Monday, January 31, 2011


Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers of the Civil War therefore assumed masculine names, disguised themselves as men and hid the fact that they were female. Because they passed as men, it's impossible to know with any certainty how many women soldiers served in the Civil War. About 250 women are thought to have served in the Confederate army disguised as men, with about 400 women serving in a similar manner in the Union Army. They fought for the North and South in virtually every major battle of the bloody Civil War.

Some soldiers were revealed as women after getting captured. In his memoirs, General Philip Sheridan reported an extraordinary incident one day when two female soldiers were accidentally discovered in his command. A cavalry soldier, along with a teamster from Tennesses, got drunk on apple cider while on a foraging expedition in Kentucky. They fell in a river and were discovered to be female when they were saved and resuscitated. Sheridan personally interviewed them the next day and recorded the incident with some bemusement ... referring to them as "she dragoons." He wrote:

"The East Tennessee woman [the teamster] was found in camp, somewhat the worst for the experiences of the day before, but awaiting her fate contentedly smoking a cob-pipe. [The Cavalry soldier] proved to be a rather prepossessing young woman. How the two got acquainted I never learned, and though they had joined the army independently of each other, yet an intimacy had sprung up between them long before the mishaps of the foraging expedition."

More often than dramatic disclosures of this kind, the discovery of women in male disguise was 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 discharged immediately.

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. 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."

Among the numerous cases of soldiers whose careers were ended by pregnancy is one reported by Civil War nurse, Harriet Whetten. On August 21, 1862 she recorded in her diary that she had discovered a woman among the hospitalized Union soldiers in her care who was pregnant and had to be sent home. 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 the service, General Rosecrans (April 17, 1863) termed it "a flagrant outrage ... in violation of all military law and of the army regulations."

On the flip side, officers often knew that one of their soldiers was a woman, but let them continue in service. Charles H. Williams served three months in Company I of an early Iowa regiment and was discovered when the regiment mustered out. A newspaper report described her 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 stated. "Captain Cox learned her sex but allowed her to remain."

Another officer detected a female soldier from Cincinnati, Ohio in his ranks and was persuaded to let her remain. "She looks as brave as any soldier in the division," he reported, "I say bully for her, and if I could get 100 of such I would send a company."

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.

Mary & Mollie Bell

Battle of Cedar Creek
Two adolescent farm girls from Virginia, cousins Mary and Mollie Bell, fought for the Confederacy as Pvts. Bob Martin and Tom Parker. They enlisted a cavalry regiment under the command of Confederate General Jubal Early.

They served for two years and earned the respect of their comrades for their bravery. A regimental historian of the 36th Virginia reports that while on picket duty, "Martin" killed three Yankees and was promoted to Corporal. "Parker" had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

At Belle Grove during the battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864, their captain (in whom they had confided) was captured. When they tried to confide in the lieutenant who took command, he turned them in to General Early who admitted there were at least six other women in his army. Though Parker and Martin had served under Early for two years, he put them on a train to Richmond where they spent three weeks in Castle Thunder Prison.

Though their comrades attested that the Bells had served their country well, their commanding officer called them common camp followers. New news of their discovery appeared in the Richmond Daily Examiner in very malicious terms. The report in the Richmond Dispatch was much kinder.

In late November 1864, the girls were released from Castle Thunder with no charges brought against them. No longer enlisted men, they were sent home to Pulaski County, Virginia in the same uniforms they were wearing when they were arrested. The Examiner described it as "sending home the petticoat soldiers."


Lucy Berrington

Before the war, New Bern already had many free blacks who were carpenters, bricklayers, tailors, barbers and sailors, so it is likely that slaves in eastern North Carolina had always seen New Bern as a place of opportunity. During the Civil War, thousands of slaves escaped from their farms and plantations to New Bern which, because it was occupied by the U.S. Army - a free zone, where the Union's military government protected these contraband refugees from being returned to slavery.

