Women in the Civil War


By Richard Hall

Women served in combat during the American Civil War in far larger numbers and in more significant roles than has so far been fully recognized in history text books. New stories from diaries, memoirs, and family letters and new access to historical information on the internet have added to the previously published accounts of women who served on the battlefields. The conclusion is inescapable that those who served as soldiers or combat nurses must have been many times larger than the commonly accepted estimate of about 400.

At the outset of the war in April 1861, tens of thousands of young men left their homes and rallied to the flag when President Abraham Lincoln called for the states to provide soldiers to "put down the insurrection." Although it was not fully comprehended at the time, hundreds of young women also enlisted in male disguise.  Their purpose commonly was to be with their husbands or lovers, but many served alone simply out of patriotism or the desire for adventure and excitement.

This is all the more remarkable when you consider the status of American women in 1861. As Margaret Leech reported, society in Washington, D.C., at the outbreak of the war "permitted an unusual freedom to ladies. Moving breathlessly and without privacy in a shower of white kid gloves and calling cards, they had a role to play in the parlors; and might still enjoy homage at an age when in other American cities they would have been relegated to knitting at the fireside."

In other words, this "unusual freedom" for women in Washington society permitted them an ornamental role and some escape from domesticity, unlike their rural sisters. "If her husband were occupied, it was considered correct for a lady to be escorted to a levee by one of his friends. Failing a female companion for a tour of the public buildings, she might with decorum accept the attendance of a child."[i]

Women in the mid-19th Century were severely restricted in their ability to travel freely or to participate fully in the human adventure, except in a subordinate role to men. At the outset of the war, even the notion of female military nurses was considered outlandish, though this would change rapidly as the war progressed and pioneering women such as Dorothea Dix pitched in to establish hospital systems.[ii]

In a very real sense, the Civil War liberated women by freeing them to participate in many activities previously considered the exclusive domains of men. But female soldiers? Not a chance! Often when women were found in the ranks wearing a soldier's uniform they were considered to be common prostitutes and sent home in disgrace. However, camp followers and officer's concubines were one thing,[iii] and women who served in combat on the battlefields and risked their lives were quite another.[iv]

Early in the war hundreds of young women played an ornamental role in camp as "Daughter of the Regiment." Mounted on fine steeds, dressed in stylized uniforms replete with bonnets and feathers, and leading the soldiers on parade, they epitomized the optimism and romanticism of the early war period. Their role was to be an inspiration for young male soldiers.

Once the war progressed beyond the stage of naive romanticism about glorious deeds of valor in a noble cause to the harsh reality of soldiers being maimed and killed under confusing and often ignoble conditions, most Daughters of the Regiment disappeared from the scene. A different breed of women asserted themselves, including an undetermined number who enlisted in male disguise and went through formal military training in army regiments North and South.

Besides those who fought in male disguise, hundreds of other women "soldiered" with a specific regiment as nurses and all-purpose helpers. Some drilled along with the soldiers and trained with weapons. All found themselves marching for days on end, camping in the field, subsisting on meager army chow, and enduring the vagaries of weather from extreme heat, drenching rain, and mud to sleet, frost, and snow, usually with inadequate clothing and shelter.

When the bullets and cannon shells started flying, most of these adjunct soldiers stayed on or near the battlefield and served as "medics." Often they got caught up in firefights and rushed to the aid of fallen soldiers on the battlefield, bandaged their wounds, gave them water, and sheltered them from further harm while exposed to enemy fire. Augusta Foster, a nurse from Maine, had her horse shot out from under her at 1st Bull Run, and continued as a field nurse after the battle.[v]   

One of the most storied battlefield nurses, and deservedly so, was Anna Etheridge (nee Anna Blair) whose formal title was Daughter of the Regiment. Her fully documented story proves how misleading that title can be in some instances. "Gentle Annie," as the soldiers called her, went to war with the 2nd Michigan Infantry, and was under fire on several occasions. In 1864 she was awarded the Kearny Cross for gallantry.[vi]  

On the Confederate side, Lucy Ann Cox initially was a vivandiere and inevitably a nurse in the 13th Virginia Infantry, traveling with her husband in Company A for most of the war. She marched with the soldiers, including the grueling campaigns of Lee's two invasions of the North, and cared for wounded soldiers during combat. When she died after the war, she was buried with military honors.[vii]

The records of Catholic orders include reports of female soldiers discovered in hospitals. One chronicler of Catholic orders reports that Catholic sisters were especially given two unusual duties: acting as peacemakers between quarreling soldiers, and attending to female soldiers who often were first discovered when wounded or sick.

