Women and the Civil War. Click below to explore the unique and similar experiences of Northern and Southern women. Southern Women. Northern Women. Southern Women. Dealing with shortages Running farms and businesses Supporting the soldiers Medical care Fighting women and spies.
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Women and the Civil War
Click below to explore the unique and similar experiences of Northern and Southern women
The most famous individual woman who provided medical care in the South, Pember worked in in the Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, VA where she rose to the position of Chief matron. A Jewish widow of one of Savannah’s leading families, she served from December 1962-April 1865 when the war ended. Chiamborzo was the largest military hospital in history and during the war 76,000 soldiers were treated there.
One of the Union’s most powerful tools against the South was the blockade which created shortages of luxury and ordinary items. Wealthy women dressed in homespun fabric, combs, forks and toothbrushes wore out. Imported foods - coffee, tea, sugar - were impossible to get. In additon, prices skyrocketed. Bacon and butter cost $20. A pound, and chickens sold for $50. Each. Bread riots occurred in Richmond and other cities.
In addition to caring for their homes and families, women on both sides volunteered many services to support troops.
The numerous contributions women on both sides made to the war effort reveals a strong sense of patriotism. Women bravely encouraged their men to fight, and bravely suffered losses. Mrs. John Banks of Georgia had nine sons in the war, three killed in Atlanta. Mrs. Oran Palmer lost 4 sons at Gettysburg, and in 1862 an Iowa woman learned from a single letter that her husband, father and brother had all been killed. In many cases the sacrifices of loves ones increased the intensity of their support of their country.
Perhaps the hardest thing for women was waiting at home not knowing where her husband or son was, and in what condition. While letters from their men were eagerly awaited, letters they wrote to the soldiers provided a lifeline to home and something to read during the long days between battles.Since most Americans were literate, letters were written (and diaries were kept) on a regular basis.
Organized by Elizabeth Blackwell, the commission was created to set up supply stations and hospitals, hire nurses and collect donations. To meet shipping costs,and supply needs donations were solicited from citizens.
At one point the Chicago Sanitary Commission ran a fair that raised over $100,000.
Worked to make the supplies needed by the army , especially bandages. In addition they ran fairs to raise donations to buy supplies and pay shipping costs. In the South women met trains carrying wounded soldiers with meals. In Columbia, S.C. a group of young women set up a refreshment stand for wounded soldiers waiting for connecting trains. As time went on each soldier received a bath, a change of clothes and a cot for a nap in addition to a meal.
The medical corps of both armies were much to small to deal with the great numbers of injured soldiers, so frequently wounds would be treated in field hospitals and the soldiers would be sent home to recuperate. Friends and relatives therefore became nurses of their loved ones in addition to the many other tasks they were called upon to perform in their daily lives.
Women at home supplied the armies with many of their needs. Each soldier carried with him a uniform, bedding, socks, and, if he was lucky, a few comforts all made at home. Women outfitted entire companies not only with personal supplies but flags and tents as well. Women brought their knitting everywhere, and their sewing if it was done by hand. Supplies were produced in such great numbers the women organized distribution systems to get them to the troops.
Prior to the Civil War, women were considered too delicate for nursing. The war changed that perception and a number of women distinguished themselves providing medical care to Union soldiers.
Catholic nuns contributed their services in the treatment of wounded soldiers in many places. The Sisters of Charity cared for soldiers at Harper’s Ferry, Richmond, Lynchburg and Gettysburg. Sisters of Mercy worked in Vicksburg and Sisters of St. Dominic served in Memphis. Although numbering less than 200, their previous training and devotion to service resulted in contributions far beyond that expected of 200 women.
The five Power Sisters were all teachers in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In their twenties at the time of the battle, they were among the 2400 residents of the town who cared for the 24000 wounded in the battle. They set up hospitals in two homes and cared for as many as 28 soldiers in the emergency following the battle
The only woman to receive the Congressional medal of honor during the Civil War, Mary began her service as a nurse with the Army of the Potomac. In 1863 she transferred to the armies in the west, where, on one occasion she performed the duties of an assistant surgeon when none were available. Due to her gender, she was not eligible, a situation she remedied by writing to President Lincoln who saw to it that she received her salary.
