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.

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