Monday, January 31, 2011



Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers of the Civil War therefore assumed masculine names, disguised themselves as men and hid the fact that they were female. Because they passed as men, it's impossible to know with any certainty how many women soldiers served in the Civil War. Estimates place as many as 250 women in the ranks of the Confederate army.

Some soldiers were revealed as women after getting captured. In his memoirs, General Philip Sheridan reported an extraordinary incident one day when two female soldiers were accidentally discovered in his command. A cavalry soldier, along with a teamster from Tennesses, got drunk on apple cider while on a foraging expedition in Kentucky. They fell in a river and were discovered to be female when they were saved and resuscitated. Sheridan personally interviewed them the next day and recorded the incident with some bemusement ... referring to them as "she dragoons." He wrote:

"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. [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."

More often than dramatic disclosures 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 discharged immediately.

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."

Among the numerous cases of soldiers whose careers were ended by pregnancy is one reported by Civil War nurse, Harriet Whetten. On August 21, 1862 she recorded in her diary that she had discovered a woman among the hospitalized Union soldiers in her care who was pregnant and had to be sent home. 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 the service, General Rosecrans (April 17, 1863) termed it "a flagrant outrage ... in violation of all military law and of the army regulations."

On the flip side, officers often knew that one of their soldiers was a woman, but let them continue in service. Charles H. Williams served three months in Company I of an early Iowa regiment and was discovered when the regiment mustered out. A newspaper report described her 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 stated. "Captain Cox learned her sex but allowed her to remain."

Another officer detected a female soldier from Cincinnati, Ohio in his ranks and was persuaded to let her remain. "She looks as brave as any soldier in the division," he reported, "I say bully for her, and if I could get 100 of such I would send a company."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mollie Bean

Mollie Bean was a North Carolina woman who, pretending to be a man, joined the 47th North Carolina, a unit of the Confederate army.

She was captured in uniform by Union forces outside Richmond, Virginia on the night of February 17, 1865. When questioned at the provost marshal's office, she said she had served with the 47th for two years and been twice wounded. (North Carolina Troops 1861-1865—a Roster, vol. XI, editor W.T. Jordan). Given that unit's record in 1863, her statement indicates she may have fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Richmond Whig, which reported the case on February 20, 1865, assumed that other soldiers knew of Bean's true gender and insinuated that she may have had sexual relations with one or more of them. Neither assertion was based on any concrete evidence, Bean's own testimony or that of any other soldier in her unit.

Subsequently, she was accused of being both a spy and "manifestly crazy", and incarcerated at Richmond's wartime prison Castle Thunder.

Found at

On February 20, 1865, the Richmond Whig published a report stating that on February 17:

(Charlotte) Daily Bulletin
March 2, 1865.
A young woman, dressed in military uniform, was arrested somewhere up the Danville Railroad and sent to this city, charged with being a suspicious character. On examination of the Provost Marshal's office it appeared that her name was Mollie Bean, and that she had been serving in the 47th North Carolina Regiment for over two years, during which time she had been twice wounded. She was sent to Castle Thunder, that common receptacle of the guilty, the suspected, and the unfortunate. This poor creature is, from her record, manifestly crazy. It will not, we presume, be pretended that she had served so long in the army without her sex being discovered."
The story also ran in the Richmond Sentinel and the Richmond Enquirer, and was picked up by the Charlotte Daily Bulletin, which on March 2 ran a much more detailed version of the incident:
The train guard on the Danville cars encountered a delicate looking individual, decked out in a Yankee great coat, and a pair of light colored pants, and a jaunty little fatigue cap, stuck rakishly on the head, one side resting close against the right ear. As the face was a strange one, the guard demanded 'Your papers, sir,' to which the individual in the great coat responded, 'I've got no papers, and damn if I want any." To attempt to travel on the cars without papers signed by the Provost Marshal and all his assistants, and from the commandant of conscripts and all his clerks, is downright treason in the eyes of any detective, and so the delicate individual in the great coat and corduroy pants was ejected vict armis, placed in the hands of another officer, and marched off to the office of chief of police. Here the strange individual was subjected to the most rigid cross questioning, and much to the astonishment of all, it was ascertained that the great coat encompassed the form of a female, who gave her name as Mollie Bear, of the 47th North Carolina State troops. She states that she was twice been wounded in battle. Miss Bear was committed to the castle as a suspicious character.
Five days later the Charlotte Western Democrat ran the story under the title "A Female Adventurer," but added no more details about the event or the individual. Unlike the other Charlotte paper, the Democrat gave her name as Mollie Bean, not Bear.
No further records have been found about her final disposition at Castle Thunder prison in Richmond. How long she was incarcerated, and what happened to her upon her release, are questions that remain unanswered.

Exactly who she was also remains a mystery. If the newspapers were correct, Molly Bean was a young woman, assumedly from North Carolina, who enlisted in the 47th North Carolina Infantry at some point in the spring of 1863. Identifying her by her alias would entail finding an individual who enlisted at that point, who suffered two wounds either to extremities or the head (wounds which would not necessarily have necessitated discovery that she was a woman), and who for whatever reason, could have been on the railroad between Danville and Richmond on February 17, 1865. The 47th North Carolina, on that date, was posted in winter quarters near Hatcher's Run.

No woman by the name of Mollie Bean is listed on the 1860 census as living in North Carolina. However, Mollie is a common pet-name for Mary or Margaret. A Mary Bean, born 1838, lived in Rowan County, as did a Margaret Bean, born 1839. A second Margaret Bean, born 1838, lived in Montgomery County. In addition, a Marry Bean, born 1845, was living in Caldwell County, while a Monday Bean, also born 1845, was living in Yadkin County. Finally, a Mary Bean, born 1849, was recorded as living in Randolph County, and a Margaret Bean, born 1849, was documented in Montgomery County.

Mollie Bean, if that was her real name, was perhaps one of those women. The 47th North Carolina, however, was primarily raised in Alamance, Franklin, Granville, Nash, and Wake Counties, and included very few enlistees from other regions. One intriguing possibility is that she was actually Mollie Bunn, born in 1840, who was living in Nash County in 1860.
An analysis of the regiment's deserters who absconded in the January-February 1865 period, searching for those who enlisted in 1863, and who were documented as having been twice wounded, proved inconclusive, as in each case those individuals can be proven as males using census and pension records.

Mollie Bean's true identity consequently remains unknown.

Mary & Mollie Bell

Battle of Cedar Creek
Two cousins, Mary and Mollie Bell, fought for the Confederacy as Pvts. Bob Martin and Tom Parker. They enlisted in the cavalry company, were captured by Union forces and were rescued by John Hunt Morgan's men. They next enlisted in the 36th Virginia Infantry.

A regimental historian of the 36th Virginia reports that while on picket duty, "Martin" killed three Yankees and was promoted to Corporal. At Belle Grove during the battle of Cedar Creek, October 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 General Early who admitted there were at least six other women in his army. Though Parker and Martin had served under Early for two years, he put them on a train to Richmond where 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 Parker and Martin had been "valiant soldiers" who never shirked their duty.


Lucy Berrington

Found at

At least one North Carolina woman served actively in the Union military. Lucy Berington, a 45-year-old African American woman from North Carolina, was enlisted in January 1864 as a first-class boy in the U.S. Navy. Her gender was known at the time of her enlistment, and she was assigned as a washerwoman at the U.S. Naval Hospital at New Bern. At the time of the war, the enlistment of women was forbidden therefore her case is something of a mystery. She was not hired as contract labor, but formally enlisted at a rating, or naval rank, equal to that of inexperienced recruits to the Navy – the rating of boy was the lowest pay scale in the service. There may have been selfish motives on behalf of the surgeons in charge of the hospital. Average pay for a washerwoman contracted to the Navy at the time was fifty centers per day, which equated to fifteen dollars a month, while a first class boy earned between seven to nine dollars a month. Perhaps they were simply trying to control labor costs; however, if that is the case, why only choose one individual? Sadly for Lucy, the decision to enlist in the Navy cost the woman her life, as she died of disease in the spring of 1864 in the very hospital in which she worked.