Called “Mother” by the soldiers, Mary served the wounded soldiers in the Western Theatre of the War. She searched battlefields with a lantern at night to locate wounded soldiers, washed clothes, brewed coffee, and did anything else that would make the soldiers’ lives easier. She was the only woman William Tecumseh Sherman would allow in his camps.
Nicknamed “Dragon Dix” for her strict rules, Dorothea served as Superintendent of Union Nurses for four years without pay. Turning away any volunteers she felt were seeking romantic adventures, she wanted only plain women - no curls, hoops, jewelry, bows or bright colored clothing. Not only did she oversee nurses, she also worked to see that hospital conditions and care of the wounded were greatly improved.
Women in the North and South were called upon during the war to fill in for the men who went off to war. This meant running farms and plantations, supporting families and working in factories. Women became the producers of food, textiles and weapons, and entered the previously male dominated professions of government workers and teachers. In most cases, they were paid lower wages than their male colleagues
Neither the Confederacy nor the Union recruited female units. Many women who tried to fight were quickly discovered and sent home. An estimated 400, however successfully disguised themselves and saw action. Both sides willingly employed female spies.
Famous for her work conducting slaves to freedom, Harriet Tubman organized a a group of former slaves to hunt for Rebel camps and report Confederate troop movements to the Union army. In addition, she worked as a nurse, cook and laundress for Union troops. Later in her life the US government paid her a pension for her services.
Sarah began masquerading as a man years before the war began. In 1861 she enlisted in an infantry unit as a male nurse, went through basic training, saw action and served as a spy as well as a nurse. He true identity was never discovered by her comrades. After the war she married, gave birth to three children and adopted two. In 1880, her fellow soldiers learned of her identity when she asked for their aid in getting a pension
Few details are known of Francis Clalin’s service, except that she served in the Union Calvary. She is pictured here in her uniform and in women’s dress.
Jennie fought in the war under the name Albert Cahier. She served in the 95th Illionois Volunteer infantry for four years, and continued her disguise for many years. Only in 1911 was here true identity discovered after he/she was involved in an automobile accident. At first the pension board reviewed her pension claim (already paid since 1899) for fraud, but her service was verified and she collected the pension until her death in 1915.
Known as “Crazy Bet” by her neighbors, Elizabeth a northern born resident of Richmond used her eccentric reputation to cover here espionage activities. She created a a network of agents to carry information to the Union army, including Elizabeth Bowser, a former slave who worked in the Confederate White House. Her messages, written in invisible ink and carried in hollowed out shoe heels were invaluable as the Union planned the capture of Richmond.
Many Southern women did unofficial
spy work by smuggling badly needed supplies across lines to the Rebel army, counting on the gallant nature of guards not to search among their petticoats. One woman was arrested wearing a voluminous (50 yards) petticoat that was destined to become an observation balloon.
With her hair cropped short and a false mustacher, Loreta disguised herself and recruited a batallion. Known as Harry Buford, she saw action at a number of battles and was temporary commander of a company after all other officers disappeared at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in Virginia.
Perhaps the most famous female spy of the war was the Confederate, Belle Boyd. She wrote her messages in longhand and signed them, resulting in her arrest on several occasions. Thanks to her personally delivered information, Stonewall Jackson won one of his most famous victories at Front Royal, VA. She fell in love with and married a Union soldier (her prison guard, who was arrested and imprisoned for treason. Although he was released, his health was ruined and Belle was a widow at21.
Rose Greenhow lived and worked for the Confederates in Washington, D.C. He reports helped the South win its important victory at the First Battle of Bull Run. Soon after Greenhow was arrested and held in prison for one year before being sent to the South. In 1864 she traveled to Europe to collect money for the Confederacy, and drowned running the blockade as a result of of the weight of gold sewn into her clothes.
As an officer in a band of guerilla fighters, Monday saw considerable action. Known as Lieutenant Flowers she wore a full Confederate uniform and led the soldiers in Kentucky where they harassed federal outposts and loyal citizens plundering riches for the Confederate cause. Her special talent was to “relieve” captives of any jewelry they were carrying. Her position was not recognized by the Confederate government.
Well acquainted with her home area of western Virginia, Hart was able to offer much information about Union troop movements to Stonewall Jackson. She even led his cavalry on several raids against Union posts. Once imprisoned, she escaped by grabbing a gun from one of her guards and shooting him dead.