbooks (Ft. Worth, Tex.: Harcourt College Publishers, 2002), Unit Six, "American History Articles": "Women in Battle in the Civil War" (from Social Education, February 1994).

Patriots in Disguise

Patriots in Disguise by Richard Hall is cited as a source in one chapter, and in a list of "Suggestions for Further Reading," in the book A Woman's War: Southern Women, Civil War, and the Confederate Legacy, by the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996).

On the web site of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1999, Lyde Cullen Sizer states:

"The best book analyzing The Woman in Battle (memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez) and its claims is Richard Hall's Patriots in Disguise: Women Warriors of the Civil War (1993)."

More Reviews of Patriots in Disguise

            "Hall's work reflects persistent digging for records and memoirs, and careful comparison and collation of information to substantiate the women's stories." - Choice, v31, 1993

            "As is obvious from the acknowledgments, chapter notes, and appendixes, Hall ... went through a great deal of material for this documentary. And it shows. ...His book is surprisingly timely." - Library Journal, v118, 1993 

            "This account of fighting women during the American Civil War will add zest and spark to the understanding of the war." - The Reader's Review, 1993 

            For more on women soldiers and a nice testimonial from a retired female Air Force officer, see: userpages.aug.com/captbarb/femvets2.html

 



Larson Book

Great Necessities: The Life, Times, and Writings of Anna Ella Carroll by C. Kay Larson (Xlibris, 2004), 693 pp. Paperback edition $24.64.

My friend and colleague C. Kay Larson has published a new biography of an underrated Maryland woman who interacted with Presidents and Senators in the 19th Century, including the Civil War period. Anna Ella Carroll (1815-1894) was a writer and political savant of extraordinary intellect, who played an active role in state and national politics. This scholarly biography delves deeply into her background, life, and writings, and fills a gap in the historical literature. Larson is one of the pioneers in historical scholarship on women who served as soldiers and in many other capacities during the American Civil War.

C. Kay Larson has contributed two important articles to the web site of the New York Military Affairs Symposium. “Springing to the Call” provides summary statements and other information about women’s activities in the Civil War. Also, she acquired “Women’s War Work,” an anthology of women at war throughout history, and prepared it for the web site.

 

About C. Kay Larson's new work of Civil War fiction:

 

South Under a Prairie Sky:
The Journal of Nell Churchill, U. S. Army Nurse & Scout


    Dear Readers,

    My name is Nell Churchill of Monmouth, Illinois. Four years ago I returned from service as a Union nurse and scout during our nation’s last great unpleasantness, the War of Rebellion. When the storm broke upon the country, I was a student, attending Knox Female Seminary in Galesburg, Illinois. For me the call to arms was not unexpected, as I had been following political events closely since 1856, when the troubles in Kansas erupted over the slavery question. Yet like everyone else in our town on that dark day of April 12, 1861, I was startled to learn that Confederate forces in Charleston, South Carolina had actually attacked our nation’s flag, the symbol of all that we hold to be good and true.

    The next year, in April 1862, I accompanied my uncle, Dr. Sylvester Churchill, to the fields of the dread array, following the mighty battle of Pittsburg Landing, or Shiloh. There with Mrs. Mary “Mother” Bickerdyke of Galesburg, we tended the dying and wounded for many days under fretful conditions. My brother, Nat, and cousin, Samuel, had enlisted during the summer of 1861 and were with us in camp. More battles followed in the early fall during which our gallant boys in blue began the drive that forced Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg out of Tennessee. In October, I was recruited by Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans as a scout for the Army of the Cumberland.

    These were heady days for me. I felt I was living life to its fullest and there was no where I would rather be than riding the backwoods roads of Tennessee on scout, ferreting out guerrilla bands and tracking Confederate cavalry. On occasion I accompanied Nat who became a topographical engineer; other days I rode beside my soon-to-be-husband, guiding his cavalry unit. Often I was out by myself, although I became well acquainted with the loyal residents in the area.

    Then in June 1863, I was sent by General Rosecrans to penetrate Confederate lines, gain access to Bragg’s headquarters, and gather information on Confederate troop and artillery dispositions. But for the treachery of a local smuggler, I would have been triumphant. However, the fates had accorded me a harsher destiny in that I was arrested, imprisoned, tried, and sentenced to hang. Since I pen this description now, one can easily comprehend that I survived, yet my life hung in the balance for many a day.

    Bragg was finally driven into the Chattanooga area where I was back scouting and nursing. Mrs. Bickerdyke and other ladies of the Sanitary Commission performed valiant work during that fall and winter of ’63. We will never forget the scene following the battle of Lookout Mountain: a blueclad from the 8th Kentucky had gained the mountain’s peak and as the sun rose, he could be seen by both armies waving a large Old Glory. Below him our boys yelled with their whole mights, all up and down our lines. Then there was the wall of blue at the base of Missionary Ridge—it was taken by our men in one hour’s time—a mount that had seemed impenetrable, just hours before.