Attempting to locate more on Lucy Berington has been difficult. No free black woman by that name lived in the state of North Carolina in 1860, suggesting she was enslaved prior to the war. If she was indeed a slave, and Berington, or perhaps Barrington, was the name of her owner, then one should find a slave, aged nearly forty-five, listed as the property of such a family on the 1860 slave schedule. Interestingly, the only Barrington families in North Carolina (there were no Beringtons) who owned slaves lived in Craven County, the very place Lucy enlisted. However, no female slaves aged forty-five were owned by any of them. A fifty-four-year-old female appears as the property of Nancy V. Barrington while a thirty-six-year-old female was the chattel of Stephen G. Barrington, but it remains uncertain if either was Lucy.

Nevertheless she stands out as the only identifiable enlisted North Carolina female recruit in the Union military.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mary Ann Berry

Mary Ann Berry from Lewiston, Maine was 21 years old when she met Ivory Brown from Parsonsfield, Maine. They married in 1861, the year the Civil War began.

He enlisted with the 31st Maine Infantry Regiment in 1864 and Mary decided she would go with him. Not surprisingly, she was rejected by the Army. She persisted, however, and took on clerical jobs for the regiment. Eventually, she went south with the regiment as a field nurse.

Records of her service cannot be found, but in 1930 she was interviewed by a reporter to whom she told her story. Besides nursing and caring for soldiers, she told the reporter that she also fought beside them. When asked, "Did you carry a musket and fight with the Union Men?", she replied, "Yes, sir. I carried a musket ... a 16-shooter [possibly a Henry Repeater rifle], a sword and a dirk, too, to fight my way through like the rest of them."

Mary was standing next to her brother-in-law at the siege of Petersburg when he was killed. It's possible that she was disguised as a soldier, since General Grant had issued orders that no women be allowed at the front. Ivory was also injured at Petersburg and Mary was there to care for him. He was discharged in June 1865 after which the couple went home to Brownfield, Maine. Ivory died in 1902. Mary outlived him by 34 years, dying in 1936 at age 96.

Sarah Malinda Blalock

Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock enlisted in Co. F of the 26th North Carolina Infantry posed as Pvt. Samuel Blalock. Her husband was William McKesson (Keith) Blalock. They were 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.

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 Malinda fought together in three battles garbed in Confederate gray until March 1862 when Malinda was wounded in the shoulder. Keith carried her to the surgeon's tent, and in the 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 the next morning, his skin was blistered and swollen and he had a high fever. Fearing that he had small pox, the physicial confined him to his tent under guard to avoid 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.

The Confederate records for Mrs. S. M. Blalock, 26th, Company F, state, "This lady dressed in men's cloths, Volunteered [sic], received bounty and for two weeks did all the duties of a soldier before she was found out, but her husband being discharged, she disclosed the fact, returned the bounty, and was immediately discharged April 20, 1862."

Keith and Melinda slowly found their way home to the mountains of western North Carolina to recuperate. Under constant threat of recall to Confederate service, they 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.

Found at

Sarah Malinda Pritchard, perhaps the most famous female soldier from North Carolina, served alongside her husband in the Confederate army, and later assisted the Union military. Born in 1839, she married William McKesson Blalock at the age of seventeen, and settled on a farm near the base of Grandfather Mountain. William, who went by the nickname "Keith," remained loyal to the Union at the outbreak of the war, and refused to enlist the Confederate army. However, in March 1862, faced with new conscription laws requiring all men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five to serve in the army, Keith Blalock and his wife, disguised as "Sam" Blalock and claiming to be Keith's younger brother, enlisted in Company F, 26th North Carolina Infantry.

Six days prior to the Blalock's enlistment, the 26th North Carolina had fought in the Battle of New Bern, and the regiment was recovering near Kinston. "Sam" gave her age on enlistment as twenty, but was described in later accounts as a "good looking sixteen-year-old boy" weighing "about 130 pounds, height five feet four inches." It was noted that for the next month Sam , tenting and eating with Keith, did all the "duties of a soldier," and was "very adept at learning the manual and the drill."

Sarah Malinda's Confederate service was quite short-lived, however. Keith, ever anxious to find a way out of the army, approached the regimental surgeon, Thomas J. Boykin, with a complaint of a "rupture" (hernia) and "poison from sumac." The injury may have been a preexisting condition however it is thought that he rolled around in sumac in order to gain the rash. Initially the surgeons thought he was suffering from smallpox due to the severity of the disorder. On April 20, 1862, Keith was discharged from Confederate service for "disability." That same afternoon, "Sam" came clean to the regimental commanders, including Colonel Zebulon Vance, and immediately was discharged from service.

After their release, the Blalocks made their way back to their mountain home. Precisely what happened to them in 1863-1864 is unclear. One account states that Keith was subsequently wounded in the arm as the couple were pursued into the wilderness atop Grandfather Mountain by Confederate conscription and enrolling officers attempting to force Keith to rejoin the army. If he had been properly discharged, however, and had papers proving that, they could not have legally reenlisted him. In his later years, Keith asserted that he had never been properly discharged. Tradition also states that he helped Union escapees from Salisbury prison cross the mountains into Tennessee.

At some point in the fall of 1863 or spring of 1864, Keith made his way across the mountains into eastern Tennessee, where on June 1, 1864 he enlisted at Strawberry Plains in Company D, 10th Michigan Cavalry. The company records indicate that at least four other eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina Unionists joined the same company. He later claimed in his Union army pension that he spent the majority of his time in service as a scout. He acknowledged two injuries in his pension that do not appear in his service records: a gunshot to the arm while operating in Caldwell County in the summer of 1864, and a second wound, which cost him his left eye, on January 15, 1865.

Historians as well as fiction writers have made numerous claims that Sarah Malinda Blalock took part in many of Keith's scouting forays. One story involves Malinda being wounded in the shoulder in an early 1864 attack on the home of Carroll Moore, the father of a former friend and comrade of the Blalocks. She indeed may have helped him, but one must account for the fact that she had a one-year-old child at the time that needed care, and Keith does not mention her presence alongside him in any of his pension correspondence postwar.

After the war, Keith Blalock murdered a man who was responsible for the killing of his stepfather during the conflict. He managed to escape prosecution. For a brief time the family moved to Texas, but eventually returned to North Carolina, settling as farmers in Mitchell County (in an area that is present-day Avery County). Malinda died in 1903, and is buried in the Montezuma Community Cemetery alongside Keith, who was killed in 1913 in an accident on the railroad.

Sarah Malinda Blalock's month-long enlistment in the Confederate army, and her later assistance to the Union military, made her unique among North Carolina's women veterans.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Florena Budwin

Florena Budwin was born about 1845. She disguised herself as a man and followed her husband, John Budwin. Both were captured and sent to Andersonville where he died in that notorious Confederate prison camp.

When Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops got close to Andersonville, Budwin and many other prisoners were moved to the Florence Stockade in Florence, South Carolina. There were about 16,000 Union prisoners held there between September 15, 1864 and February 1865.

Florina's gender was discovered after a routine exam by a doctor, a few months before her death. She was moved to a private room and put to work in the prison hospital. She became ill with one of the many epidemics raging through the camp and died January 25, 1865. Florina is buried in the Florence National Cemetery. It is thought that she is the first woman to be buried in a National Cemetery. 