In hospitals where there were sisters, such cases were assigned to them and several different communities of sisters noted their care of such women.[viii]

Margaret Hamilton, a Catholic sister from New York State, reported that while serving at the U.S. Military Hospital in Philadelphia--

"We received a large number of wounded after the battle of the Wilderness [May 5-7, 1864], and among them was a young woman not more than twenty years of age. She ranked as lieutenant. She was wounded in the shoulder, and her sex was not discovered until she came to our hospital. It appeared that she had followed her lover to the battle; and the boys who were brought in with her said that no one in the company showed more bravery than she. She was discharged very soon after entering the ward."[ix]

Other nurses also discovered female soldiers among their patients. Clara Barton, whose fame spread across the country and around the world, was caring for wounded soldiers during the battle of Antietam in 1862. While giving one soldier a drink of water, a bullet tore through her sleeve and killed him. Later Barton observed that another soldier's face appeared to be "too soft," and she became suspicious when the soldier was hesitant to have his chest wound treated.

The soldier turned out to be a woman named Mary Galloway who had enlisted to be with her husband. "She [Barton] shepherded and shielded the girl, and subsequently located her lover in a Washington hospital." Later Barton reported that the couple had named a daughter after her.[x]   

Women were represented in all three main branches of the army (infantry, cavalry, and artillery), a surprising number of them advancing through the ranks to become sergeants, and in some cases officers, until wounded, killed, or being found out through some other extreme circumstance.

By far the most famous female infantry soldier was Sarah Emma Edmonds ("Franklin Thompson") who served for two years in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as soldier, spy, and nurse. After the war when she applied for a pension, her former comrades confirmed her service and she was made the only known female member of the Grand Army of the Republic. She was in combat in several engagements.[xi] 

Among the more intriguing Confederate female soldiers was Cuban-born Loreta Janeta Velazquez who served as Lt. Harry T. Buford. Her story has been viewed with great skepticism by historians and social commentators. Other than a few scattered contemporary references, her 1876 memoirs have long been the primary source of information about her alleged adventures as soldier and spy for the Confederacy. More recent research has tended to confirm some key portions of her story, though some of her alleged exploits remain controversial and unproven.[xii]

Malinda Blalock (a.k.a. Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock) enlisted in Co. F of the 26th North Carolina Infantry, posing as her husband's brother "Samuel." Her husband was William McKesson ("Keith") Blalock. Residents of a western North Carolina mountain region with strongly divided sentiments about secession and the Confederate cause. As a professed "Lincolnite," Keith often was pitted against friends and relatives.    

Although a professed "Lincolnite," Keith was forced by community pressures into enlisting for the Confederacy. Malinda's sentiments originally were pro-South, but out of loyalty to her husband she planned to desert with him at the first opportunity, Somehow the circumstances never quite developed that would allow them to carry out their plan.

Keith and "Sam" fought together in three battles garbed in Confederate gray, until in March 1862 Malinda was wounded in the shoulder. Keith carried her to the surgeon's tent, and in process of removing the bullet the surgeon discovered that "Sam" was a woman. Keith pleaded with the surgeon not to expose her, but the surgeon agreed only to give Keith a short time to work out his next course of action.   

Distraught about the probability of being separated from Malinda, Keith deliberately rubbed poison oak all over himself. By next morning his skin was blistered and swollen, and he had a high fever. Fearing that he had small pox, the physician confined him to his tent under guard to avoid a contagion. It was decided to give him an immediate medical discharge on April 20, 1862.

Malinda quickly informed the incredulous Colonel Zebulon Vance (later Governor of North Carolina and a U.S. Senator) that she was a woman. After a surgeon verified her claim, she was discharged on the same day. Keith and Malinda then slowly found their way home to the mountains of western North Carolina to recuperate.

Under constant threat of recall to Confederate service, Keith and Malinda became outlaws and embarked on a campaign as Federal partisans and guerrillas in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina and East Tennessee. They guided Union sympathizers and escaped Union prisoners through the mountains to safety in the North. Toward the end of the war they served as scouts and raiders with the 10th Michigan Cavalry.[xiii]

Women even served in the heavy, grimy, and dangerous work of the artillery service. The field artillery operated mainly in support of infantry on the battlefield. The soldiers marched alongside their guns or rode on the caissons. In some units known as "horse artillery," all the cannoneers were mounted and they operated along with the cavalry.[xiv]

Historical evidence indicates that many women served in the artillery throughout the war. In contrast to the women who served in the more glamorous cavalry, female cannoneers when discovered often were described in unflattering terms. One who served in the 15th Indiana Battery was described in a newspaper report after the war as being a "strange character."[xv]

During the summer of 1864 when a Confederate female artillery soldier was captured, a newspaper that reported her being taken to Grant's headquarters as a prisoner described her as "a coarse featured Amazon...who was in charge of a rebel battery when she was captured, and had on an officer's uniform of the United States."[xvi] According to Union nurse Anna Holstein, the woman ranked as a sergeant and "was the last to leave the gun" before being captured.[xvii]   

In order to be self-sufficient in the field, cavalry soldiers carried all their fighting and camping equipment with them. Typical supplies included three-days subsistence for themselves and their horses, 40 rounds of carbine ammunition, 20 rounds of pistol ammunition, shelter tent and camping equipment, and various tools and cleaning equipment. A cavalry horse usually carried about 270 pounds altogether. As a result of manhandling horse and supplies on a daily basis, cavalry soldiers had an unusual incidence of back problems, frequent ruptures, and hemorrhoids.[xviii]