With the military offering jobs, many African American women thrived there. Women who could cook found steady work providing meals for hungry soldiers; housekeepers, laundresses and seamstresses were also welcomed and given employment. One of these workers was Lucy Berington, a 45-year-old African American. The enlistment of women was forbidden therefore her case is something of a mystery.

The U.S. Navy enlisted Lucy as a first-class boy, an entry-level job with a pay scale of seven to nine dollars a month. This would have seemed like a lot of money to Lucy, who was probably a slave before she escaped to New Bern. Her gender was known at the time of her enlistment, and she was assigned as a washerwoman at the U.S. Naval Hospital at New Bern. Lucy is the only known enlisted black female in Civil War-era New Bern, but there may have been others.

Found at

At least one North Carolina woman served actively in the Union military. Lucy Berington, a 45-year-old African American woman from North Carolina, was enlisted in January 1864 as a first-class boy in the U.S. Navy. Her gender was known at the time of her enlistment, and she was assigned as a washerwoman at the U.S. Naval Hospital at New Bern. 

 At the time of the war, the enlistment of women was forbidden therefore her case is something of a mystery. She was not hired as contract labor, but formally enlisted at a rating, or naval rank, equal to that of inexperienced recruits to the Navy – the rating of boy was the lowest pay scale in the service. There may have been selfish motives on behalf of the surgeons in charge of the hospital. Average pay for a washerwoman contracted to the Navy at the time was fifty centers per day, which equated to fifteen dollars a month, while a first class boy earned between seven to nine dollars a month. Perhaps they were simply trying to control labor costs; however, if that is the case, why only choose one individual? Sadly for Lucy, the decision to enlist in the Navy cost the woman her life, as she died of disease in the spring of 1864 in the very hospital in which she worked.

Attempting to locate more on Lucy Berington has been difficult. No free black woman by that name lived in the state of North Carolina in 1860, suggesting she was enslaved prior to the war. If she was indeed a slave, and Berington, or perhaps Barrington, was the name of her owner, then one should find a slave, aged nearly forty-five, listed as the property of such a family on the 1860 slave schedule. Interestingly, the only Barrington families in North Carolina (there were no Beringtons) who owned slaves lived in Craven County, the very place Lucy enlisted. However, no female slaves aged forty-five were owned by any of them. A fifty-four-year-old female appears as the property of Nancy V. Barrington while a thirty-six-year-old female was the chattel of Stephen G. Barrington, but it remains uncertain if either was Lucy.

Nevertheless she stands out as the only identifiable enlisted North Carolina female recruit in the Union military.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mary Ann Berry

Mary Ann Berry from Lewiston, Maine was 21 years old when she met Ivory Brown from Parsonsfield, Maine. They married in 1861, the year the Civil War began.

He enlisted with the 31st Maine Infantry Regiment in 1864 and Mary decided she would go with him. Not surprisingly, she was rejected by the Army. She persisted, however, and took on clerical jobs for the regiment. Eventually, she went south with the regiment as a field nurse.

Records of her service cannot be found, but in 1930 she was interviewed by a reporter to whom she told her story. Besides nursing and caring for soldiers, she told the reporter that she also fought beside them. When asked, "Did you carry a musket and fight with the Union Men?", she replied, "Yes, sir. I carried a musket ... a 16-shooter [possibly a Henry Repeater rifle], a sword and a dirk, too, to fight my way through like the rest of them."

Mary was standing next to her brother-in-law at the siege of Petersburg when he was killed. It's possible that she was disguised as a soldier, since General Grant had issued orders that no women be allowed at the front. Ivory was also injured at Petersburg and Mary was there to care for him. He was discharged in June 1865 after which the couple went home to Brownfield, Maine. Ivory died in 1902. Mary outlived him by 34 years, dying in 1936 at age 96.

Sarah Malinda Blalock

Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock enlisted in Co. F of the 26th North Carolina Infantry posed as Pvt. Samuel Blalock. Her husband was William McKesson (Keith) Blalock. They were residents of a western North Carolina mountain region with strongly divided sentiments about secession and the Confederate cause. As a professed "Lincolnite," Keith often was pitted against friends and relatives.

