Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lucy Matilda Thompson Gause ~ Fact or Fiction? You decide!

Found at
Discussion in 'The Ladies Tea' started by JPK Huson, 1863

Known during the Civil War as Pvt. Bill Thompson, Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss cut her thick hair and disguised herself by wearing a pair of her husband's suits and boarded a train for Virginia to fight alongside him during the early years of the Civil War.

She was born November 21, 1812 in Bladenboro, North Carolina. Tall and masculine ... though not without feminine charm, she was a deft horsewoman, expert with a rifle and relished hunting.

In 1861, just as the war erupted, Thompson married Bryant Gauss who soon joined the Army of the Confederacy. Fearing he would be killed and lie unidentified, newly married Lucy Gauss oiled her squirrel musket and enlisted in Company D, 18th North Carolina Infantry, Confederate States of America. Neighbors and friends sympathized with her bravery and kept her identity secret. So did Captain Robert Tate and Lieutenant Wiley Sykes, who admired her ability with a rifle, her talent for jokes as well as her husky singing voice. They also prized her skill to nurse the camp's sick and wounded.

Masquerading as a man, Lucy participated in a number of battles, receiving a head wound either at the First Battle of Manassas or the Siege of Richmond. In any case, an iron shell scrap tore open her scalp from forehead to crown, sent her to a hospital for two months. Somehow she managed to conceal her identity and fled back to her unit as soon as she could.

Bryant Gauss was killed at the Seven Days Battle near Richmond. Lucy Gauss obtained permanent furlough and took him for burial. She bore her first child, Mary Caroline Gauss, on January 21, 1864. After the war, the widow and small child moved to Savannah, where in late 1866, Lucy Gauss married union army veteran, Joseph P. Kenney. Together they had six children. Remarkably, Lucy Gauss Kenney gave birth to their first at the age of 55 in 1868, and the last in 1881 at the age of 69!

Lucy kept her military exploits a secret until 1914, when she told her story to her pastor. Fearing nothing at the age of 102 but God, Lucy's motto was, "Hold your head up and die hard."

She lived in various parts of Georgia before she died in Nicholls, Georgia at the remarkable age of 112 years, 7 months and 2 days. Lucy Gauss Kenney is buried in the Meeks Cemetery near Nicholls. Joseph Kenney died September 7, 1913 at the age of 107 years 5 months and I day.

Go to for Lucy's memorial.

Found at

Lumberton's newspaper, The Robesonian, published an article on May 4, 1914, which had previously run in the Savannah Dispatch, titled "Fought As a Man Beside Her Husband Until He Was Killed – Was a Mrs. Gauss of Bladenboro – Now More Than 100 Years Old." The story concerned Lucy Matilda Thompson Gause Kenney, whom the paper reported had recently told her pastor a secret that she had held onto for over fifty years. She claimed that having been just married on the eve of the Civil War she could not bear to part with her husband, "a man by the name of Gauss," when he left to fight in the conflict. She reportedly "cut her hair close, donned a uniform," and entered the army with him under the alias Bill Thompson (her maiden name). Kenney supposedly "served for several years" with Company D, 18th North Carolina Infantry, until her husband was killed. The paper noted that "he met his death in the coldness of winter" and that she then accompanied his body home for burial. After the war she moved to Savannah, where she married a man named John Kenney.

Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss Kenney appeared in newspapers a number of times during the following decade. She was the subject of an article titled "Hold your Head Up and Die Hard, the Rule of 107 Years Lady," published in the Savannah Press in March 1920, and a piece in the Arkansas Democrat, "Democrat Employee's Mother Was Soldier in the Civil War," published in July 1925.

On July 8, 1925, the Atlanta Journal ran an obituary for Lucy titled "Only Woman Confederate Veteran Dies at 112." The paper claimed that at her death, she was 112 years old, and that she had been born near Bladensboro, North Carolina, in 1812. The paper noted that she was "165 pounds when she was seventeen, was tall and of masculine appearance," but was "not without feminine charm." Lucy volunteered in 1861 alongside her then husband, Bryant Gauss and it was further claimed that she "was an expert sharpshooter" who was wounded in the head by artillery fire at First Manassas, where she stated her regiment advanced over "rifle pits slippery with mud and blood." According to the obituary, she remained faithfully by her husband's side until his death in one of the Seven Days Battles outside Richmond in the summer of 1862. It further noted that she "was one of those whose weary, half bare feet left blood tracks in the white snow" during the "bitter winter campaigns in northern Virginia." After her husband's death, the young widow told her secret to their company commander, identified as Captain Robert Tate, who then allowed her to receive a discharge and return home. When the war ended, the paper stated that she moved to Savannah, Georgia, where she eventually married Joseph Patrick Kenney (not John, as claimed in the earlier story).

Lucy's story was later picked up by Jay Hoar in his book The South's Last Boys in Gray. In a brief analysis of her story, Hoar utilized a copy of her obituary published on June 25, 1925 in The Coffee County Progress of Douglas, Georgia, which repeated the claim that she was 112 years old at the time of her death. However, that obituary said she had served in "Company B, of the Bladen Light Infantry" with her husband, who was "killed near Bennettsville." She was reportedly "struck in the head by a piece of shell at the siege of Richmond." It further noted that she "came to Georgia after the Charleston earthquake in 1886." Hoar also cited a January 1977 letter from a great-grandson which gave Lucy's husband's full name as Joseph Patrick Henry Kenney, a Union navy veteran who had been coerced into serving, and noted that both "she and this second husband were personally acquainted with Lincoln." Finally, Hoar provided a statement by Lucy's granddaughter, repeating many of the claims made in the Atlanta Journal article, including that the first husband was killed in the Seven Days fighting, but added that Lucy's first child, Mary Caroline Gauss, was born on January 21, 1864. That statement went so far as to claim that Lucy Matilda gave birth to twins Martha and James in 1868 when she was fifty-five-years-old, as well as further children Katie, Victoria, John P., and Joseph. The last child was reportedly born in 1881 when Lucy would have been sixty-nine.