Despite the physical strain involved, a large number of women are known to have served in the cavalry branches of the Union and the Confederate armies. Lizzie Compton reportedly served in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in 1863, and later in the 125th Michigan Cavalry and a number of other regiments. A contemporary report stated that, "Seven or eight times she was discovered and mustered out of service, but immediately re-enlisted in another regiment."[xix]

One of the most famous Confederate female soldiers, who served in both cavalry and infantry, was Mrs. Amy Clarke. A newspaper story from Jackson, Mississippi, on Dec. 30, 1862 reported:

"Among the strange, heroic and self-sacrificing acts of woman in this struggle for our independence, we have heard of none which exceeds the bravery displayed and hardships endured by the subject of this notice, Mrs. Amy Clarke. Mrs. Clarke vounteered with her husband as a private, fought through the battles of Shiloh, where Mr. Clarke was killed--she performing the rites of burial with her own hands. She then continued with Bragg's army in Kentucky, fighting in the ranks as a common soldier, until she was twice wounded--once in the ankle and then in the breast, when she fell a prisoner into the hands of the Yankees. Her sex was discovered by the Federals, and she was regularly paroled as a prisoner of war, but they did not permit her to return until she had donned female apparel. Mrs. C. was in our city on Sunday last, en route for Bragg's command."[xx]

The following August she was seen wearing lieutenant's bars at Turner's Station, Tennessee, and was recognized as the heroic Amy Clarke, causing a bit of a sensation among the soldiers. A Texas cavalry soldier, among those who saw her, wrote a letter home to his father saying that he had heard of her brave deeds. The letter repeated the story of Clarke's husband being killed at Shiloh and she later being wounded and released by the Yankees while required to wear a dress.[xxi]

General Philip Sheridan in his memoirs reported an extraordinary incident one day when two female soldiers were accidentally discovered in his command. A cavalry soldier along with a teamster from Tennessee, while on a foraging expedition in Kentucky, got drunk on apple cider, fell in a river, and both were discovered to be female when they were saved and resuscitated. Sheridan personally interviewed them next day and records the incident with some bemusement, referring to them as "she dragoons."

"The East Tennessee woman [the teamster] was found in camp, somewhat the worst for the experiences of the day before, but awaiting her fate contentedly smoking a cob-pipe," he recorded. "[The cavalry soldier] proved to be a rather prepossessing young woman....How the two got acquainted I never learned, and though they had joined the army independently of each other, yet an intimacy had sprung up between them long before the mishaps of the foraging expedition."[xxii]

More often than dramatic disclosure of this kind, the discovery of women in male disguise was due to happenstance. A young woman was found in Captain Gerard's company of the 66th Indiana Infantry after fooling the soldiers for some time. One day by chance her uncle visited the camp, accidentally met and recognized her. She was immediately discharged.[xxiii]          

Sometimes while in camp, the men happened to notice feminine-appearing mannerisms, perhaps a gesture or a certain body language, and began to suspect something. Many teenage soldiers were relatively small in stature and beardless, so those factors alone would not particularly attract attention. But a manner of dressing or a toss of the hand might.

Mary Smith, who was serving in male disguise in the 41st Ohio Infantry, one day in camp was discovered by giving an "unmistakable twist to the dishcloth in wringing it out that no masculine [sic] could ever successfully counterfeit."[xxiv]

During the 1861 Kanawha Valley Campaign in West Virginia a young soldier was discovered to be a woman after serving three months in the 1st Kentucky Infantry when she aroused suspicion by the way she pulled on her stockings. A newspaper correspondent covering the campaign reported:

"She performed camp duties with great fortitude, and never fell out of the ranks during the severest marches. She was small in stature, and kept her coat buttoned to her chin."[xxv]

Hospitalization for wounds or for serious illness probably was the single most common event that exposed female soldiers. Becoming pregnant or being killed in action also revealed many others. Surprisingly often they were non-commissioned officers. In these cases their male disguises manifestly had been highly successful until some extraordinary event occurred that stripped them of their disguise.

A contemporary Pennsylvania newspaper story reports a soldier's eyewitness account of a sergeant in the 1st Kansas Infantry who was found to be a woman when she died in a hospital in 1863. The Kansas regiment was encamped near him. Upon hearing the news, the soldier had gone to the hospital to see for himself and reported the facts in some detail.[xxvi]

Two Confederate female casualties (one dead, one seriously wounded) were discovered after the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863. As confirmed in the Army Official Records of the war, the body of an unidentified female Confederate soldier was discovered by a burial detail near the stone wall at the angle on Cemetery Ridge. She had been a participant in Pickett's famous charge.