Keith was forced by community pressures into enlisting for the Confederacy. Malinda's sentiments originally were pro-South, but out of loyalty to her husband, she planned to desert with him at the first opportunity. Somehow the circumstances never quite developed that would allow them to carry out their plan.

Keith and Malinda fought together in three battles garbed in Confederate gray until March 1862 when Malinda was wounded in the shoulder. Keith carried her to the surgeon's tent, and in the process of removing the bullet the surgeon discovered that "Sam" was a woman. Keith pleaded with the surgeon not to expose her, but the surgeon agreed only to give Keith a short time to work out his next course of action.

Distraught about the probability of being separated from Malinda, Keith deliberately rubbed poison oak all over himself. By the next morning, his skin was blistered and swollen and he had a high fever. Fearing that he had small pox, the physical confined him to his tent under guard to avoid contagion. It was decided to give him an immediate medical discharge on April 20, 1862.

Malinda quickly informed the incredulous Colonel Zebulon Vance (later Governor of North Carolina and a U.S. Senator) that she was a woman. After a surgeon verified her claim, she was discharged on the same day.

The Confederate records for Mrs. S.M. Blalock, 26th, Company F, state, "This lady dressed in men's cloths, Volunteered [sic], received bounty and for two weeks did all the duties of a soldier before she was found out, but her husband being discharged, she disclosed the fact, returned the bounty, and was immediately discharged April 20, 1862."

Keith and Melinda slowly found their way home to the mountains of western North Carolina to recuperate. Under constant threat of recall to Confederate service, they became outlaws and embarked on a campaign as Federal partisans and guerrillas in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. They guided Union sympathizers and escaped Union prisoners through the mountains to safety in the North. Toward the end of the war they served as scouts and raiders with the 10th Michigan Cavalry.

Go to FindAGrave for Sarah's memorial.

Found at

Sarah Malinda Pritchard, perhaps the most famous female soldier from North Carolina, served alongside her husband in the Confederate army, and later assisted the Union military. Born in 1839, she married William McKesson Blalock at the age of seventeen, and settled on a farm near the base of Grandfather Mountain. William, who went by the nickname "Keith," remained loyal to the Union at the outbreak of the war, and refused to enlist the Confederate army. However, in March 1862, faced with new conscription laws requiring all men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five to serve in the army, Keith Blalock and his wife, disguised as "Sam" Blalock and claiming to be Keith's younger brother, enlisted in Company F, 26th North Carolina Infantry.

Six days prior to the Blalock's enlistment, the 26th North Carolina had fought in the Battle of New Bern, and the regiment was recovering near Kinston. "Sam" gave her age on enlistment as twenty, but was described in later accounts as a "good looking sixteen-year-old boy" weighing "about 130 pounds, height five feet four inches." It was noted that for the next month Sam , tenting and eating with Keith, did all the "duties of a soldier," and was "very adept at learning the manual and the drill."

Sarah Malinda's Confederate service was quite short-lived, however. Keith, ever anxious to find a way out of the army, approached the regimental surgeon, Thomas J. Boykin, with a complaint of a "rupture" (hernia) and "poison from sumac." The injury may have been a preexisting condition however it is thought that he rolled around in sumac in order to gain the rash. Initially the surgeons thought he was suffering from smallpox due to the severity of the disorder. On April 20, 1862, Keith was discharged from Confederate service for "disability." That same afternoon, "Sam" came clean to the regimental commanders, including Colonel Zebulon Vance, and immediately was discharged from service.

After their release, the Blalocks made their way back to their mountain home. Precisely what happened to them in 1863-1864 is unclear. One account states that Keith was subsequently wounded in the arm as the couple were pursued into the wilderness atop Grandfather Mountain by Confederate conscription and enrolling officers attempting to force Keith to rejoin the army. If he had been properly discharged, however, and had papers proving that, they could not have legally reenlisted him. In his later years, Keith asserted that he had never been properly discharged. Tradition also states that he helped Union escapees from Salisbury prison cross the mountains into Tennessee.

