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Women during the Civil War. On and Off the Battlefield. Majority of the women at the beginning of the Civil War were considered frail, genteel ladies.  Those who never let the touch of the

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women during the civil war

Women during the Civil War

On and Off the Battlefield


Majority of the women at the beginning of the Civil War

were considered

frail, genteel ladies.  Those who never let the touch of the

sun spoil their fair complexion. Imagine the movie “Gone with the Wind” and what the ladies looked like – dress, hair, manner.

  • Most of the women at the time of the Civil War did try to remain fair and pure, untainted by the war.  As time passed however, more and more women found themselves placed far from the domesticity that had enveloped their lives.  Who was going to run the plantations and factories while their men were at war?  Who was going to become the family breadwinner during this crisis? Who would fulfill the role of nurses, reporters and lawyers while the men were away?

Have you ever wondered what women did during the Civil War and how their lives changed? Wives, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers impacted the War both at home and on the battlefield. Their lives changed in many ways with the onset of the Civil War. In what ways did they change?

Your job is to become an expert on the changes the women experienced in their lives during the Civil War


Women were forced into accepting outside employment

so that their families wouldn't go hungry.  But women

who worked in any capacity, whether they managed or work

on a plantation, be a nurse, reporter, doctor, lawyer,

teacher, factory worker, or who voiced any strong

opinion of advocacy was declared not virtuous, not

genteel, not pure and was open to much unkind



Imagine then, the women, especially the unmarried women,

who laundered, cooked, nursed at the war's front or became

involved in espionage activity.  Their motives were put

under the deepest of scrutiny.  If a woman went the

next step, disguised herself as a man, and went to fight

in the war, she was accused of being insane or to have

other reasons for being close to the men, sometimes her

family would even disown her.

Information about these unique women is extremely scarce.


approximately 500 - 1000 women soldiers who fought,

disguised as men, on both sides during the

American Civil War


A woman enlisting in either army disguised herself as

a man by cutting her hair short, wearing men's clothing,

binding her chest, and taking a man's name.  She did her

best to act like a man so as not to draw attention to herself

or her sex.  Those who were successful in their disguise

and died in combat were known only by their male

identity.  Most of their real names are lost to history.


Imagine you live in the 1860's.  You are most probably a housewife,

whose world circles around your husband and your children.

  Now imaging being separated from the person that your world

is built around.  Many of the women who enlisted did so from a

desire to be with husbands or fiancés.  For some, enlistment was a

way to gather some adventure or romance in a world that was

mostly ordered by the males in her family.

  Others enlisted

due to patriotism and still others from particular obsessions.  This

is illustrated in the case of "Emily" from Brooklyn, whose family

saw her desire to enlist as being mentally unsound and who, they

say, had the idea that she was a second Joan of Arc. She was fatally wounded

on the second day of the battle of Chickamauga where her sex was revealed.


less worthy reason for women to disguise themselves was so

that they could be closer to the military camps and promote

their "trade".  This adds the difficulty of separating these

"trades women" from the woman actually serving as a soldier.

  An added difficulty is that if a female soldier's sex was

discovered it is likely that the commanding officer would

deny any knowledge of her and she would be labeled a prostitute or

would be escorted out of camp. 

All the women who for whatever reason disguised themselves

fought hard and well,

giving their last full measure

to their chosen cause. 

jennie hodgers a k a albert cashier
Jennie Hodgers,a.k.a. Albert Cashier

Albert Cashier, born Irene Hodgers in Ireland, spent

the entire war in the guise of a man, and continued in

that disguise almost until her dying day in 1915.

sarah emma edmonds a k a franklin thompson
Sarah Emma Edmondsa.k.a. Franklin Thompson

Disguised as Franklin Thompson, a bible salesman, Sarah Emma

Edmonds entered the United States from Canada to avoid an

arranged marriage.  She failed the first attempt at a physical due

to a height requirement, but managed to pass the second physical

and enlisted in Co. F, 2nd. Michigan Infantry on May 14, 1861

at the age of 20.  This soldier started out as a field nurse serving at

First Manassas (Bull Run) and the Seven

Days Campaign.  She served as an

accomplished spy and buried another

female soldier at Antietam.  The regiment

was moved to Kentucky early in 1863,

where Thompson came down with

malaria.  Fearing discovery she deserted

on April 22. 

madam loreta velazquez
Madam Loreta Velazquez

Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford,

Confederate States Army

Cuban woman fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy as

the cross-dressing Harry T. Buford. As Buford, she organized

an Arkansas regiment; participated in the historic battles of

Bull Run, Balls Bluff, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh

dr mary edwards walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

early suffragette,one of the earliest women physicians,a champion for more comfortableclothing for women and a pioneer for women in many areas thatwe take for granted today.Her medal was rescinded, then subsequently restoredby President Carter.