An author reporting on Pickett's charge at Gettysburg noted, "The fact that her body was found in such an advanced spot is testimony to her bravery. However, except for an unverified story that the woman had enlisted in a Virginia regiment with her husband and was killed carrying the colors during the charge, Hays' notation [in the Official Records] is the extent of acknowledgment she received for having given her life for her country."[xxvii]

Another female Confederate casualty at Gettysburg was reported after the battle by a wounded Union soldier from Michigan, while in hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania. He wrote a letter home saying that there was a female Confederate soldier in hospital with them who had been wounded severely and lost a leg at Gettysburg. He thought this was "romantic" and felt sympathy for her.[xxviii]

After the battle of Atlanta in summer 1864, a soldier's story appeared in a New York newspaper:

"With the rebel dead and wounded who fell into our hands at the battle of Atlanta on the 21st [July] was a handsome young soldier in a neat gray jacket and pants. The soldier's leg was injured and amputation was deemed necessary. The noble youth was placed on the surgical table when lo -- it was a female! So many `tender youths' have been captured by us since the commencement of the campaign that but little attention was given her features."[xxix]

Among the numerous cases of soldiers whose careers were ended by pregnancy is one reported by Civil War nurse Harriet Whetten. Whetten recorded in her diary on Aug. 21, 1862, that she had discovered a woman among the hospitalized Union soldiers in her care who was pregnant and had to be sent home.[xxx]

Several of the soldiers whose careers were ended by motherhood were veteran sergeants and even officers. When a female sergeant in the 74th Ohio Infantry gave birth after 20 months in service, Gen. Rosecrans (Apr. 17, 1863) termed it "a flagrant outrage...in violation of all military law and of the army regulations."[xxxi]

At Johnson's Island prison camp on Lake Erie, Ohio, an imprisoned Confederate officer gave birth to a baby boy during the first week of December 1864.[xxxii] This is rather late in the war for a female soldier in male disguise to be discovered, especially as a Confederate officer. The meager details are tantalizing, and it is impossible not to wonder what extraordinary story lies behind brief anecdotes such as this.

As in all wars, thousands of soldiers in the Civil War were captured by the enemy during battles and taken to prison camps. At such notorious prisons as Andersonville and Libby Prison in the South, and Point Lookout and Johnson's Island in the North, lack of adequate shelter, food, and sanitation caused widespread suffering, illness, and death. Women were among the prisoners.

A remarkable coincidence came to light after October 20, 1863, following the battle of Philadelphia, Tennessee. Two women serving in different Union cavalry units were captured, and both were taken to Belle Isle prison in the James River near Richmond, Virginia, still in disguise.

One, a soldier named "Tommy" in the 45th Ohio (Mounted) Infantry, became ill in the prison and, when her sex was discovered early in February 1864, she was released.[xxxiii] The other, Mary Jane Johnson, had served in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry for about one year. She was discovered to be a woman during her imprisonment at Belle Isle.[xxxiv]

At least two Union female soldiers were imprisoned at Andersonville, with hints that others may well have been there.

While serving in male disguise along with her husband, a Pennsylvania artillery captain, Florena Budwin and her husband were captured and imprisoned in Andersonville, where he died. Florena nursed prisoners while there. Later she was transferred to a Florence, South Carolina, prison. When she became ill there, a doctor discovered her secret and she was given special care, but she died Jan. 25, 1865.[xxxv]

A Michigan cavalry soldier, John L. Ransom, kept a diary while imprisoned at Andersonville.[xxxvi] His diary entry for Dec. 23, 1863, notes "A woman found among us--a prisoner of war....She tells of another female being among us, but as yet she has not been found out."

This was not the only instance when exposed female soldiers told the authorities that they knew of other women in the ranks. Another case in point is the story of two female cousins, Mary and Molly Bell, who fought for the Confederacy as "Tom Parker" and "Bob Martin," respectively. They first enlisted in a cavalry company, were captured by Union forces, then were rescued by John Hunt Morgan's men. Next they enlisted in the 36th Virginia Infantry.

In Fall 1864 while serving in Gen. Jubal Early's command in the Shenandoah Valley, the two were arrested and labelled by Early as suspected "camp followers" after serving for two years in his command. This glib labeling does not exactly do justice to the facts.

A regimental historian of the 36th Virginia reports that while on picket duty, "Martin [Molly Bell] killed three Yankees and was promoted to corporal." At Belle Grove during the battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19, 1864, their captain (in whom they had confided) was captured. When they tried to confide in the lieutenant who took command, he turned them in to Gen. Early who put them on a train to Richmond. There they spent three weeks in Castle Thunder Prison before being sent home to Pulaski County, Virginia, still in their uniforms.