At some point in the fall of 1863 or spring of 1864, Keith made his way across the mountains into eastern Tennessee, where on June 1, 1864 he enlisted at Strawberry Plains in Company D, 10th Michigan Cavalry. The company records indicate that at least four other eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina Unionists joined the same company. He later claimed in his Union army pension that he spent the majority of his time in service as a scout. He acknowledged two injuries in his pension that do not appear in his service records: a gunshot to the arm while operating in Caldwell County in the summer of 1864, and a second wound, which cost him his left eye, on January 15, 1865.

Historians as well as fiction writers have made numerous claims that Sarah Malinda Blalock took part in many of Keith's scouting forays. One story involves Malinda being wounded in the shoulder in an early 1864 attack on the home of Carroll Moore, the father of a former friend and comrade of the Blalocks. She indeed may have helped him, but one must account for the fact that she had a one-year-old child at the time that needed care, and Keith does not mention her presence alongside him in any of his pension correspondence postwar.

After the war, Keith Blalock murdered a man who was responsible for the killing of his stepfather during the conflict. He managed to escape prosecution. For a brief time the family moved to Texas, but eventually returned to North Carolina, settling as farmers in Mitchell County (in an area that is present-day Avery County). Malinda died in 1903, and is buried in the Montezuma Community Cemetery alongside Keith, who was killed in 1913 in an accident on the railroad.

Sarah Malinda Blalock's month-long enlistment in the Confederate army, and her later assistance to the Union military, made her unique among North Carolina's women veterans.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"She Dragoons" ~ Sarah Bradbury & Ella Reno

Sarah Bradbury enlisted in the 7th Illinois Cavalry under the name Frank Morton. She went on to serve in several different regiments, finally joining the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry as an orderly in General Philip Sheridan's escort. There she became acquainted with another female, Ella Reno, who was serving in the ranks as a teamster and described by General Burnside has having short "army fashion" hair.

In an indiscreet moment, the two got drunk on apple cider while on a foraging expedition in Kentucky and fell in the river. After their rescuers discovered they were women, they were called before Sheridan to explain themselves. In his memoirs, Sheridan referred to them as "she dragoons", writing: "The East Tennessee woman [the teamster] was found in camp, somewhat the worst for the experiences of the day before, but awaiting her fate, contentedly smoking a cob-pipe. [The Cavalry soldier] proved to be a rather prepossessing young woman. How the two got acquainted I never learned, and though they had joined the army independently of each other, yet an intimacy had sprung up between them long before the mishaps of the foraging expedition." 

Florena Budwin

Florena Budwin was born about 1845. She disguised herself as a man and followed her husband, John Budwin. Residents of Philadelphia, they enlisted in an unknown unit.

Both were captured and sent to the Andersonville prison camp where he is said to have been killed by a guard. She remained there until September 1864 when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops got close to Andersonville. Budwin and many other prisoners were moved to the Florence Stockade in Florence, South Carolina. There were about 16,000 Union prisoners held there between September 15, 1864 and February 1865.

While at Florence, her gender was discovered after a routine exam by a doctor. She was moved to a private room and put to work in the prison hospital. Florina contracted pneumonia a few months later and died January 25, 1865 at the age of 21. She's buried in the Florence National Cemetery where she lies in a mass grave in Section D. It's thought that she is the first woman to be buried in a National Cemetery. 

A story on Florena appeared in The Helena Independent on June 24, 1890. It included an interview by Samuel Elliot of the 7th Pennsylvania Reserves:

