Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Harriet Merrill

On recruitment duty in Watertown, New York, Captain Jerome Taft of the 59th New York Infantry met a young prostitute named Harriet Merrill, who later arrived at the camp of the 59th and enlisted in Company G in November 1861. She was given the standard quartermaster issue of clothing and enlisted in Company G and was not required to submit to a physical examination.

Though Taft promised he would keep her secret, he discussed her with several other officers and rumors soon spread around camp. Within two months it was no longer a secret that there was a woman among them.

In January 1862, Taft was court marshaled for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, including inducing Harriet Merrill to "don the habiliments of a male, that she might enlist." Though he was found guilty of other charges, including stealing, marauding and lying, he was not convicted of persuading Merrill to become a soldier, as it was clearly her idea.

Merrill was discharged prior to Taft's court-martial but was allowed to testify. She under oath that she "performed all the duties that the rest of the soldiers did."


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