Interviews with their former comrades confirmed that Tom Parker and Bob Morgan had been "valiant soldiers" who had never shirked their duty. During their interview with Gen. Early upon being exposed, Mary and Molly Bell told him that there were at least six other women in his army.[xxxvii]

Others (including Sarah Emma Edmonds) told of burying female soldiers on the battlefield with no one else being aware of it. Edmonds (as "Franklin Thompson") was present with a detachment of doctors and nurses during the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862. While tending to the wounded on the battlefield, she came across a dying soldier who confessed to being a woman and asked "Frank" to conceal the truth and bury her on the battlefield.[xxxviii]    

Occasionally post-mortem forensic evidence is accidentally revealed after a long period of time. We now know that an unknown female soldier was killed at Shiloh (Apr. 6-7, 1862) and buried on the battlefield. In 1934, 72 years later, a gardener working on the fringes of the battlefield found some human remains and notified authorities. Nine bodies were exhumed, along with fragments of military uniforms and gear. One was identified as a woman, and with her remains was the minie ball that apparently had killed her.[xxxix]

When some bodies were being removed from a Georgia battle site in 1886 for reinterment in a national cemetery, the remains of Private "Charles Johehouse" of the 6th Missouri Infantry were recognized as those of a woman in uniform. She was in full uniform and had been shot through the head.[xl]

Like the story of "Otto Schaffer," a farmer in Butler County, Kansas, who had served in the Civil War and was only discovered at death to be a woman, reports of this type suggest that for every known female soldier there may have been on the order of five to ten that went undiscovered.[xli]       

Why did women fight? Except where the female soldiers survived the war and left interviews or memoirs, little is known about their motivations. By inference from the records, the majority appear to have been motivated simply by shared patriotism and an unwillingness to be separated from their loved ones.

Although one must be cautious about post-war yarns, especially those appearing around the turn of the century when romantic reminiscences of the "Great War" were much the rage, sometimes truth actually was stranger than fiction and romance really was the driving force.

William Fitzpatrick enlisted in the 126th Pennsylvania Infantry, but died in a Virginia hospital in 1862. Not until many years later was it discovered that Sgt. Frank Mayne, who deserted after Fitzpatrick died, was really Frances Day who had joined the infantry to be with her boyfriend, Fitzpatrick.

The regimental historian states that Mayne was not heard from again until long afterwards when "...in the far West, a soldier, wounded badly in a great battle, could not conceal her sex, and Frances Day then told how she had followed Fitzpatrick into the army and become herself a soldier and a Sergeant...; of her desertion upon her lover's death, and the abandon and despair which led her to seek again the ranks of the army."[xlii]

It is interesting to note that except for her "deathbed confession," Day's story would never have been known.

When Marian Green's boyfriend enlisted in the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics regiment in fall of 1861, she saw him off to war in December. Unable to bear being away from him, she arranged with a certain surgeon to enlist in a detachment recruited for the regiment and, in summer 1862, joined the regiment along with many other new recruits. (One suspects this sort of "arrangement" may have happened more than once.)

That fall the boyfriend was taken ill and he was sent to hospital. A couple of days later Green showed up at his bedside, remaining for months to nurse him and other patients. She had kept her sex a secret as a soldier in the regiment, but the boy wrote to her parents informing them of her presence and the parents arranged for her return home. Later when a portion of the regiment returned to Detroit for discharge, Marian met her boyfriend there and they were married.[xliii]

As in the case of Mary and Molly Bell, the officers sometimes knew that one of their soldiers was a woman, but let them continue in service. "Charles H. Williams," a woman whose real name is not known, served three months in Company I of an early Iowa regiment. She was discovered when mustered out with the regiment.

She was described in newspaper reports as having small and rather delicate hands, large and lustrous eyes, and jet black hair. "She was born in Davenport where her mother now resides," the newspaper said. "Capt. Cox learned her sex but allowed her to remain."[xliv]

A female soldier from Cincinnati, Ohio, who was detected in the ranks by an officer pleaded to stay in service. The officer did not report her and she remained in the ranks. "She looks as brave as any soldier in the division," he reported under a newspaper nom de plume. "I say bully for her, and if I only could get 100 of such I would send a company."[xlv]

Women soldiers often were not recognized for very simple reasons, chief among them the fact that manners and mores were very different then. Entry medical examinations often were superficial, simply to ensure that the soldier could see, march, and carry a gun. Two good eyes, functional arms and legs, no apparent inability to walk and carry a gun, and off you go.

Soldiers constantly on the march or in extended periods of combat usually wore the same uniforms and underclothes for weeks, and they slept fully clothed. During long periods of marching and fighting, they seldom took a full bath unless, during a break in the action, they came across a convenient stream or lake. Sarah Edmonds as "Frank Thompson" often slept beside the road while on frequent courier or mail-carrying duty.

Even in camp, male soldiers often were slow to recognize that anything was amiss, perhaps finding it unimaginable that a member of the female sex would have the audacity to masquerade as a man and could have the endurance to succeed at it under hardship conditions. When it was reported that a woman had served in the ranks of the 14th Maine Infantry throughout the war, Lt. Col. Ira B. Gardner said that she served under him for two years without being recognized as a female.

"If I had been anything but a boy," he said, "I should probably have seen from her form that she was a female."[xlvi]

The younger Civil War volunteers were 17 or 18. If they were small in stature and also had high-pitched voices, that did not particularly attract attention. "Albert Cashier" and other female soldiers kept quietly to themselves apart from the men, and were simply assumed to be loners who were not very talkative.