I knew the female prisoner at Andersonville, having seen her frequently pass our detachment on her way to the swamp for water. I remember her as a woman rather above medium height, sun burnt, with long unkempt hair. Her clothing consisted of a rough gray shirt, a pair of worn-out army trousers, and what was once a military cap, but scarcely enough of it was left to afford protection from the burning sun. Her husband was also in the prison, but what became of him I am unable to say.
     When the prisoners were removed from Andersonville to Florence, between September 6 to 12, 1864, she was among the number, and shortly after our arrival there her sex was discovered by the rebel authorities and she was taken, as rumor had it, to be a nurse in the hospital. This is the last I ever saw or heard of her.
     As to her husband, I never knew what became of him. I never heard of his being killed. I heard her spoken of by the older prisoners as being a married woman. Our detachment at Andersonville was stationed on the north of the prison's old stockade, about 500 yards from the main entrance. She must have been in the detachment, there being 100 to each detachment, adjoining ours. The camp here was not laid off in streets, or were the brush huts laid off in any order. There were winding paths leading to the swamp near the entrance, where the prisoners obtained water. Her hut was never invaded, and she was cared for by two men who guarded and looked after her, ready to protect her from insult, should any be offered, and they always treated her with great respect themselves.

Go to FindAGrave for Florena's memorial.


Frances Clailin

Battle of Fort Donelson
Frances Clalin was born in Illinois in the 1830s and married Ohio-born Elmer L. Clayton with whom she had three children.

Clalin' story as a woman who disguised herself as man to fight in the war was the subject of several newspaper reports, many containing conflicting information. Most agreed that Clalin, disguised as a man and using the name Jack Williams, enlisted with the Union army with her husband during the fall of 1861. Despite living in Minnesota, Frances and Elmer enlisted in the Missouri Artillery Regiment. 

She is known to have fought in the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee, February 13, 1862, where the Union won after three days of fighting. During this battle Clalin was wounded, but was not discovered. She and Elmer served side-by-side until he died during the Battle of Stones River (or Murfreesboro) on December 31, 1862. He was only a few feet in front of Fances at the time, but some sources say that she didn’t stop fighting - she stepped over his body and charged when the commands came.

It’s unknown which units specifically the Clailins fought in, but Frances is said to have served in both cavalry and artillery cakes. She was engaged in 17 battles besides Fort Donelson and reports say she was wounded a total of three times and taken prisoner once.

“Frances Clayton took up all the manly vices. To better conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew and swear. She was especially fond of cigars. She even gambled, and a fellow soldier declared that he had played poker with her on a number of occasions.” —DeAnne Blanton & Lauren M. Cook, They Fought Like Demons

She was tall and masculine, had tan skin, stood erect and walked with a soldierly stride. She was said to be a good horseman and swordsman ... a respected person who commanded attention in the way she acted. One report said that she did her duties at all times and was considered to be a "fighting man".

There are two stories about how Clalin was discovered to be a woman. One is that after the battle at Stones River in 1863, Clalin let her true identity become known and was discharged a few days later in Louisville. The other is that she was wounded in the hip at Stones River and was discharged after being discovered.

After being discharged Clalin tried to get back to Minnesota to collect the bounty owed her and Elmer, as well as to get some of his belongings. It’s also speculated that she wanted to reenlist, but was unable to. Her train was attacked by a Confederate guerrilla party and she was robbed of her papers and money. She then went from Missouri to Minnesota, to Grand Rapids, Michigan and on to Quincy, Illinois. In Quincy a fund was created to aid her quest for payment by former soldiers and friends. Frances was last reported to be headed for Washington, DC.

Clalin became popular with the newspapers of the time. Her story, which was often jumbled up, was published in about six different papers. In some articles it was stated that Clalin had been wounded and discovered at Stones River where her husband died, but others said she was wounded at Fort Donelson and was able to keep her identity a secret until her husband died, after which she went to her superiors with her secret.

According to Clalin, she was actually wounded at Donelson and was able to keep her identity unknown. She corrected these misunderstandings in her last interview, but she never stated what specific regiment she had served in. This was probably never asked of Clalin, because the reporters were more interested in the story of a devoted wife, rather than the actual details of Jack Williams’ soldier life.

Go to FindAGrave for Frances' memorial.

Amy Clark

Battle of Shiloh
One of the most famous Confederate female soldiers, who served in both cavalry and infantry, was Mrs. Amy Clark. At the age of 30, she enlisted as a private in a cavalry regiment with her husband Walter, so she wouldn’t be separated from him. Also known as Anna, she used the name Pvt. Richard Anderson and fought with Walter until his death at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862.