    During 1864, I was home in Monmouth far from the strife, following it from letters received from my family and favorite 1st Wisconsin Cavalry Maj. Christian Jenson. I married him in April. During the fall presidential campaign, again, the country’s fate hung in the balance, but Mr. Lincoln and the Union cause prevailed. Finally came the months ending the war. Along with other family members and Mrs. Bickerdyke who had come up from South Carolina, I was in our nation’s capital when some of the most dramatic events of the war occurred: the fall of Richmond, the surrender at Appomattox, Mr. Lincoln’s assassination, the Grand Army Review in May.

    With the war’s end, I am now a happily married woman with two small children. Since 1856, I had been keeping a journal of small, as well as momentous, events of my life and chronicled those of the War of Rebellion, as well. Through the encouragement of family and former professors, I have now published it. For this reason I pen this missive to my reading public, that is, to let you know of the book’s availability. My journal is titled: South Under a Prairie Sky: The Journal of Nell Churchill, U. S. Army Nurse & Scout. My literary effort is modest compared with others. Yet my words are earnest and my thoughts sincere and present a record of true events and people, many of whom sacrificed their lives on the altar of our country. I dedicate this work to them.

    South Under a Prairie Sky is available through my publisher, Xlibris Corporation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

     Very truly yours,

Nell Churchill Jenson

Monmouth, Illinois
June 1869

________________________________________________________________________

[Nell Churchill is a composite character, based on nurse and scout memoirs and records and Illinois and Civil War histories, newspapers, journals, and letters. Nell is also a relative of mine, born in Biggsville, Illinois, ca. 1896. A number of the characters are based on my own family and genealogical information is presented. Mary Ann Bickerdyke, a legendary Union nurse, is presented as herself. Although Nell’s journal is a work of fiction, it is almost wholly fact-based. An Underbook separates fact from fiction, sources journal entries, and adds commentary. An author’s essay, dateline of genealogical and Civil War events, and the 1859 curricula of Knox Female Seminary and Monmouth College are also presented. I dedicated the book to my family members who served in Illinois regiments. – C. Kay Larson, Author: South Under a Prairie Sky; Great Necessities: The Life, Times, and Writings of Anna Ella Carroll, 1815-1894. on Lincoln’s political/legal advisor.]

C. Kay Larson is the national historian for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. See www.history.auxpa.org

 

"Nell's Cousin Enlists in the 17th Ohio Infantry Regt".

[Text: "because of a congenital peculiarity which should have prevented her admission into the army -- being a female." In the 19th century "peculiarity" connoted "uniqueness" rather than oddity. - CKL]


A female soldier using the name “Frank Deming [Demming] “ saw action in the 17th Ohio Infantry. She was in battle at Mill Springs, Kentucky, January 19, 1862. She was discovered to be a woman and discharged “for disability” on May 18, 1862.

The Civil War Database regimental roster has a “Frank Demming” (two “m's”) who enlisted in Company A as an eighteen-year-old private in August 1861 and confirms that he [she] was discharged for “disability” on May 18, 1862.

From Women on the Civil War Battlefront by Richard H. Hall, page 265; and footnote on page 363.


"Mrs. L. L. Deming, vivandiere of the 10th Michigan Infantry"

Mrs. Lafayette L. Deming – Daughter of the Regiment and nurse for the 10th Michigan Infantry, she served along with her husband from the time the regiment was formed until he resigned in late 1862. She wore a uniform in camp, including a haversack, canteen, and belt with revolvers.

From Women on the Civil War Battlefront by Richard H. Hall, page 234.

 

[The Churchill line descends from Nathaniel and Elizabeth Deming Foote who settled Wethersfield, Ct. in 1634. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Josiah Churchill and Nell descends from that line. Nell's and other Connecticut famlies, including the Footes and Demings, later moved to Ohio, as it was part of the Connectict Reserve. The Churchills moved there around 1830 after their shipyard business in Chatham, Ct. foundered.]

 

 


The Civil War Archive contains a wealth of Civil War information, including letters, diary excerpts, histories, and links.

For people seeking information about specific Civil War regiments and topics, Cyndi's List (primarily genealogy) contains a wealth of free information.

A marvelous website for all aspects of Civil War news and information is Joel Craig's Bivouac.

For general American Civil War history and related photo galleries, try the aptly titled website American Civil War.

Richard Hall and Lee Middleton

Richard Hall and Lee Middleton at Gettysburg, July 3, 1993. She has since died. We met at the Farnsworth House book store in Gettysburg on the 130th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I was signing copies of my book at another store down the street and she was signing copies of her book here. We kept in touch for a number of years and exchanged information.  Hearts of Fire...Soldier Women of the Civil War,  which she had privately published that year, is a valuable resource for students and others interested in this topic. The ISBN No. is 1-882755-00-6. Copies might be found on the internet.

NEW Click here to view our new photo album of women in the Civil War.

Belle Boyd

Is this notorious Civil War Confederate spy Belle Boyd, or merely a look-alike? Tintype photo purchased by Richard Hall at a Civil War exposition. Click here to compare with archival photographs.

Loreta Velazquez

Click here to compare for yourself the photograph of the unnamed spy and the engraving of Madame Velazquez.

Civil War Women

Click here to see a neat Civil War era mystery photo of nine women
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