Frances Clailin

Battle of Fort Donelson
Frances Clalin was born in Illinois in the 1830s and married Ohio-born Elmer L. Clayton with whom she had three children.
Clalin' story as a woman who disguised herself as man to fight in the war was the subject of several newspaper reports, many containing conflicting information. Most agreed that Clalin, disguised as a man and using the name Jack Williams, enlisted with the Union army with her husband during the fall of 1861. Despite living in Minnesota, Frances and Elmer enlisted in the Missouri artillery regiment. 
She is known to have fought in the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee, February 13, 1862, where the Union won after three days of fighting. During this battle Clalin was wounded, but was not discovered. She and Elmer served side-by-side until he died during the Battle of Stones River (or Murfreesboro) on December 31, 1862. He was only a few feet in front of Fances at the time, but some sources say that she didn’t stop fighting - she stepped over his body and charged when the commands came.

It’s unknown which units specifically the Clailins fought in, but Frances is said to have served in both cavalry and artillery Cakes. She was engaged in 17 battles besides Fort Donelson and reports say she was wounded a total of three times and taken prisoner once.
“Frances Clayton took up all the manly vices. To better conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew and swear. She was especially fond of cigars. She even gambled, and a fellow soldier declared that he had played poker with her on a number of occasions.” —DeAnne Blanton & Lauren M. Cook, They Fought Like Demons

She was tall and masculine, had tan skin, stood erect and walked with a soldierly stride. She was said to be a good horseman and swordsman ... a respected person who commanded attention in the way she acted. One report said that she did her duties at all times and was considered to be a "fighting man".
There are two stories about how Clalin was discovered to be a woman. One is that after the battle at Stones River in 1863, Clalin let her true identity become known and was discharged a few days later in Louisville. The other is that she was wounded in the hip at Stones River and was discharged after being discovered.
After being discharged Clalin tried to get back to Minnesota to collect the bounty owed her and Elmer, as well as to get some of his belongings. It’s also speculated that she wanted to reenlist, but was unable to. Her train was attacked by a Confederate guerrilla party and she was robbed of her papers and money. She then went from Missouri to Minnesota, to Grand Rapids, Michigan and on to Quincy, Illinois. In Quincy a fund was created to aid her quest for payment by former soldiers and friends. Frances was last reported to be headed for Washington, DC.
Clalin became popular with the newspapers of the time. Her story, which was often jumbled up, was published in about six different papers. In some articles it was stated that Clalin had been wounded and discovered at Stones River where her husband died, but others said she was wounded at Fort Donelson and was able to keep her identity a secret until her husband died, after which she went to her superiors with her secret.
According to Clalin, she was actually wounded at Donelson and was able to keep her identity unknown. She corrected these misunderstandings in her last interview, but she never stated what specific regiment she had served in. This was probably never asked of Clalin, because the reporters were more interested in the story of a devoted wife, rather than the actual details of Jack Williams’ soldier life.

Amy Clark

Battle of Shiloh
One of the most famous Confederate female soldiers, who served in both cavalry and infantry, was Mrs. Amy Clark. At the age of 30, she enlisted as a private in a cavalry regiment with her husband Walter, so she wouldn’t be separated from him. Also known as Anna, she used the name Pvt. Richard Anderson and fought with Walter until his death at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862.

A newspaper story from Mississippian on December 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 volunteered 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 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."

She may have re-enlisted after her release from prison because 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 sensation among the soldiers. A Texas cavalry soldier who saw her, wrote a letter home to his father saying:

“One of the soldiers directed my attention to a youth apparently about seventeen years of age well dressed with a lieutenant's badge on his collar. I remarked that I saw nothing strange. He then told me that the young man was not a man but a female.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Army life in the 1860s differed significantly from the modern military. Although living and sleeping arrangements were as close or closer than they are today, the fact that the majority of soldiers lived outside throughout the war, with the latitude to wash and attend to sanitary matters out of sight of comrades, made it possible for females in the ranks to avoid the scrutiny that would give them away. Also, societal standards of modesty ensured that no one would question a shy soldier’s reluctance to bathe in a river with his messmates or to relieve himself in the open company sinks.

Stg. Herman Weiss, 6th New York Heavy Artillery, explained to his wife how a woman in his regiment had maintained her male persona for close to three years: “It is no wonder at all that her tent mates did not know that she was a woman for you must know that we never undress to go to bed. On the contrary we dress up, we go to bed with boots, overcoat and all on and she could find chances enogh when she would be in the tent alone to change her clothes.”

Daily bathing, particularly for soldiers on the march, was not a concern as they often went for months at a time without bathing or changing clothes. Women who sought privacy would not have aroused a great deal of suspicion, especially since they had already established reputations as modest men when they chose to use private toilet areas.

But what about menstruation? Little is known about how 19th century women dealt with their monthly cycles, but it’s presumed women soldiers used folded rags to protect their clothing and mask the odor of blood.[1] Washing or disposing of this evidence may have been a problem for them, though bloody rags could have been explained away as the used bindings of a minor injury.

Menstruation might have ceased to be a problem, particularly during a campaign season. It’s possible that many female soldiers became amenorrheic while in the army. Amenorrhea, or the cessation of menstruation, is caused by intense athletic training, substantive weight loss, caloric deprivation or poor nutrition, and severe psychological stress.

[1] Until disposable sanitary pads were created, women often used a variety of home-made pads which they crafted from various fabrics, leftover scraps, grass or other absorbent materials to collect menstrual blood. Many probably used nothing at all. The first commercially available American disposable napkins were Lister's Towels created by Johnson & Johnson in 1896, though for several years they were too expensive for many women to afford. When they could be afforded, women were allowed to place money in a box so that they would not have to speak to the clerk and take a box of Kotex pads from the counter themselves. It took several years for disposable menstrual pads to become commonplace. However, they are now used nearly exclusively in most of the industrialized world.

Frances Louisa Clayton

While a popular Civil War-era saying was, "Better a soldier's widow than a coward's wife," some women took it a step further. Flying in the face of Victorian conventions and the traditional view of females as frail, passive and subordinate, they enlisted in the army.

About 250 women are thought to have served in the Confederate army disguised as men, with about 400 women serving in a similar manner in the Union Army. Frances Clayton was one such female. She allegedly served in Minnesota artillery and cavalry units 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."

Madame Collier

Belle Island Union Encampment
Madame Collier was a federal soldier from East Tennessee who enjoyed army life until her capture and subsequent imprisonment at Belle Isle, Virginia. She decided to make the most of the difficult situation and continued concealing her gender, hoping for exchange. Another prisoner learned her secret and reported it to Confederate authorities, who sent her North under a flag of truce. Before leaving, Collier indicated that another woman remained incarcerated on the island.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Catherine Davidson

Battle of Antietam
Catherine Davidson fought with the 28th Ohio Infantry and was wounded at Antietam. Shortly after the battle, the governor of Pennsylvania arrived and took to the field to help with the wounded. Davidson was one of the soldiers he consoled and it was he who put her in an ambulance Thinking she was dying, she gave him her ring.

She was wounded so badly in the right arm that surgeons amputated it midway between the shoulder and elbow. After her discharge from the service, she called upon the governor at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia to thank him for his kindness to her. He was quite surprised as he had not known the soldier who gave him the ring was a woman.

He was wearing the ring that day in the hotel, and Davidson showed him her initials inside it. Governor Curtin offered it back to her, but Davidson asked him to keep it, saying, "The finger that used to wear that ring will never wear it any more. The hand is dead, bt the soldier still lives."

Frances Day

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's death, was really Frances Day who had joined the infantry to be with her boyfriend.

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 became herself a soldier and a Sergeant ... of her desertion upon her lover's death, the the abandon and despair which led her to seek again the ranks of the army."

Except for her deathbed confession, Day's story would never have been known.