A newspaper story from Mississippian on December 30, 1862 reported:

"Among the strange, heroic and self-sacrificing acts of woman in this struggle for our independence, we have heard of none which exceeds the bravery displayed and hardships endured by the subject of this notice, Mrs. Amy Clarke.

Mrs. Clarke volunteered with her husband as a private, fought through the battles of Shiloh, where Mr. Clarke was killed -- she performing the rites of burial with her own hands. She then continued with Bragg's army in Kentucky, fighting in the ranks as a common soldier, until she was twice wounded -- once in the ankle and then in the breast, when she fell prisoner into the hands of the Yankees. Her sex was discovered by the Federals and she was regularly paroled as a prisoner of war, but they did not permit her to return until she had donned female apparel. Mrs. C was in our city on Sunday last, en route for Bragg's command."

She may have re-enlisted after her release from prison because the following August she was seen wearing lieutenant's bars at Turner's Station, Tennessee, and was recognized as the heroic Amy Clarke, causing a sensation among the soldiers. A Texas cavalry soldier who saw her, wrote a letter home to his father saying:

“One of the soldiers directed my attention to a youth apparently about seventeen years of age well dressed with a lieutenant's badge on his collar. I remarked that I saw nothing strange. He then told me that the young man was not a man but a female.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Army life in the 1860s differed significantly from the modern military. Although living and sleeping arrangements were as close or closer than they are today, the fact that the majority of soldiers lived outside throughout the war. The latitude to wash and attend to sanitary matters out of sight of comrades made it possible for females in the ranks to avoid the scrutiny that would give them away. Also, societal standards of modesty ensured that no one would question a shy soldier’s reluctance to bathe in a river with his messmates or to relieve himself in the open company sinks.

Sgt. Herman Weiss, 6th New York Heavy Artillery, explained to his wife how a woman in his regiment had maintained her male persona for close to three years: “It is no wonder at all that her tent mates did not know that she was a woman for you must know that we never undress to go to bed. On the contrary we dress up, we go to bed with boots, overcoat and all on and she could find chances enough when she would be in the tent alone to change her clothes.”

Daily bathing, particularly for soldiers on the march, was not a concern as they often went for months at a time without bathing or changing clothes. Women who sought privacy would not have aroused a great deal of suspicion, especially since they had already established reputations as modest men when they chose to use private toilet areas.

But what about menstruation? Little is known about how 19th century women dealt with their monthly cycles, but it’s presumed women soldiers used folded rags to protect their clothing and mask the odor of blood.[1] Washing or disposing of this evidence may have been a problem for them, though bloody rags could have been explained away as the used bindings of a minor injury.

Menstruation might have ceased to be a problem, particularly during a campaign season. It’s possible that many female soldiers became amenorrheic while in the army. Amenorrhea, or the cessation of menstruation, is caused by intense athletic training, substantive weight loss, caloric deprivation or poor nutrition and severe psychological stress.

[1] Until disposable sanitary pads were created, women often used a variety of home-made pads which they crafted from various fabrics, leftover scraps, grass or other absorbent materials to collect menstrual blood. Many probably used nothing at all. The first commercially available American disposable napkins were Lister's Towels created by Johnson & Johnson in 1896, though for several years they were too expensive for many women to afford. When they could be afforded, women were allowed to place money in a box so that they would not have to speak to the clerk and take a box of pads from the counter themselves. It took several years for disposable menstrual pads to become commonplace. However, they are now used nearly exclusively in most of the industrialized world.

Frances Louisa Clayton

While a popular Civil War-era saying was, "Better a soldier's widow than a coward's wife," some women took it a step further. Flying in the face of Victorian conventions and the traditional view of females as frail, passive and subordinate, they enlisted in the army.

About 250 women are thought to have served in the Confederate army disguised as men, with about 400 women serving in a similar manner in the Union Army. Frances Clayton was one such female. She allegedly served in Minnesota artillery and cavalry units along with her husband.

