Saturday, January 1, 2011


Despite the fact that the U.S. Army did not acknowledge or advertise their existence, it is surprising that the women soldiers of the Civil War are not better known today. After all, their existence was known at the time and through the rest of the 19th century. The majority of historians who have written about the common soldiers of the war have either ignored women in the ranks or trivialized their experience. While references, usually in passing, are sometimes found, the assumption by many respected Civil War historians is that soldier-women were eccentric and their presence isolated. Textbooks hardly ever mention these women.
  • Unidentified
    Canadian Lou betrayed herself while intoxicated after coming off a march with her Missouri regiment. She was jailed in Memphis for public drunkenness, and was recognized as a woman because she had previously lived in the city.
  • A soldier belonging to the 14th Iowa regiment was discovered by the Provost-Marshal of Cairo to be a woman. An investigation being ordered, "Charlie" placed the muzzle of her revolver to her head, fired and fell dead on open parade ground. No clue was obtained to her name, home or family.
  • A female going by the name of Frank served as a bugler in the 8th Michigan.
  • Confederate William Bradley served as a private in Mile’s Louisiana Legion for more than two months in 1861. She was attached to the regiment as a laundress after the regimental clerk declared she was “mustered in through mistake, was of female sex.”
  • Pvt. Joseph Davidson, a woman from Ohio, went to war with her father, who was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. She remained in the army after his death and served for three years.
  • In August 1861 at Lancaster, OH, an 18-year old student enlisted in the 17th Ohio Infantry. Pvt. Frank Deming, described as five feet six with dark complexion, gray eyes and black hair. Of the 4,000 Union troops at the Battle of Mill Springs, KY on January 29, 1862, at least two were woman: One, an unnamed woman of Scottish descent serving in a Kentucky regiment and the other, Frank Deming. Frank served until May 18, 1862 when he was discharged for disability near Corinth, MS. He was cited as being “incapable of performing the duties of a soldier” because of “a congenital peculiarity which should have prevented her admission into the Army—being a female.
  • When some bodies were being removed from a Georgia battle site in 1886 for re-interment in a national cemetery, the remains of Pvt. Charles Johehons of the 6th Missouri Infantry were recognized as those of a woman. She was in full uniform and had been shot through the head.
  • Unidentified
    In 1863 there was a woman known by her male alias, Alfred J. Luther, buried at Vicksburg National Cemetery. She was discovered right before burial.
  • A drummer named Charles Martin was a female serving in a Pennsylvania regiment.
  • According to the November 17, 1864 Nashville Daily Press, a soldier going by the alias George Smith (of Indiana) arrived by train with Frank Martin (aka Frances Hook) and was turned over to Sherman's provost marshal. They were described as being, "... rather handsome in the face, graced with delicate hands and feet and well turned ankles ..."
  • Officers sometimes knew that one of their soldiers was a woman, but let them continue in service. Charles H. Williams, a woman whose real name is not known, served three months in Company I of an early Iowa regiment. She was discovered when mustered out with the regiment and described in newspaper reports as having small and rather delicate hands, large and lustrous eyes and jet black hair. "She was born in Davenport where her mother now resides," the newspaper said. "Capt. Cox learned her sex but allowed her to remain.
  • Unidentified
    Several tales have been spun concerning female soldiers who fought in engagements within the state of North Carolina. One story that was published in several books on the subject of women fighting, originated in The Independent, a Calliope, Iowa newspaper, and the Sturgis, South Dakota Weekly Record on November 20, 1885. Titled "The Girl Recruit," it's reported to be the reminiscence of a former surgeon in the 10th Georgia in Hoke's Division who recalled that he had overseen a mortally wounded man at Bentonville named Charlie Stanhope. As Charlie was brought to the medical tent, his brother Francis or Frank Stanhope, came along with him, and fainted when he heard his brother had been killed. According to the surgeon, on administering aid to Frank, he learned that the soldier was a woman, and in turn discovered that it was Charlie's wife. However, the story is almost certainly false, or at the very least, cannot be substantiated. The 10th Georgia Infantry did not fight at Bentonville. The 10th Georgia Cavalry did, as did the 10th Confederate Cavalry, a unit comprised largely of Georgians. However, neither unit served in Major General Robert F. Hoke's Division. The 6th, 19th, 23rd, 27th and 28th Georgia Infantry regiments served in Brigadier Johnson Hagood's brigade of Hoke's Division, but not the 10th Georgia Infantry. In fact, at the time of Bentonville, that unit was fighting with Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Furthermore, no one by the last name of Stanhope can be documented as having served in any Georgia Confederate unit and not a single person with that surname was living in Georgia at the time of the 1860 census.