Barbara Ann Duravan

An unknown number of Confederate women disguised themselves as men and served as soldiers. Among the proof sheets of his book My Reminiscences of the War and Reconstruction Thomas Pinckney, a member of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry captured during the war, describes his May 31, 1864 discovery that a fellow prisoner was actually a woman whom he later suspected was Barbara Ann Duravan of Tennessee. Her captors did not discover Duravan's gender until after her death in the Alton, Illinois penitentiary (used during the war to hold Confederate prisoners). They buried her in the Confederate Cemetery with her comrades.

Thoma Pinckney Papers, #11112

BURIED: Alton Confederate Prison
Alton, Madison County, Illinois, USA

Listed as a "Citizen" of Memphis, Tennessee, in 1912 Union War Department records. Apparently a FEMALE political prisoner held at Alton POW camp. Note: No locality of grave shown on records, but reported as having died of smallpox. The hospital for these cases was moved to the island in the Mississippi River opposite Alton during the month of August, 1863. Beginning with November, 1863, records show that burial was made on this island of those who died from effects of smallpox.


Even if the estimate of 400 soldier-women is accepted as an upper limit, it’s an astonishing figure. How were so many women able to accomplish this incredible deception, when it’s inconceivable that a woman could enter the military under the same circumstances today?

Confederate Uniforms
First, army recruitment physical examinations during the Civil War were only as good as the surgeon who performed them. A recruit was unlikely to face an exam more rigorous than holding out his hands to demonstrate that he had a working trigger finger, or perhaps opening his mouth to show that his teeth were strong enough to rip open a minie ball cartridge. Sarah Edmonds, alias Pvt. Franklin Thompson, described her army medical exam as “a firm handshake” with an inquiry about “Frank’s” occupation.

Furthermore, army life in the 1860s differed significantly from the modern military. The soldiers who formed the rank and file early in the Civil War were led by volunteer officers, most of whom had as much to learn about military life as those under their command. There was no boot camp with intensive physical training as there is today. And, although living and sleeping arrangements were as close or closer than today’s standard, the fact that the majority of soldiers lived outside throughout the war, with the latitude to wash and attend to sanitary matters out of sight of comrades, made it possible for females in the ranks to avoid the scrutiny that would give them away. Societal standards of modesty ensured that no one would question a shy soldier’s reluctance to bathe in a river with his messmates or to relieve himself in the open company sinks.

Union Uniforms
A second, and very large, advantage for 19th century women was that gender identification in the Victorian age was more closely linked to attire and other superficial appearances than to physical characteristics. Voluminous hoop skirts were the order of the day for women, who wore their long hair in elaborate arrangements. A woman in pants in 1861 was a sight more rare than a man wearing a dress is today. Thus, if it wore pants, most people of the period would naturally have assumed that the person was a man. In polite society, speculating further or inquiring upon what lay beneath another person’s attire would mark the questioner as less than a gentleman or lady.

Broad acceptance of a person based on superficial appearances led to many interesting comments that reveal the naiveté of Civil War soldiers regarding the women secreted among them. Capt. Ira B. Gardner of the 14th Maine enrolled a soldier in his company who served for two years before he realized she was a female. Wrote Gardner, “I did not learn of her sex until the close of the war. If I had been anything but a boy, I should probably have seen from her form that she was a female.” Robert Hodges, a Confederate soldier, related this story in a letter home: “One of the soldiers directed my attention to a youth apparently about seventeen years of age well dressed with a lieutenant’s badge on his collar. I remarked I saw nothing strange. He then told me the young man was not a man but a female.”  Members of the famous Pvt. Franklin Thompson’s brigade referred to “him” as “Our Woman” because of “his” feminine mannerisms and “ridiculously small boots.”

Godleys Fashions for August 1862
A common element of women soldiers’ stories is their ability to recognize other women in the ranks while the men around them were oblivious to their female comrades’ deception. This suggests strongly that, while women knew what to look for in order to recognize other women in male attire, the men around them were either unfamiliar with the sight of women in pants or had extreme difficulty accepting the possibility that a fellow soldier might not be male. Certainly, the ill-fitting uniforms of the Civil War armies helped to conceal feminine physical characteristics, but a reluctance to accept that a female was a soldier must have been operating, particularly in cases where women served for very long periods of time without discovery. Biases about the physical, emotional, and intellectual abilities of women, as well as beliefs about appropriate and acceptable feminine roles, precluded the concept of a female soldier and rendered many men in the armies incapable of recognizing the women among them.

Yet a third circumstance enabled women to blend into the ranks with their male comrades. A large number of young and beardless boys whose voices had yet to change served in both the Confederate and Federal armed forces, and the armies of the Civil War were youthful in the main. The presence of pre-adolescent boys in the ranks unintentionally aided the likewise beardless and high-voiced men to go undetected.

From An uncommon Soldier: the Civil War letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss

Known during the Civil War as Pvt. Bill Thompson, Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss cut her thick hair and disguised herself by wearing a pair of her husband's suits and boarded a train for Virginia to fight alongside him during the early years of the Civil War.

She was born November 21, 1812 in Bladenboro, North Carolina. Tall and masculine ... though not without feminine charm, she was a deft horsewoman, expert with a rifle and relished hunting.

In 1861, just as the war erupted, Thompson married Bryant Gauss who soon joined the Army of the Confederacy. Fearing he would be killed and lie unidentified, the new Mrs. Gauss oiled her squirrel musket and enlisted in Company D, 18th North Carolina Infantry, Confederate States of America. Neighbors and friends sympathized with her bravery and kept her identity secret. So did Captain Robert Tate and Lieutenant Wiley Sykes, who admired her ability with a rifle, her talent for jokes as well as her husky throated singing voice. They also prized her skill to nurse the camp's sick and wounded.

Masquerading as a man, Lucy participated in a number of battles, receiving a head wound either at the First Battle of Manassas or the Siege of Richmond. In any case, an iron shell scrap tore open her scalp from forehead to crown, sent her to a hospital for two months. Somehow she managed to conceal her identity and fled back to her unit as soon as she could.

Bryant Gauss was killed at the Seven Days Battle near Richmond. Lucy Gauss obtained permanent furlough and took him for burial. She bore her first child, Mary Caroline Gauss, on January 21, 1864. After the war, the widow and small child moved to Savannah, where in late 1866, Lucy Gauss married union army veteran, Joseph P. Kenney. Together they had six children. Remarkably, Mrs. Kenney gave birth to their first at the age of 55 in 1868, and the last in 1881 at the age of 69!

Lucy kept her military exploits a secret until 1914, when she told her story to her pastor. Fearing nothing at the age of 102 but God, Lucy's motto was, "Hold your head up and die hard."

She lived in various parts of Georgia before she died in Nicholls, Georgia at the remarkable age of 112 years, 7 months and 2 days. Lucy Gauss Kenney is buried in the Meeks Cemetery near Nicholls. Joseph Kenney died September 7, 1913 at the age of 107 years 5 months and I day.

Found at

Lumberton's newspaper, The Robesonian, published an article on May 4, 1914, which had previously run in the Savannah Dispatch, titled "Fought As a Man Beside Her Husband Until He Was Killed – Was a Mrs. Gauss of Bladenboro – Now More Than 100 Years Old." The story concerned Lucy Matilda Thompson Gause Kenney, whom the paper reported had recently told her pastor a secret that she had held onto for over fifty years. She claimed that having been just married on the eve of the Civil War she could not bear to part with her husband, "a man by the name of Gauss," when he left to fight in the conflict. She reportedly "cut her hair close, donned a uniform," and entered the army with him under the alias Bill Thompson (her maiden name). Kenney supposedly "served for several years" with Company D, 18th North Carolina Infantry, until her husband was killed. The paper noted that "he met his death in the coldness of winter" and that she then accompanied his body home for burial. After the war she moved to Savannah, where she married a man named John Kenney.

Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss Kenney appeared in newspapers a number of times during the following decade. She was the subject of an article titled "Hold your Head Up and Die Hard, the Rule of 107 Years Lady," published in the Savannah Press in March 1920, and a piece in the Arkansas Democrat, "Democrat Employee's Mother Was Soldier in the Civil War," published in July 1925.

On July 8, 1925, the Atlanta Journal ran an obituary for Lucy titled "Only Woman Confederate Veteran Dies at 112." The paper claimed that at her death, she was 112 years old, and that she had been born near Bladensboro, North Carolina, in 1812. The paper noted that she was "165 pounds when she was seventeen, was tall and of masculine appearance," but was "not without feminine charm." Lucy volunteered in 1861 alongside her then husband, Bryant Gauss and it was further claimed that she "was an expert sharpshooter" who was wounded in the head by artillery fire at First Manassas, where she stated her regiment advanced over "rifle pits slippery with mud and blood." According to the obituary, she remained faithfully by her husband's side until his death in one of the Seven Days Battles outside Richmond in the summer of 1862. It further noted that she "was one of those whose weary, half bare feet left blood tracks in the white snow" during the "bitter winter campaigns in northern Virginia." After her husband's death, the young widow told her secret to their company commander, identified as Captain Robert Tate, who then allowed her to receive a discharge and return home. When the war ended, the paper stated that she moved to Savannah, Georgia, where she eventually married Joseph Patrick Kenney (not John, as claimed in the earlier story).

Lucy's story was later picked up by Jay Hoar in his book The South's Last Boys in Gray. In a brief analysis of her story, Hoar utilized a copy of her obituary published on June 25, 1925 in The Coffee County Progress of Douglas, Georgia, which repeated the claim that she was 112 years old at the time of her death. However, that obituary said she had served in "Company B, of the Bladen Light Infantry" with her husband, who was "killed near Bennettsville." She was reportedly "struck in the head by a piece of shell at the siege of Richmond." It further noted that she "came to Georgia after the Charleston earthquake in 1886." Hoar also cited a January 1977 letter from a great-grandson which gave Lucy's husband's full name as Joseph Patrick Henry Kenney, a Union navy veteran who had been coerced into serving, and noted that both "she and this second husband were personally acquainted with Lincoln." Finally, Hoar provided a statement by Lucy's granddaughter, repeating many of the claims made in the Atlanta Journal article, including that the first husband was killed in the Seven Days fighting, but added that Lucy's first child, Mary Caroline Gauss, was born on January 21, 1864. That statement went so far as to claim that Lucy Matilda gave birth to twins Martha and James in 1868 when she was fifty-five-years-old, as well as further children Katie, Victoria, John P., and Joseph. The last child was reportedly born in 1881 when Lucy would have been sixty-nine.

A simple cursory glance at the various claims demonstrates a number of factual inconsistencies. Some of these issues could best be attributed to failing health, senility, and simple mistaken memory. For starters, Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss Kenney was not 112 years old at the time of her death. She first appears on the 1850 Bladen County, North Carolina, census at the age of eight as Matilda, living in the household of her mother, Lucy, age thirty-eight. No male head of household is documented. Ten years later she is listed as L. M. (Lucy Matilda) in the household of her mother, Lucy Thompson, in Bladen County. Two households before them on the census lived the Henry Gause family which included son Bryant B. Gause, Lucy Matilda Thompson's first husband.

Challenging some of the earlier reports that she met and married Joseph Patrick Henry Kenney in Georgia, she actually appears living with him in the 1870 Bladen County census in Brown Marsh. The household lists "Patrick Kinnie," born in Ireland, age thirty-eight, along with his wife Matilda, age twenty-one, with daughters Mary, age four, and Margaret, age three. John Thompson, Lucy Matilda's brother, is living in the household next door. In 1880 the family appears on the Columbus County census with Patrick listed at age sixty, Matilda at age thirty-eight, and several children: Mary, Martha, Katie M., Victoria, and John.

Up until the 1900 census, Lucy Matilda's age of birth clearly put her as being born in the early 1840s, not in 1812. The story that the family moved to Georgia after the 1886 Charleston earthquake is born out in the fact that on the 1900 census they appear in Pierce County, Georgia. Lucy Matilda's age on that census places her being born in 1827-1828. On the 1910 census in Coffee County, Georgia, she gave her age as ninety-seven-years-old, making her born in 1813. On the 1920 Chatham County, Georgia census, she is again listed as being born in 1813. Her husband's age remained increasing at a normal rate, but in a ten year span she, on paper at the very least, aged twenty-five years. Something was clearly amiss.

Numerous errors plague the military claims as well. Bryant B. Gause served in Company B, 18th North Carolina (not Company D), alongside his brothers Henry H. Gause and James W. Gause. All three enlisted on May 3, 1861 in Bladen County, and Henry and James both survived the war. Bryant B. Gause was not killed in the Seven Days Battles, and is not reported to have been wounded three times during the war. He was in fact mortally wounded at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862. He languished in a hospital in Scottsville, Virginia, where he died on January 1, 1863.

No one by the name of William (Bill) Thompson enlisted in the company in 1861 alongside the three Gause brothers. A William Thompson did serve in the unit, but that man enlisted at age forty-three on July 15, 1863, and served through the end of the war, signing an Oath of Allegiance at Point Lookout, Maryland in June 1865. Private James Thompson, probably Lucy Matilda's brother, enlisted on May 3, 1861 in the unit. He served until being killed in action at Frayser's Farm in June 1862. Private Bryant G. Thompson, age twenty-seven, also enlisted in the unit in 1861, but his connection to Lucy Matilda remains uncertain. That individual served throughout the war.

So, the 1914 story, claiming that Bryant B. Gause died in winter, seems correct. No Bill Thompson appears in the unit records for 1861-1862. Furthermore, her assertion to have been wounded at First Manassas is false, as the 18th North Carolina was not engaged in that battle.

Lucy Matilda Thompson Gause Kenney's claim as to having served alongside her husband cannot be supported by the contemporary evidence. There is simply no documentary proof that she served in any of the capacities in which she claimed. In the end, her story may have been nothing more than a good yarn.

Mary Galloway

Battle of the Wilderness
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.

Margaret Hamilton, a Catholic sister from New York, 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 20 years of age. She ranked as lieutenant and was wounded in the shoulder. Her sex was not discovered until she came to our hospital. It appears 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."

Other nurses also discovered female soldiers among their patiends. 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 safe," and she became suspicious when the soldier was hesitant to have his chest wound treated.

The soldier turned out to be Mary Galloway who had enlisted to be with her husband. Barton shepherded and shielded the girl and located her lover in a Washington Hospital. She persuaded the girl to reveal her true identity and go home after recuperation. Later Barton reported that the couple had named a daughter after her.

Marian Green

1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics
When Marian Green's boyfriend enlisted in the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics regiment in the 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 and spent that summer building bridges on the Memphis and Charleston railroad.

That fall the boyfriend was taken ill and sent to the 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. Her parents informed the military and 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.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


The Daughters of the Regiment:
A Brief History of Vivandieres and Cantinieres in the American Civil War

By Susan Lyons Hughes
Vivandieres, sometimes known also as cantinieres, were interesting military figures with a fascinating history. By whatever name they were called, women who followed the army in a quasi-military capacity have intrigued observers and attracted the notice of writers for decades. The ideal was an attractive young woman - perhaps the daughter of an officer or wife of a non-commissioned officer - wearing an attractive costume and braving the vicissitudes of battle to provide care for a wounded soldier on the battlefield. The reality was perhaps a bit less romantic; however vivandieres have an interesting history. (Above image is a patriotic envelope depicting a vivandiere ~ collection of the author.)