According to contemporary newspaper reports, "the better to conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew and swear with the best, or worst, of the soldiers."

Madame Collier

Belle Island Union Encampment
Madame Collier was a federal soldier from East Tennessee who enjoyed army life until her capture and subsequent imprisonment at Belle Isle, Virginia. She decided to make the most of the difficult situation and continued concealing her gender, hoping for exchange. Another prisoner learned her secret and reported it to Confederate authorities, who sent her North under a flag of truce. Before leaving, Collier indicated that another woman remained incarcerated on the island.

Sarah Collins

In the town of Lake Mills, Wisconsin lived a devoted siblings, orphans Sarah Collins and her brother Mason. When the war broke out, Mason made up his mind to enlist, and his courageous 16 year old sister decided to do the same. She was a robust girl with the bloom of roses upon her cheeks, and could easily have borne the hardships incident to a soldier’s life. Won over by her persistence, her brother mason aided and abetted the deception; her tresses were cut short, she put on man’s apparel, and endeavored to accustom herself to her strange garb. She accompanied her brother to the rendezvous of the company, and notwithstanding her soldier-like appearance and air of masculinity, her sex was detected—it is stated, by her feminine manner of putting on her shoes and stockings. So poor Sarah, with tears in her eyes, disappointed at the failure of her efforts to become a soldier, was obliged to return to her home, while her brother left for the front without her. (Ref. Wisconsin Women in the War Between the States by Ethel Alice Hurn.)

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.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Catherine Davidson

Battle of Antietam
Catherine Davidson fought with the 28th Ohio Infantry and was wounded at Antietam. Shortly after the battle, the governor of Pennsylvania arrived and took to the field to help with the wounded. Davidson was one of the soldiers he consoled and it was he who put her in an ambulance. Thinking she was dying, she gave him her ring.

She was wounded so badly in the right arm that surgeons amputated it midway between the shoulder and elbow. After her discharge from the service, she called upon the governor at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia to thank him for his kindness to her. He was quite surprised as he had not known the soldier who gave him the ring was a woman.

He was wearing the ring that day in the hotel, and Davidson showed him her initials inside it. Governor Curtin offered it back to her, but Davidson asked him to keep it, saying, "The finger that used to wear that ring will never wear it any more. The hand is dead, but the soldier still lives."

Frances Day

William Fitzpatrick enlisted in the 126th Pennsylvania Infantry, but died in a Virginia hospital in 1862. Not until many years later was it discovered that Sgt. Frank Mayne, who deserted after Fitzpatrick's death, was really Frances Day who had joined the infantry to be with her boyfriend.

The regimental historian states that Mayne was not heard from again until long afterwards when "... in the far West, a soldier, wounded badly in a great battle, could not conceal her sex, and Frances Day then told how she had followed Fitzpatrick into the army and became herself a soldier and a Sergeant ... of her desertion upon her lover's death, the the abandon and despair which led her to seek again the ranks of the army."

Except for her deathbed confession, Day's story would never have been known.

Barbara Ann Duravan

Among the proof sheets of his book My Reminiscences of the War and Reconstruction,Thomas Pinckney, of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry, describes his May 31, 1864 discovery that a fellow prisoner was actually a woman whom he later suspected was Barbara Ann Duravan of Tennessee. Her captors did not discover her gender until after her death in the Alton Federal Military Prison in Illinois. 

Barbara is reported as having died of smallpox. 1912 Union War Department records list her as a "Citizen of Memphis, Tennessee." It's said she was buried in the Confederate Cemetery with her comrades, however the hospital for smallpox cases at Alton was moved to the island in the Mississippi River opposite Alton Prison during the month of August, 1863. Beginning with November, 1863, records show that burial was made on this island of those who died from effects of smallpox.


Even if the estimate of 400 soldier-women is accepted as an upper limit, it’s an astonishing figure. How were so many women able to accomplish this incredible deception, when it’s inconceivable that a woman could enter the military under the same circumstances today?

