Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Marian McKenzie

Marian McKenzie was born in Holytown, Lanarkshire. She immigrated to the United States with her father, Duncan McKenzie, at an early age after the death of her mother. Her father died shortly after their arrival in New York, leaving Marian, her brothers and sisters to fend for themselves.

When the Civil War began, she was living in Kentucky, but had yet to discover what she wanted to do with her life. Deciding that this was her chance to fulfill her desire for adventure, she enlisted in the 23rd Kentucky Infantry regiment as Pvt. Harry Fitzallen at the age of 18 on January 2, 1862. Disguised as a man, she was mustered into service and assigned garrison and guard duty along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. She was able to hide her true identity for four months with her dark complexion, short cropped hair and men's clothing. Described as having coarse, rounded features, and a stocky frame of 5'3", she evaded detection and fought valiantly for the army.

By August 27, 1862, her identity was discovered and she was immediately taken off active duty. She begged her commander to allow her to stay with the regiment if only as a nurse or aide. The commander relented and assigned her to nursing duty in the regiment's hospital. She remained in this capacity for two months before deciding to pursue other adventures.  

Despite the taboos against women's active participation in the war, she continued enlisting as a man in the Union Army across several states. From October 14 to November 16 1862 she marched with the 92nd Ohio Infantry from Marietta, OH to Charleston. While in Charleston (then under Union occupation), she was again discovered on December 20th and suspected of being a Confederate spy. On orders of Brig. Gen. George Crook, commander of the Kanawha Division, she was placed under guard, put aboard the packet steamer Bostonia No. 2 and sent to the provost marshall general's office in Wheeling.

"I have the honor to report the receipt of a prisoner of war sent here by Brigadier-General Crook in the shape of a female wearing male apparel charged as a spy for the rebels, arrested in the streets of Charleston, Va.," Maj. Joseph Darr Jr., the provost marshal general, wrote on Christmas Eve of 1862 from his office in Wheeling. Darr's letter to the 3rd Infantry Division's commissary-general of prisoners went on to describe the dark-haired, 5-foot, 2-inch prisoner as a stocky, "coarse-looking creature, scarcely answering the description of la fille du regiment." (Daughter of the regiment.)

Uncharitable comments given a march from Ohio to Charleston, followed by a few weeks of camp life during a wet winter in the Kanawha Valley, would make a "coarse-looking creature" out of most soldiers.

Marian was lodged in the Ohio County Jail, and ordered to change from her Union Army uniform into a civilian dress that was provided for her, minus the customary hoops needed to deploy it in the style of the day.

According to a Wheeling newspaper account, when told she would be detained until her story could be corroborated, McKenzie replied, "Very well, I cannot help it. The only way in which I have violated the law is in assuming men's apparel. The injury that I have done is principally to myself."

The newspaper quoted McKenzie as saying she "went into the army for the love of excitement and from no motive in connection with the war, one way or another."

View correspondence between military officials in Charleston and Wheeling following Marian's arrest by clicking HERE.


  • Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Nurses, Doctors, Crusaders and Others by Larry G. Eggleston
  • Woman arrested Serving As Union Soldier,

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