Some women went out of the way to practice acting "masculine" in order to conceal their gender. Loreta Janeta Velazquez wore a false mustache and practiced a swagger. She also wore a chain-metal corset-like affair to disguise her form. In her memoirs she reports ruefully that her specially designed outfit kept getting "out of order" and she was frequently stopped and questioned.

Once while in jail in Lynchburg, Virginia, under suspicion of being a woman, she propped her feet up on a windowsill, turned her head and spat just as some unfriendly visitors arrived at her jail cell, in order to convince them she was not a woman.[xlvii]

Mrs. Frances Clayton allegedly served in a Minnesota regiment along with her husband. According to contemporary newspaper reports "the better to conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew, and swear with the best, or worst, of the soldiers.[xlviii]

An unknown woman enlisted in Capt. Brand's company of the 107th Pennsylvania Infantry disguised as a man. When discovered, a newspaper reported that "[she] could smoke a cigar, swagger, and take an occasional `horn' with the most perfect sang froid." She returned home and resumed female attire about a month later without explanation, but said she is determined "to try it again."[xlix]

The Civil War afforded many women an unusual opportunity to break out of 19th Century conventional molds by engaging in military service. Others gained practical experience as State hospital aid society organizers and hospital administrators. But the story of those who, by choice, participated in combat on Civil War battlefields has not been adequately reported.

Even with rapidly expanding internet files and new research methods it probably will be impossible to learn with any precision how many women fought in male disguise and escaped detection. All that can be said is that with the advent of the internet and intensive searching driven by interest in genealogy and the Civil War, more and more examples of female soldiers have come to light.

Whether there were more women who went undetected than were found out is impossible to say. For the large majority of female soldiers who were discovered, their real names were not recorded and are not known today, whereas their male pseudonyms sometimes are known. We are left with large numbers of Unknown Female Soldiers.

In Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.,  the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier bears the inscription: "Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God." A section of the cemetery contains headstones inscribed "Union Soldier Unknown."

Civil War graves hold a lot of secrets, among them (as has been demonstrated) occasional forensic evidence that women served in the ranks disguised as men. Considering that the armies on both sides totaled about 1.5 million soldiers, it would not be surprising at all to learn that several thousand of them, at least, were women.

Some of the secrets of the unknown Civil War female soldiers have gradually come to light, and more possibly will in the fullness of time.



i. Margaret Leech, Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941; p. 15.

ii. Richard Hall, "Women in Battle in the Civil War," in American History, Volume I: Pre-Colonial through Reconstruction. Guilford, Conn.: Dushkin Publishing Group, 1995, pp. 197-200.

iii. Francis A. Lord, They Fought for the Union. New York: Bonanza Books, MCMLX, p. 244.

iv. Richard Hall, Patriots In Disguise: Wommen Warriors of the Civil War. New York: Marlowe & Co., 1994.

v. Agatha Young, The Women and the Crisis: Women of the North in the Civil War (New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1959), p. 125.

vi. See Richard Hall, Patriots In Disguise: Women Warriors of the Civil War (New York: Paragon House, 1993), pp. 33-45. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 51 includes the order authorizing Mrs. Anna Etheridge, 5th Michigan Volunteers, to receive the Kearny Cross.

vii. Mrs. John A. Logan, The Part Taken By Women in American History (Wilmington, Delaware: Perry-Nalle Publishing Co., 1912), p. 492. See also Mary Massey, Bonnet Brigades (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 85. The 13th Virginia fought in almost every major eastern battle except Gettysburg. The rosters of Company A ("Montpelier Guard") and other companies in the regiment have been reconstructed from many sources in a regimental history by David F. Riggs, 13th Virginia Infantry (Lynchburg, Va.: H.E. Howard, 1988). Although this is a very thoroughly researched regimental history and contains numerous interesting and amusing anecdotes, there is no mention of Lucy Ann Cox.

viii. Sister Mary Denis Maher, To Bind Up the Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses in the U.S. Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 1989), pp. 100-24. Female soldiers, pp. 115-16.

ix. Mary A. Gardner Holland, Our Army Nurses (Boston: Lounsbery, Nichols & Worth, 1895), p. 341.

x. Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Clara Barton: Professional Angel (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), p. 99.

xi. For a detailed summary of her exploits, see Hall (1993), pp. 46-97. Primary sources include Sylvia Dannett, She Rode With the Generals (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1960); S. Emma E. Edmonds, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army (Hartford, Conn.: W.S. Williams & Co., 1864); Betty Fladeland, "Alias Franklin Thompson," Michigan History vol. 42, 1958; Betty Fladeland, "New Light on Sarah Emma Edmonds, Alias Franklin Thompson," Michigan History, December 1963, pp. 357-62; House Report No. 820, U.S. Congress, Mar. 18, 1884; Lansing, Mich., State Republican, May 20, June 20-21, June 26, 1900.