A simple cursory glance at the various claims demonstrates a number of factual inconsistencies. Some of these issues could best be attributed to failing health, senility, and simple mistaken memory. For starters, Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss Kenney was not 112 years old at the time of her death. She first appears on the 1850 Bladen County, North Carolina, census at the age of eight as Matilda, living in the household of her mother, Lucy, age thirty-eight. No male head of household is documented. Ten years later she is listed as L. M. (Lucy Matilda) in the household of her mother, Lucy Thompson, in Bladen County. Two households before them on the census lived the Henry Gause family which included son Bryant B. Gause, Lucy Matilda Thompson's first husband.

Challenging some of the earlier reports that she met and married Joseph Patrick Henry Kenney in Georgia, she actually appears living with him in the 1870 Bladen County census in Brown Marsh. The household lists "Patrick Kinnie," born in Ireland, age thirty-eight, along with his wife Matilda, age twenty-one, with daughters Mary, age four, and Margaret, age three. John Thompson, Lucy Matilda's brother, is living in the household next door. In 1880 the family appears on the Columbus County census with Patrick listed at age sixty, Matilda at age thirty-eight, and several children: Mary, Martha, Katie M., Victoria, and John.

Up until the 1900 census, Lucy Matilda's age of birth clearly put her as being born in the early 1840s, not in 1812. The story that the family moved to Georgia after the 1886 Charleston earthquake is born out in the fact that on the 1900 census they appear in Pierce County, Georgia. Lucy Matilda's age on that census places her being born in 1827-1828. On the 1910 census in Coffee County, Georgia, she gave her age as ninety-seven-years-old, making her born in 1813. On the 1920 Chatham County, Georgia census, she is again listed as being born in 1813. Her husband's age remained increasing at a normal rate, but in a ten year span she, on paper at the very least, aged twenty-five years. Something was clearly amiss.

Numerous errors plague the military claims as well. Bryant B. Gause served in Company B, 18th North Carolina (not Company D), alongside his brothers Henry H. Gause and James W. Gause. All three enlisted on May 3, 1861 in Bladen County, and Henry and James both survived the war. Bryant B. Gause was not killed in the Seven Days Battles, and is not reported to have been wounded three times during the war. He was in fact mortally wounded at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862. He languished in a hospital in Scottsville, Virginia, where he died on January 1, 1863.

No one by the name of William (Bill) Thompson enlisted in the company in 1861 alongside the three Gause brothers. A William Thompson did serve in the unit, but that man enlisted at age forty-three on July 15, 1863, and served through the end of the war, signing an Oath of Allegiance at Point Lookout, Maryland in June 1865. Private James Thompson, probably Lucy Matilda's brother, enlisted on May 3, 1861 in the unit. He served until being killed in action at Frayser's Farm in June 1862. Private Bryant G. Thompson, age twenty-seven, also enlisted in the unit in 1861, but his connection to Lucy Matilda remains uncertain. That individual served throughout the war.

So, the 1914 story, claiming that Bryant B. Gause died in winter, seems correct. No Bill Thompson appears in the unit records for 1861-1862. Furthermore, her assertion to have been wounded at First Manassas is false, as the 18th North Carolina was not engaged in that battle.

Lucy Matilda Thompson Gause Kenney's claim as to having served alongside her husband cannot be supported by the contemporary evidence. There is simply no documentary proof that she served in any of the capacities in which she claimed. In the end, her story may have been nothing more than a good yarn.


  1. very interesting!

  2. Judi, it seems you have done some digging! My half sister is a Thompson and related to Lucy Matilda Gauss Kenney Thompson. We have done a bit of genealogy on the Thompson line. Are you a direct descendent? Did you know that Lucy Matilda was at least half Native American? What an amazing woman! Have you seen any of the newspaper clippings/stories that her pastor passed on to the press? Thanks for your story.
    Julio Enrique Orozco

    1. Julio, I apologize for not responding WAY sooner. There have been so many amazing women throughout history. How nice for you that one of them is in your family tree! I haven't seen the clips you speak of, but would be happy to add them to Lucy's story if you'll let me know how to access them.

  3. Sorry; I didn't give you a way to contact me. My email address is . My half sister, Marion Annette Thompson, born in Jacksonville, Florida, and I and my family both live in Sacramento, California. Thanks for posting my message. Julio Enrique 'Rick' Orozco

  4. Just came across this site and find it very interesting also. Lucy Matilda was my 2 times great grandmother through Mary Caroline, supposedly the daughter of Lucy and Bryant Gause. Mary Caroline married Coleman Conner and had a daughter Willie Mae, my maternal grandmother. I have also done a great deal of genealogical research and have been unable to find any supporting evidence of Lucy Matilda's claims. Her stories have circulated throughout the family my entire life....would love to know the truth. Cheryl Yandle Oglesby, Savannah, GA.

    1. Hi Cheryl ... please send your email address to me at As you know, there are many inconsistencies in Lucy's story. I've worked a bit on her genealogy and would like to share some thoughts about that with you offline. Standing by ...

    2. during THE WEEK I AM AT MY SON'S...would love to talk with you.. thanks for your reply. will send his email to yours.