The French Connection

Vivandieres first appeared under that name in French armies during the Napoleanic period. The army, intent upon reducing the number of camp followers and hangers-on, restricted the number of women following the army. However, in attempt to provide some of the same services to the soldiers, the army regularized and militarized the presence of a few women to serve as cantinieres or vivandieres. Army commanders were authorized to appoint one vivandiere or cantiniere per regiment.[1] (Image at right is patriotic envelope depicting a vivandiere. This envelope was cancelled at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee in June, 1862 ~ collection of the author.)

In French army practice, the functions of vivandiere and cantiniere were somewhat different. Vivandieres were mainly confined to garrison camps or posts, and served as a kind of post sutler, selling food and drink to the troops. Cantinieres followed their regiments on campaign and in parade, providing food and drink, and often performing the job of nursing ill or wounded soldiers. In 1854, the name vivandiere officially replaced the term cantiniere in the French army.[2] Vivandieres of the Napoleonic armies wore no established uniform, but were distinguished by a cask containing spirits. Some army commanders took the initiative to authorize uniforms for vivandieres, and in many cases these were similar to the uniforms of the field music of the regiment, with the addition of a skirt worn over trousers, and, often, a white apron. Illustrations of some of these uniforms can be seen in a number of sources.[3]

Until the Franco-Prussian War of 1871-72, Napoleonic tactics, uniforms, and practices were the model by which all other western countries patterned their own armies, and the influence of French military practices was clearly apparent in the army of the United States throughout the first half of the 19th century. The Crimean War of 1856-58 only strengthened the appeal of the French military. In part this was because the Crimean War was the first war to be photographed and widely reported in newspapers. In addition, American military leaders were sent to the Crimea to observe the British and French armies in action. Three years later, when civil war broke out in the United States, the lessons of the Crimea - and those of the French army - were still on the minds of military leaders, including General George B. McClellan, who had been an observer in the Crimea.

The most obvious "transplants" of French military practice that took root in the United States during the American Civil War were the volunteer regiments which adopted the name and uniform styles of the French "Zouave" and "Chausseur" regiments. Wearing brightly decorated uniforms that selectively and sometimes creatively borrowed elements of their French antecedents, Zouave regiments were formed in both Union and Confederate armies. Another instance of French influence in American regiments was the adoption of a woman who served as a vivandiere or cantiniere. In American military practice the names vivandiere and cantiniere came to be used interchangeably, and many women who fulfilled this function came also to be known as "the daughter of the regiment."

The uniforms worn by vivandieres and cantinieres changed along with fashions of the day. The popular silhouette of the Napoleonic period, a high waistline and narrow skirts, was reflected in the costumes adopted by vivandieres in the same period. By the mid-19th century, waistlines had dropped to a natural level, and skirts were held away from the body in much the same manner that fashionable crinolines supported the skirts of fashionable women. (Image at left is color lithograph of French cantiniere, circa 1855 ~ collection of the author.)

The earliest recorded photographs of vivandieres date from the Crimean War,[4] and it is probable that images from that war were responsible for popularizing many of the French-inspired uniforms and customs including Zouave and Chausseur uniforms and vivandieres in the United States at the time of the American Civil War.

Vivandieres remained an established part of French armies until after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871-1872. It is notable that after the defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian War, the United States Army adopted uniforms and practices much more in line with those of the Prussian Army - the victors - and abandoned the French-style uniforms of the Civil War period.

Vivandieres in the American Civil War

The dashing image of French soldiers, especially the Zouave regiments, in the Crimean War, captured the imagination of Americans in the 1850s, and, by 1859, several local militia regiments had adopted the name "Zouave," as well as interpretations of the colorful Zouave uniforms. Some of these local groups sported a vivandiere in their ranks.[5] At the outbreak of the American Civil War, most regiments were organized as independent companies of troops, raised in a local area. Some of these companies selected their own uniforms and accoutrements without regard to regular army practice. And some of these regiments also selected a local lady to serve as "the daughter of the regiment," the American equivalent to the French vivandiere. The 49th Ohio, organized at Camp Dennison, Ohio in 1861, was one such regiment:

At four o’clock on Monday evening, a dress parade was held, and Miss Ella Gibson, the daughter of Colonel Gibson was chosen Daughter of the Regiment. Captain Hays presented the young Miss to the soldiers and Col. Blackman on behalf of the regiment adopted her as its daughter. Col. Gibson was then called out and made speech of some length.[6]

Calculating the exact number of women who served in this capacity is difficult, if not impossible. Because the presence of vivandieres was not sanctioned by the military establishment of either army, women who served as vivandieres are rarely mentioned in official records. Only in regimental histories, post-war records and personal accounts do their names and identities emerge. In any case, the total number of women who served in this capacity is quite small.

One documented image of a Confederate vivandiere is in an image of Coppens’ Louisiana Zouaves taken in May 1861. The lady pictured wears a uniform that consists of full Zouave trousers, a short but full skirt, short jacket, plumed hat, and apron.[7] Another Southerner, Lucy Ann Cox, served as the daughter of the regiment with the 13th Virginia through the surrender at Appomatox. A monument to Cox was dedicated in 1894 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.[8]

There is more documentation of vivandieres serving with Union regiments, although many remain anonymous. Naturally, many served with Zouave regiments, the 114th Pennsylvania, for example. The 39th New York, also known as the Garibaldi Guard, a popular New York regiment, left for war with six vivandieres. Some of the most well known vivandieres were Marie Tepe of Collis’ Zouaves, Kady Brownell of the 1st (later 5th) Rhode Island, Bridget Divers of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, and Annie Etheridge of the 3rd and 5th Michigan. The exploits of these women were recorded shortly after the Civil War by Frank Moore in Women in the War, by L.P. Brockett and Mary Vaughn in Women’s Work During the War, and by others. These glowing post-war accounts are filled with romantic language describing the noble deeds of these women which have been well-described in other sources. Despite the over-blown language of the immediate post-war accounts, however, the fact remains that the self-sacrifice and courage of these women saved lives and provided care to soldiers who might otherwise have had none.[9] As one example alone, Tepe and Etheridge were both awarded the Kearny Cross after the Battle of Chancellorsville.[10]

The career of Marie Tepe (or Tebe, in some sources), has long fascinated writers. "French Mary," as she was styled, served in the capacity of a vivandiere with Collis' Zoaves, the 114th Pennsylvania, receiving an ankle wound at Fredericksburg and being awarded the Kearny Cross after Chancellorsville. Tepe participated in many GAR activities and post-war regimental reunions after the war, proudly sporting the Kearney Cross on her uniform. Her injury continued to plague Tepe, and she apparently committed suicide by taking arsenic in 1901.[11] (Photo at right is Kady Brownell of the 1st (later 5th) Rhode Island, as depicted in Women of the War by Frank C. Moore, 1866.)

Uniforms of Civil War Vivandieres

Uniforms of vivandieres in the American Civil War varied from regiment to regiment. All had in common a knee-length skirt worn over full trousers, a tunic or jacket, hat, and some military trim or designation. This style of costume was very similar to bathing and gymnastic costumes depicted in fashion magazines of the period, and was suitable for the outside exercise required of vivandieres who lived and marched with their regiments. There was probably a great deal of variation in trim and materials in the costume of vivandieres because there was no standardization of uniform for this non-official post. Sarah Taylor, the daughter of the First Tennessee (United States Volunteers) joined her stepfather's regiment at Camp Dick Robinson, Kentucky in 1861. When the regiment marched away from Camp Dick Robinson toward Camp Wildcat in September of that year, a reporter for the Cincinnati Times described her thus:

She has donned a neat blue chapeau, beneath which her long hair is fantastically arranged; bearing at her side a highly-finished regulation sword, and silver-mounted pistols in her belt, all of which gives her a very neat appearance…. She wore a blue blouse, and was armed with pistols, sword and rifle.[12]