xii. C.J. Worthington (ed.), The Woman in Battle, (Hartford, Conn.: T. Belknap, 1876). See also Richard Hall chapter on Velazquez in Philip T. Tucker (ed.), Cubans in the Confederacy, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2002.

xiii. Peter F. Stevens, Rebels in Blue: The Story of Keith and Malinda Blalock (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Co., 2000). See also Francis Butler Simkins and James Welch Patton, The Women of the Confederacy, (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, Inc.), p. 80; Minerva, Spring 1990, p. 41; National Archives military service records.

xiv. Francis A. Lord, They Fought For the Union (New York: Bonanza Books, 1960), pp. 77-81.

xv. Lee Middleton, Hearts of Fire: Soldier Women of the Civil War (Torch, Ohio: privately published, 1993), p. 129, from National Tribune, May 25, 1899.

xvi. Poughkeepsie Press, N.Y., June 18, 1864. (Credit Joel Craig, home.valstar.net/~jcraig/)

xvii. Elizabeth D. Leonard,  All the Daring of the Soldier (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999), p. 215.

xviii. Lord (1960), pp. 73-77.

xix. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, Mar. 7, 1863; Frazar Kirkland, Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion (Hartford, Conn.: Hartford Publishing Co., 1867), p. 605; John W. Heisey, "Ladies in Our Wars," AntiqueWeek, May 29, 1989; Middleton (1993), p. 36, from New York Herald, Dec. 28, 1863.

xx. Jacksonian Mississipian, Dec. 25, 1862, as reported in Southern Women of the Second American Revolution by Henry Jackson (Atlanta, 1863).

xxi. Maury Darst, "Robert Hodges, Jr., Confederate Soldier," in East Texas Historical Journal, 9(1), 1971, pp. 37-38.

xxii. Philip H. Sheridan, Personal Memoirs, Vol. I, (New York: Charles L. Webster & Co., 1888), pp. 253-55.

xxiii.Notes by Prof. Stuart Sprague from newspaper story. Although the regiment served from Aug. 19, 1862 to June 3, 1865, Capt. John W. Gerard, Company I, was commander only during August and September of 1862, when he "was dismissed...for drunkenness." This narrows down the possible dates for discovery of the female soldier to those two months. The troubled regiment had an extraordinary number of desertions in 1862, including two on August 21 and three on September 1, immediately prior to Gerard's dismissal on September 10.

     A search of the Company I roster turned up no direct evidence of a soldier being discharged under unusual circumstances at this time. It did turn up seven deserters, a rubric that could conceal the release of a female soldier. One, William Smith, mustered in Aug. 19, 1862 and deserted the same day!

xxiv. Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 10, 1861.

xxv. Albert D. Richardson, The Secret Service, The Field, The Dungeon, and The Escape (Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1865), p. 175. The 1st Kentucky Infantry regiment was formed in Pendleton, Ohio, during April and May of 1861.

xxvi. Pennsylvania newspaper 1863 story on "Joel Craig's Bivouac" web site. A soldier camped nearby the 1st Kansas said, "I went to the hospital and saw the body after it was prepared for burial, and made some inquiries about her. She was of rather more than average size for a woman, with rather strongly marked features, so that with the aid of a man's attire she had quite a masculine look. She enlisted in the regiment after they went to Missouri....She was in the battle of Springfield, where Gen. Lyon was killed, and has fought in a dozen battles and skirmishes...."

xxvii. E.F. Conklin, Women at Gettysburg 1863  (Gettysburg, Pa,: Thomas Publications, 1993), p. 134. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 27, Part 1, p. 38. OR footnote 1 states: "This was a notation at the bottom of General William Hays' report on the burial of Confederate dead by his command." See also Herbert L. Grimm and Paul L. Ray, Human Interest Stories of the Three Days' Battles at Gettysburg (Gettysburg, Pa.: Times & News Publishing Co., 1927).

xxviii. Letter of Thomas Read, Company E, 5th Michigan Infantry, dated Aug. 20, 1863; cited in G.A. Coco, On the Bloodstained Field (Hollidaysburg, Pa.:, Wheatfield Press, 1987), p. 40.

xxix. Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Press, Aug. 13, 1864.

xxx. Elizabeth D. Leonard (1999), p. 219; citing "A Volunteer Nurse in the Civil War: The Diary of Harriet Douglas Whetten," Wisconsin Magazine of History 48 (Winter 1964-65): p. 217.

xxxi. L.P. Brockett, Battle-Field and Hospital: Or, Lights and Shadows of the Great Rebellion (Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, 1888), p. 303; Frazar Kirkland, Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion (1867), pp. 554-55; Michigan History 44 (June 1960), p. 205; Massey, Bonnet Brigades (1966), p. 84.

xxxii. B.I. Wiley, Confederate Women, p. 142; from Sandusky, Ohio, Register, Dec. 12, 1864; Massey, Bonnet Brigades, p. 84.

xxxiii. Wild Riders of the First Kentucky Cavalry, by Sgt. Eastham Tarrant, Co. A; cited by Gerald D. Hodge, Jr., on an internet web site. The 45th Ohio was part of Wolford's Independent Cavalry along with the 1st Kentucky Cavalry.

xxxiv. Middleton (1993), p. 84. See "Women of Achievement and Herstory" on holysmoke.org/fem/fem0509.htm web site. The 11th Kentucky received the brunt of an attack Oct. 20, 1863, at Philadelphia, Tenn. About 100 men were taken prisoner. Although we don't know what male alias she was using, no one by the name of Johnson was among the captured soldiers.

