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.

There are no records to indicate how long she was incarcerated at Castle Thunder prison in Richmond, or what happened to her after she was released. 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, presumably 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.

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