  • George Travis, a female recruit from Wisconsin, was detected on a train and arrested “because the United States army does not enlist women."
  • Unidentified
  • 19-year old John Williams enlisted as a private in the 17th Missouri Infantry, Co. M, on October 3, 1861 and was mustered into the regiment on the 17th. Later that month, Williams was discharged on the grounds "proved to be a woman". 
  • During the 1861 Kanawha Valley Campaign in West Virginia, a young soldier was discovered to be a woman after serving three months in the 1st Kentucky Infantry when she aroused suspicion by the way she pulled on her stockings. Albert Richardson, a newspaper correspondent covering the campaign reported, "She performed camp duties with great fortitude, and never fell out of the ranks during the severest marches. She was small in stature, and kept her coat buttoned to her chin."
  • Clara Barton, whose fame spread across the country and around the world, was caring for wounded soldiers during the battle of Antietam in 1862. While giving one soldier a drink of water, a bullet tore through her sleeve and killed him. Later Barton observed that another soldier's face appeared to be "too soft," and she became suspicious when the soldier was hesitant to have his chest wound treated.
  • In 1863, Bradley Griffin, an assistant surgeon in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, told his father of a raid on Charles City, VA: "We lost two men killed, one officer and four men wounded. Dr. Bennett had a ball through his overcoat. We captured every officer and a man 2 captains, 4 lieutenants, 1 surgeon and nearly 100 men. Horses, mules, arms, ammunition, everything fell into our hands. Among the prisoners was a female soldier, a woman of about 20 years. She had male attire, and used her rifle against us, as well as the rest. She has been in several engagements, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, etc."
  • Several of the soldiers whose careers were ended by motherhood were veteran sergeants and even officers. When a female sergeant in the 74th Ohio Infantry gave birth after 20 months in service, Gen. Rosecrans (April 17, 1863) termed it "a flagrant violation of all military law and of the army regulations."
  • A female soldier from Cincinnati, OH who was detected in the ranks by an officer pleaded to stay in service. The officer did not report her and she remained in the ranks. "She looks as brave as any soldier in the division," he reported under a newspaper under a nom de plume. "I say bully for her, and if I only could get 100 of such I would send a company."
  • Two Confederate female casualties (one dead, one seriously 
    wounded) were discovered after the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863. As confirmed in the Army Official Records of the war, the body of an unidentified female Confederate soldier was discovered by a burial detail near the stone wall at the angle on Cemetery Ridge. She had been a participant in Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. A reporting author noted, "The fact that her body was found in such an advanced spot is testimony to her bravery. However, except for an unverified story that the woman had enlisted in a Virginia regiment with her husband and was killed carrying the colors during the charge, Hays' notation is the extent of acknowledgement she received for having given her life for her country."
  • A Michigan Calvary soldier kept a diary while imprisoned at Andersonville. On December 23, 1863 John L. Ransom wrote, "A woman found among us--a prisoner of war. She tells of another female among us, but as yet she has not been found out."
  • Catholic sisters were given two unusual duties: acting as peacemakers between quarreling soldiers and attending to female soldiers who often were first discovered when wounded or sick. Margaret Hamilton, a Catholic sister from New York State, reported that while serving at the U.S. Military Hospital in Philadelphia, "We received a large number of wounded after the battle of the Wilderness [May 5-7, 1864], and among them was a young woman not more than twenty years of age. She ranked as lieutenant. She was wounded in the shoulder and her sex was not discovered until she came to our hospital. It appeared that she had followed her lover to the battle; and the boys who were brought in with her said that no one in the company showed more bravery than she. She was discharged very soon after entering the ward."