Eliza Wilson of the 5th Wisconsin appeared in a soldier's letter wearing: … clothes of such pattern as the military (not millinery) board have ordered for nurses in the army, which is the Turkish costume….The color is bright brown; no crinoline; dress reaches half way between the knee and ankle; upper sleeve loose, gathered at the wrist; pantalettes same color, wide but gathered tight around the ankle; black hat with plumes or feathers of same color; feet dressed in morocco boots.[13]

The vivandieres of the Garibaldi Guard were described as wearing "feathered hats, jaunty red jackets and blue gowns.”[14]

The Role of Vivandieres in the American Civil War

Though non-essential to fighting regiments, vivandieres performed some important functions. The most important was as a nurse. With her cask of spirits or a canteen of water, a vivandiere gave a wounded or sick soldier immediate attention, comparable to a modern triage situation. Some vivandieres were well-armed for self-defense, such as Sarah Taylor, who carried a sword, rifle and pistols. Annie Etheridge carried two pistols, and Marie Tepe was also armed with a pistol. Among the deeds of valor performed by vivandieres were Kady Brownell's actions at the battle of New Bern, where, carrying the colors into battle, Kady ran with the flag to the center of the field to show the Union troops that the 5th Rhode Island was not the enemy.[15]

Often the vivandiere was the wife of a soldier or the daughter of an officer, and the "daughter of the regiment" commanded the respect of soldiers in ways that other types of camp followers could not. A soldier in the 5th Wisconsin wrote of Eliza Wilson:

We have not seen a woman for a fortnight with the exception of the Daughter of the Regiment, who is with us in storm and sunshine. It would do you good to see her trudging along, with or after the regiment, her dark brown frock buttoned tightly around her waist, her what-you-call-ems tucked into her well fitting gaiters, her hat and feather set jauntily on one side, her step firm and assured, for she knows that every arm in our ranks would protect her. Never pouting or passionate, with a kind word for every one, and every one a kind word for her.[16]

Sarah Taylor was captured and paroled sometime after leaving Camp Dick Robinson, and appeared in this article in the Memphis Daily Appeal on July 18, 1863:

Sallie Taylor, "La Fille due Regiment." This notorious (beautiful, though she was) woman arrested, as our readers will remember, some months ago, and discharged upon her parole, has kept herself quiet recently, when, as we are informed, she so far captivated, if not captured, a private in Cobb's battery stationed at Clinton, as to induce him to steal the horse of one of the lieutenants of his company and to escape with her into Kentucky, where she may resume in propria personnae her nom de plume of "Daughter of the 1st (Bird's) Tennessee regiment." – Knoxville Register.[17]

Not all of those who wore the uniform of vivandieres were respectable, however. According to Kenneth Olsen, author of Music and Muskets:

Not all vivandiere[s] were as pure in heart as the fair Marie. The unofficial ministrations of a vivandiere attached to a New York regiment eventually got the generous lady into trouble. She was given the option of leaving the area quietly or being drummed from the camp. She elected the easy way out.[18]

Vivandieres seem to have been a more common sight during the first two years of the war, when fighting was sporadic and the armies spent much time in camps. As the war progressed and campaigns covered longer distances, there is less evidence of vivandieres remaining with the army. Alfred Bellard drew a picture and described a vivandiere, who may have been Marie Tepe, whom he saw in a hospital near Chancellorsville, in May, 1863.[19] In September 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all women be removed from military camps in his theatre. In the wake of this order, Annie Etheridge was forced to confine her activities to the hospital at City Point, Virginia, despite the endorsements of numerous officers, including the corps commander of the Second Corps. She returned at some point, however, because she was with the 5th Michigan when it mustered out in July 1865.[20]

Myths and Misconceptions about vivandieres

In the last few years, several sources have been written about vivandieres during the Civil War containing a number of myths and anecdotal stories of vivandieres, which have not been adequately documented. Among these misconceptions is the tendency to equate vivandieres with women who served in the army disguised as soldiers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vivandieres or cantinieres made no effort to disguise their sex; nor were they "enlisted" as soldiers in their respective regiments. They were clearly and quite obviously women who adopted an obviously feminine role within a military organization.

A number of women in official or quasi-official capacities with the army adopted costumes similar to that of vivandieres; yet their function was not that of the vivandiere. Dr. Mary Walker, Loretta Valesquez, Madame Turchin, and others wore "uniforms" similar to that of vivandieres, with short skirts worn over trousers; however, these individuals performed different functions and cannot be classed as vivandieres in the strict sense of the term. Others, such as Belle Reynolds, were officially recognized as "daughters of the regiment" in recognition of their services to soldiers in the regiments commanded by their husbands, although their primary assistance was rendered after battles in hospitals.

Finally, the recent fascination with vivandieres has prompted a number of publications and commentaries which have incorrectly cited "the regulations of 1865" as proof that vivandieres were established military functionaries in the United States Army. The United States Army did not publish a set of regulations in 1865, and vivandieres were never given an established post in American armies. The regulations to which these sources refer were published in 1865 by the French army, and, according to an article in Uniformes Les Armees de L’Histoire by Luce Ries (translated by Nicholas Powell):

In 1860 they (French vivandieres) were assimilated with the rest of the troops as regards decorations and pay. They also took part in marches and parades. A regulation of 1865 fixed their number at:

1 per infantry battalion (2 after 1869)
2 per light infantry battalion (3 after 1869)
2 per cavalry squadron;
4 per artillery or engineers regiment.

The number of canteen women in the Imperial Guard was higher. Grenadiers and voltiguers regiments had 20 each.[21]

Scholars studying the introduction of females into the military traditions of the United States Army would do well to consult original sources rather than the questionable regurgitation of myths which surround the history of vivandieres in the Civil War. (Image at left is carte de visite of of the American actress Lotta Crabtree as Firefly (from the play The Firefly) circa 1860-1870 ~ collection of the author).


The number of women who served as vivandieres in the American Civil War is quite small, however, the romantic image of the vivandiere or cantiniere, in dashing uniform marching at the head of a column of adoring soldiers, remains a popular and intriguing subject for both historians and Civil War buffs. The presence of vivandieres in the armies of both sides during the American Civil War demonstrates the strength of the desire on the part of some women to have a more active role in the military. The presence of vivandieres in volunteer regiments of the Civil War did not change established practice in the United States Army; nevertheless, their presence provided an early hint that women could be useful in a military environment.