Confederate Uniforms
First, army recruitment physical examinations during the Civil War were only as good as the surgeon who performed them. A recruit was unlikely to face an exam more rigorous than holding out his hands to demonstrate that he had a working trigger finger, or perhaps opening his mouth to show that his teeth were strong enough to rip open a minie ball cartridge. Sarah Edmonds, alias Pvt. Franklin Thompson, described her army medical exam as “a firm handshake” with an inquiry about “Frank’s” occupation.

Furthermore, army life in the 1860s differed significantly from the modern military. The soldiers who formed the rank and file early in the Civil War were led by volunteer officers, most of whom had as much to learn about military life as those under their command. There was no boot camp with intensive physical training as there is today. And, although living and sleeping arrangements were as close or closer than today’s standard, the fact that the majority of soldiers lived outside throughout the war, with the latitude to wash and attend to sanitary matters out of sight of comrades, made it possible for females in the ranks to avoid the scrutiny that would give them away. Societal standards of modesty ensured that no one would question a shy soldier’s reluctance to bathe in a river with his messmates or to relieve himself in the open company sinks.

Union Uniforms
A second, and very large, advantage for 19th century women was that gender identification in the Victorian age was more closely linked to attire and other superficial appearances than to physical characteristics. Voluminous hoop skirts were the order of the day for women, who wore their long hair in elaborate arrangements. A woman in pants in 1861 was a sight more rare than a man wearing a dress is today. Thus, if it wore pants, most people of the period would naturally have assumed that the person was a man. In polite society, speculating further or inquiring upon what lay beneath another person’s attire would mark the questioner as less than a gentleman or lady.

Broad acceptance of a person based on superficial appearances led to many interesting comments that reveal the naiveté of Civil War soldiers regarding the women secreted among them. Capt. Ira B. Gardner of the 14th Maine enrolled a soldier in his company who served for two years before he realized she was a female. Wrote Gardner, “I did not learn of her sex until the close of the war. If I had been anything but a boy, I should probably have seen from her form that she was a female.” Robert Hodges, a Confederate soldier, related this story in a letter home: “One of the soldiers directed my attention to a youth apparently about seventeen years of age well dressed with a lieutenant’s badge on his collar. I remarked I saw nothing strange. He then told me the young man was not a man but a female.”  Members of the famous Pvt. Franklin Thompson’s brigade referred to “him” as “Our Woman” because of “his” feminine mannerisms and “ridiculously small boots.”

Godleys Fashions for August 1862
A common element of women soldiers’ stories is their ability to recognize other women in the ranks while the men around them were oblivious to their female comrades’ deception. This suggests strongly that, while women knew what to look for in order to recognize other women in male attire, the men around them were either unfamiliar with the sight of women in pants or had extreme difficulty accepting the possibility that a fellow soldier might not be male. Certainly, the ill-fitting uniforms of the Civil War armies helped to conceal feminine physical characteristics, but a reluctance to accept that a female was a soldier must have been operating, particularly in cases where women served for very long periods of time without discovery. Biases about the physical, emotional, and intellectual abilities of women, as well as beliefs about appropriate and acceptable feminine roles, precluded the concept of a female soldier and rendered many men in the armies incapable of recognizing the women among them.

Yet a third circumstance enabled women to blend into the ranks with their male comrades. A large number of young and beardless boys whose voices had yet to change served in both the Confederate and Federal armed forces, and the armies of the Civil War were youthful in the main. The presence of pre-adolescent boys in the ranks unintentionally aided the likewise beardless and high-voiced men to go undetected.

From An Uncommon Soldier: the Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Girl Known As "Emily"

In 1863, a 19-year-old girl known only as Emily ran away from home and joined the drum corp of a Michigan regiment. The regiment was sent to Tennessee and, during the struggle for Chatanooga, a minie ball pierced her side. Her wound was fatal and her sex was disclosed. 
     At first she refused to disclose her real name. But, as she lay dying, she consented to dictate a telegram to her father in Brooklyn, NY:

"Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to deliver my country but the fates would not have it so. I am content to die. Pray forgive me. Emily"

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.