Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sophia Cryder

Bygone days: Ms. Soldier
by Joseph Cress, The Sentinel
March 25, 2013

Sophia Cryder was a girl of “unblemished reputation” or so it was once believed.

Described as a “plump lass of sixteen years of age,” she had strayed away from her previous life, disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Union Army, The Carlisle Herald reported on September 13, 1861.

“She...had so completely unsexed herself that she could safely bid defiance to anyone not acquainted with her to detect her,” the newspaper story read.

Indeed, the case left the Herald staff perplexed over how Cryder was able to shirk the mandatory physical “said to be made with great strictness by the medical men of Camp Curtin.”

Her disguise began to unravel the morning of September 9 after two “solid looking farmers” arrived at the camp in Harrisburg which served as a major training facility for the Union Army during the Civil War. The farmers asked an officer in charge for permission to search for Cryder. “The officer thought a military camp a queer place to hunt for stray girls, especially as it reflected on the virtue and dignity of the men at arms,” The Herald reported.

The farmers hunted high and the farmers hunted low until, less than an hour into the search, they found Cryder on guard duty dressed in the uniform of Capt. Kuhn’s company of Sumner Rifles of Carlisle.

“We do not know what name she enlisted under to protect the honor of her country’s flag,” The Herald reported. There was speculation by the newspaper staff that Cryder got caught up “in a wild spirit of adventure” and did not “enlist to be near the object of her affections.” Either way, her reputation took a bruising.

“It does not speak well for the modesty of Miss Sophia,” The Herald reported. “She was in the habit of accompanying the men on their excursions to the river to bathe; but she may have done this to ward off suspicion especially as she took precious good care to keep out of the water herself.”

And yet, Cryder was not the only woman during the war to pose as a man to enlist in the Army. The Herald article spoke of a “most reckless dare-devil attached to the Seventh regiment.” That woman was a mother of four children.

As for Cryder, she was taken back home about a mile from Harrisburg, “where she can reflect over what she did not see,” the Herald reported. Sometime later, the Carlisle Democrat reported how Cryder was charged with setting fire to the barn of George Kuhns in Plainfield, with whom she resided. The newspaper speculated that she fired the barn out of revenge for Kuhns interfering with her course of conduct. The building was completely destroyed.

A search of Cumberland County docket books from that era turned up no reference of a “Sophia Cryder” being charged with arson. The Herald reported that, prior to her enlistment, Cryder worked as a teamster for the Ahl family of Newville, “but her sex being discovered she was promptly discharged” from that job.

Cryder was then picked up by one of Kuhn’s men and enlisted in the Union Army. It is believed she was a soldier for about a week before being discovered.

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