1 Preben Kannik, Military Uniforms of the World (London: Macmillan, 1968), 189-90.
2 Luce Ries, "Les Cantinieres: ou les ‘dessous’ de la gloire," Uniformes Les Armees de L’histoire 67 (May-June, 1982), 7 (translated by Nicholas Powell).
3 Kannik, 189-190, plate 203, illustration of a cantiniere of the 15th Light Infantry, 1809; Kannik, 212, plate 308, illustration of a cantiniere of the Infantry of the Line in 1854. Kannik notes that "During the Second Empire period, the French cantinieres, usually married to N.C.O.s, were dressed in quite becoming garments, although these were worn over trousers and gaiters. The feminine aspect was stressed by bonnets, lace-trimmed collars and skirts of crinoline type. Instead of the large straw hat, made fashionable by the Empress Eugenie, a lighter version of the regimental headgear was worn."; Philip Haythornthwaite, Napoleon’s Light Infantry (London: Osprey Men-At-Arms Series, 1983, 34, plate 2); Michael McAfee, Zouaves: The First and the Bravest (Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1991), 17,67.
4 Elizabeth Ewing, Women in Uniform: Their Costume through the Centuries, (London, B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1975), 31.
5 Michael J. McAfee, Zouaves: The First and the Bravest (Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1991), 25-26, 39.
6 The Seneca (Ohio) Advertiser, September, 1861, as it appeared in an article in the "Camp Noble Gallant," newsletter of the 49th Ohio Infantry reenactment group, Todd Miller, editor, September, 1991.
7 Ross Brooks, "Red Petticoats and Blue Jackets: 1st Confederate States Zouave Battalion or Coppens’ Louisiana Zouaves," Military Collector and Historian Vol. XLV, No. 4 (Winter, 1993); James Hennessey, "The Vivandiere of the Louisiana Zouave Battalion," Journal, Confederate Historical Society of Great Britain Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 1989), 2-3. This same image was apparently mis-identified as being of Wheat’s Louisiana Tigers in William C. Davis, The Image of War 1861-1865, Vol. 1, p. 191.
8 Mary Elizabeth Massey, Bonnet Brigades (NY: Alfred A. Knopf), 1966; Elizabeth D. Leonard, All the Daring of a Soldier (NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 1999), 146.
9 Moore, Frank, Women of the War (Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton, & Co., 1866), 51, 747; Brockett, L.P. and Mary C. Vaughn, Woman’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience (Philadelphia: Zeigler, McCurdy & Co., 1867).
10 Department of War, Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series I., Vol. 51, part 1. Brig. Gen. D.B. Birney, General Order #48 (May 16, 1863).
11 Lawrence G. Bixley, "Gettysburg Mystery Photo: A Second Look," Military Images (July-August, 1982), 24-25; William Gladstone, "Gettysburg Mystery Photo … more answers," Military Images (March-April 1982), 16-18; "She Feared Not War….," Military Images (March-April 1982), 19; Marie Varrelman Melchiori, "The Death of ‘French Mary’," Military Images (July-August 1983), 14-15; Michael J. McAfee, "114th Pennsylvania Infantry: ‘The Collis Zouaves’," Military Images (July-August 1991), 29; Robin Smith and Bill Younghusband, American Civil War Zouaves (London: Osprey Elite series, 1996), 53-55, plate L2.
12 The Picket Line and Camp Fire Stories (NY: Hurst & Co., n.d.), 95-96.
13 Ethel Alice Hurn, Wisconsin Women in the War Between the States (Madison: Wisconsin History Commission, 1911), 100-101.
14 Robin Smith and Bill Younghusband, American Civil War Zouaves (London: Osprey Elite series, 1996), 61, plate I2; James Hennessey and H. Michael Madaus, "72nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1864, ‘3rd California Regiment,’ ‘Baxter’s Fire Zouaves’," Military Uniforms in America, 75, Plate 495.
15 Moore, Frank, Women of the War (Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton, & Co., 1866), 51.
16 Hurn, 100-101.
17 Memphis Daily Appeal (July 18, 1863), p. 1, c. 6.
18 Kenneth Olsen, Music and Musket: Bands and Bandsmen of the American Civil War (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981), 211.
19 David H. Donald, ed., Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Memoirs of Private Alfred Bellard (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1975), 219-220.
20 Leonard, 111-13.
21 Luce Ries, 7.


Image of vivandiere on ceramic plate in my collection.
2 patriotic envelopes depicting vivandieres in my collection.
Photocopy of vivandiere in my collection.
Image of Kady Brownell from Women in the War (copyright free).
Image of Marie Tepe from Library of Congress.
Coppens’ Zouaves vivandiere from Library of Congress.

About the Author

Susan Lyons Hughes is the Education Specialist and Coordinator of Interpretation at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a restored 19th century community. Prior to her employment at Shaker Village, she was employed for 17 years at the Kentucky Historical Society. She serves as editor of The Citizens' Companion, a bi-monthly magazine focusing on civilian life during the Civil War, and was the founding editor of The Watchdog, a quarterly review for Civil War reproduction goods. She is active in Civil War preservation efforts at Fort Hill in Frankfort and Mill Springs Battlefield, both in Kentucky. She is a frequent presenter at local, regional and national conferences, focusing primarily on civilian life during the war. Her article on Kentucky civilians, My Old Kentucky Home - At War, is slated for publication in North and South Magazine.

Found at NCCivilWar150

A story about a female warrior in North Carolina that may ride the line of fact and fiction is that of Kady Brownell. Brownell supposedly carried the 5th Rhode Island's flag into battle at New Bern on March 13, 1862, an incident which she shamelessly promoted through the remainder of her life.

Background information on Kady is extremely difficult to pin down prior to the 1862 engagement. According to her postwar biographers and her husband, she was born in the 1840s in South Africa, the son of a Scottish soldier in the British Army, Colonel George Southwell, and a French mother. She was named, she said, for a fellow British officer and family friend, John Kady. Supposedly her mother died shortly thereafter, and her father, unable to juggle being a single parent with his military career, handed her over for adoption to family friends Duncan and Alice McKenzie. And here the problems with her story begin. No officers named either George Southwell or John Kady ever served in the British military during the 1840s. There is also no record of her immigration, or that of Duncan and Alice McKenzie ever existing.

The first record of her is in the 1860 census, where she appears, under the name Kady McKenzie, as a boarder, and mill worker, in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. In the mill she met a fellow worker named Robert Brownell. The two subsequently began a romantic relationship, despite Robert being married. The following year he divorced his wife to be with Kady. At the outbreak of the war, Robert enlisted in Company H of the 1st Rhode Island Detached Militia, a ninety day volunteer unit. According to Kady, the two married shortly before he left. However, marriage records in Rhode Island clearly show they were wed in November 1863.

Robert's regiment was sent to Washington in the spring of 1861, one of the first units to arrive in the defense of the capitol. Kady soon joined him, and was supposedly made an "honorary" color-bearer of the regiment. In her 1882 pension application she claimed to have been wounded carrying the regimental flag at the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, 1861. She does not appear on any regimental muster rolls nor is she acknowledged in Augustus Woodbury's 1862 history A Narrative of the Campaign of the First Rhode Island Regiment in the Spring and Summer of 1861. Woodbury, who fought with the regiment at First Manassas, states in regard to the regimental flag "Our color sergeant had been wounded. One of the guard who had taken the flag had also been struck. Still another, who had taken it from him, had been disabled." He does not mention Kady or any woman as being present.

Shortly after their first engagement, the 1st Rhode Island's term of service expired, and they were sent home. Robert subsequently enlisted in Company A, 5th Rhode Island Infantry (which later became the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery). Kady, ever faithful, reportedly followed him, and was according to her version of events granted an honorary position as color-bearer of that unit. At the Battle of New Bern, with the battlefield blanketed with fog, she claimed to have run forward with her flag, waving it frantically to warn other Union soldiers not to fire on the 5th Rhode Island. By doing so she saved the lives of numerous men, including that of Robert, who was subsequently wounded in the engagement.
In 1882, Captain Jonathan M. Wheeler, the commander of Company A, confirmed some of the details of Kady's story in an affidavit he offered as part of her pension application. In it he wrote that Kady did serve at New Bern and was:
Conspicuous for bravery in carrying a flag at the head of the battalion. That he believes she saved the lives of many Union soldiers; that a report came that the rebels had flanked us, and were moving up a ravine in our rear, and on looking back saw a regiment clothed in gray overcoats and slouched hats. The command had been given to face by the rear rank, when Kady Brownell rushed forward and cried out, `Don't fire; they are our men.' But for this a New Hampshire regiment would have received a volley, and many men must have been killed.
However, he later wrote that on the morning of the battle, she "begged me to allow her to carry the American flag at the head of the regiment just as we were coming under fire of the enemies' rifles" but "I ordered her to the rear, she complied with the greatest reluctance." Nevertheless, Kady received her pension, one of the only women to do so from service in the Civil War.

Robert Brownell was discharged from the service in December 1862 due to the wound he received at New Bern. Kady went with him. They settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where in the 1870s she worked briefly as an actress, and attempted to cash in on her wartime exploits performing as the "Heroine of New Bern" in a zouave-like uniform, the likes of which she never wore in actual service. The couple later moved to New York City, where they worked for the Parks Department. Kady took part in every Memorial Day parade that she could until her death in 1915.