     Among the prisoners that day who were taken to Richmond, five stand out as possible candidates to have been Mary Jane Johnson. Four of them died in prison, and the fifth was Samuel McAfee whose military history reports enlistment July 19, 1862, at Louisville, Kentucky, as a private. "He was discharged on 11/15/1863 at Richmond, Virginia." For a Union soldier to be discharged from service in the Confederate capital seems most unlikely unless there were special circumstances. He would have served a year and three months at the time of capture, and the timing fits the story. Genealogical research might be able to settle the question.

xxxv. Stewart Sefakis, Who Was Who in The Union (New York: Facts on File, 1988) p. 52. Middleton (1993) reports that Budwin is buried at Florence, S.C., National Cemetery. A search was conducted in the rosters of the 1st through 4th Pennsylvania light and heavy artillery regiments. No one named Budwin was found, but there was no data for some units.

xxxvi. John Ransom's Andersonville Diary (New York: Berkley Books, 1988), pp. 21-22.

xxxvii. J.L. Scott, 36th Virginia Infantry (1987), pp. 46, 57, citing the Richmond Daily Dispatch, Oct. 31, 1864; Massey (1966), pp. 84-5.

xxxviii. Hall (1994), pp. 67-68.

xxxix. Fred Brooks, "Shiloh Mystery Woman," Civil War Times Illustrated, August 1978, p. 29.

xl. "Women Fought and Died in the U.S. Civil War," in Women of Achievement (undelete.org/woa07-04.html). No roster was found for the 6th Missouri Infantry.

[xli]. Record Group 94, National Archives.

xlii. Ted Alexander, 126th Pennsylvania [regimental history], (Shippensburg Pa.; Beidel Printing House, 1984), pp. 30-40. Fitzpatrick had enlisted in Company F. When he fell ill and died in a hospital at Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 24, 1862, Mayne, a sergeant in Company F, "unaccountably deserted." The reason was learned only years later when she made a death bed confession. Her military records in the National Archives confirm her desertion at Cloud Mills, Va. She was 18 when she enlisted at Mifflin, Pa. on Aug. 5, 1862, and had light complexion, light eyes, and light hair. The identification of the regiment she was serving with when killed has not been determined.

xliii. Kirkland (1867), pp. 159-60. The 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics was formed on Oct. 29, 1861 and served through Sept. 22, 1865.

xliv. Louisville, Ky., Daily Journal, Aug. 24, 1861; New York Tribune, Sept. 1, 1861. The latter source identifies the unit as the 2d Iowa; as of May 6, 1861 Hugh P. Cox was captain of Company I. The 2d Iowa was organized at Keokuk and mustered in May 27, 1861. It was a three-year regiment. The Louisville article is dated almost exactly three months after the muster in date of the 2d Iowa. However, the regiment didn't muster out until July 1865. The story would make more sense if the unit in question were a three-month" regiment, but the 1st Iowa is the only one from that state. No Capt. Cox appears on  the roster of the 1st Iowa and no "Charles H. Williams" appears on the roster of either regiment.

xlv. Cincinnati Daily Press, Jan. 6, 1862.

xlvi. Ira B. Gardner, Recollections of a Boy Member of Co. I, Fourteenth Maine Volunteers, 1861-1865 (Lewiston, Maine: Lewiston Journal Co., 1902). A roster check confirms that Gardner was a sergeant in Company I, later promoted to captain in 1863.

The 14th was organized in Augusta and mustered in Dec. 31, 1861. Its service record includes New Orleans Campaign, 1862; Department of the Gulf to July 1864; Virginia, Sheridan's Valley Campaign August-November 1864; Battle of Winchester Sept. 19, 1864; Battle of Cedar Creek Oct. 19, 1864. Mustered out Jan. 13, 1865, at the end of 3 years. Some veterans and recruits volunteered for further duty and were consolidated into a battalion of four companies, serving in Georgia. They were mustered out Aug. 28, 1865.

xlvii. Hall (1994), p. 126.

xlviii. Hall (1994), p. 28. This story may be apocryphal since the facts of her story do not check out. The regiment she claims to have served in was not in the battle where she claims to have been wounded. The alleged swaggering behavior also might be a newspaper invention to account for how a woman could "get away with it." See the following example of a similar story.

xlix. Semi-Weekly Dispatch, Franklin County, Pa., Apr. 1, 1862. Jackson A. Brand was captain of Company K, 107th Pennsylvania Infantry from Feb. 24, 1862 until his resignation on Nov. 24, 1862.

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