  • After the battle of Atlanta in summer 1864, a soldier's story appeared in a New York newspaper: "With the rebel dead and wounded who fell into our hands at the battle of Atlanta on the 21st [July] was a handsome young soldier in a neat gray jacket and pants. The soldier's leg was injured and amputation was deemed necessary. The noble youth was placed on the surgical table when lo -- it was a female! So many 'tender youths' have been captured by us since the commencement of the campaign that but little attention was given her features."
  • During the summer of 1864 when a Confederate female artillery soldier was captured, a newspaper that reported her being taken to Grant's headquarters as a prisoner described her as "a coarse featured Amazon...who was in charge of a rebel battery when she was captured, and had on an officer's uniform of the United States." According to Union nurse Anna Holstein, the woman ranked as a sergeant and "was the last to leave the gun" before being captured.
  • A female soldier in a New Jersey regiment, who had been in four battles with her husband, was discovered and sent home after she gave birth.Two women served three years in the 59th Ohio Infantry. Another female Confederate casualty at Gettysburg was reported after the battle by a wounded Union soldier from Michigan while in hospital at Chester, PA. He wrote a letter home saying there was a female Confederate soldier in the hospital with them who had been wounded severely and lost a leg at Gettysburg. He thought this was "romantic" and felt sympathy for her.
  • A careless female recruit in Rochester, NY exposed herself as a female when seen trying to pull her pants on over her head.
  • A woman disguised as a man enlisted in Captain Brand's company of the 107th Pennsylvania Infantry. When discovered, a newspaper reported that "She could smoke a cigar, swagger, and take an occasional 'horn' with the most perfect sang froid." She returned home and resumed female attire about a month later without explanation, but said she was determined "to try it again."
  • In a letter he wrote to his wife in February 1863, an Indiana cavalryman mentioned a wounded soldier woman in his company: "We discovered last week a soldier who turned out to be a girl. Maybe she would have remained undiscovered for a long time if she hadn't fainted. She was given a warm bath which gave the secret away."
  • An unidentified Minnesota girl claimed two years of service before being wounded.
  • A female political prisoner was held at the Alton POW camp. She is listed as a "Citizen of Memphis, Tennessee" in 1912 Union War Department records. No locality of a grave is shown on her records, but she is reported as having died of smallpox. The hospital for these cases was moved to the island in the Mississippi River opposite Alton during the month of August, 1863. Beginning in November 1863, records show that burial was made on that island of those who died from the effects of smallpox.
  • Capt. Ira B. Gardner, formerly of the 14th Maine, recalled enrolling a woman soldier in his company. She went on to serve two years before he realized her gender. He wrote, "If I had been anything but a boy, I should have probably seen from her form that she was a female."
  • Occasionally, post-mortem forensic evidence is accidentally revealed after a long period of time. It's now known that an unknown female soldier was killed at Shiloh (April 6-7) and buried on the battlefield. In 1934, 72 years later, a gardener working on the fringes of the battlefield found some human remains and notified authorities. Nine bodies were exhumed, along with fragments of military uniforms and gear. One was identified as a woman, and with her remains was the minie ball that apparently killed her.
  • The discovery of women in male disguise was often due to happenstance. A young woman was found in Captain Gerard's company of the 66th Indiana Infantry after fooling the soldiers for some time. One day, by chance, her uncle visited the camp, accidentally met and recognized her. She was immediately discharged.
  • Several soldiers wrote about a female Confederate cavalry trooper who was captured at North Anna. One of them, Jack Crossley, wrote his friend about her: "She was mounted just like a man ... wore her hair long and did not like to have our men looking at her."
  • As another story goes, an unknown female fought the entire war alongside men and, when it was over, put on her skirt, walked out of her tent and retired from military service.
    For every soldier discovered to be female upon her death, there may have been on the order of five to ten that went undiscovered. 

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