At the start of the war, Mrs. Hopkins sold her

estates in New York, Virginia and Alabama

and gave the proceeds to the Confederate

government to establish hospitals for

Confederate soldiers. She then went to

Richmond to serve as chief matron of the

hospital corps for Alabama. Mrs. Hopkins

was even shot twice while attending to the

wounded on the battlefield. Called the

Florence Nightingale of the South, her

picture appeared on Confederate currency

from Alabama.


The most famous of all nurses was Clara Barton. She went on and

formed the Red Cross which is still in existence today.

annie etheridge courageous nurse
Annie Etheridge Courageous Nurse

known for her courage in giving medical help to the wounded on the battlefield

as a part of the Michigan Volunteers, serving the regiment as a nurse. She was

an expert horsewoman and at the start of the war she filled her saddle bags

with lint and bandages and often rode through battles caring for the wounded.

rose o neal greenhow
Rose O'Neal Greenhow

By the outbreak of the war, neither the Union nor the

Confederacy had established a full-scale espionage system

or a military intelligence network.

embryonic spy ring out of Washington, D.C., set up late

in 1860 or early in 1861

She produced intelligence of great value to the Confederacy.

Much of it reportedly came from an infatuated Suitor, Henry

Wilson of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Military

Affairs Committee. Through a ring of couriers that included

a woman named Bettie Duval, Greenhow smuggled information

about the southward-marching army under Brig. Gen. Irvin

McDowell to Confederate troops in the vicinity of Virginias

Manassas Junction. There it was received by Colonel Jordan,

now chief of staff to the local commander, Gen. P.G.T.

Beauregard. The intelligence helped turn First Bull Run into a

Confederate victory.

pauline cushman
Pauline Cushman

"Major" Pauline Cushman claimed Confederate sympathy yetshe actually spied for the Union,often as an actress.Her many adventures were capitalized upon by P.T. Barnum who advised her tours.

ginnie and lottie moon
Ginnie and Lottie Moon

two sisters who cleverly and brazenly spied for the

Confederates during the Civil War - and got away with it.

One disguised herself as an old woman and passed

through enemy lines with no trouble and the other

passed through by claiming she was going to see

her boyfriend (beau)

The Moon sisters adventures for their beloved Confederacy

led them into danger and eventually brought down

- and they were quite successful as spies.

Proving once more that in every conflict - women were there!

emmeline piggott
Emmeline Piggott

became North Carolina's most famous spy and smuggler.

She is said to have carried dispatches in the large pockets

under her full skirts.

She avoided capture many times but was finally caught,

arrested and imprisoned. She was eventually released

and sent home.


Elizabeth Van Lew

Union spy who made notable contributions throughout the war

Resident of the Confederate capital of Richmond. "Crazy Bett," as the

eccentric Unionist was known to her neighbors, ran the

largest and most successful spy ring concentrated in any city.

Her team of operatives included a freed slave whom she placed

as a servant in the Confederate White House to eavesdrop on

Pres. Jefferson Davis and his visitors.

elizabeth c howland
Elizabeth C. Howland

Elizabeth C. Howland, trained in medicine by her

father, was highly successful as a Confederate spy.

She often sent her young son and daughter to carry

dispatches. Appearing innocent, the children were

allowed to pass through enemy lines undisturbed

susie baker later king taylor
Susie Baker, later King Taylor

Born a slave in 1848 in Georgia. She learned to read

and write while living with her grandmother.

Susie gained her freedom in 1862 as contraband

of war and was appointed laundress of the

33rd U.S. Colored Troops.

At the age of 14 she taught the soldiers in her

husband's regiment to read and write and did

their laundry. In January 1863, Susie King began

to nurse the wounded men who returned to camp

from a raid up the St. Mary's River. Susie also

learned to clean, load and fire a musket


In the South, army signalers were

expected to be proficient not only

with flag and torch, but with the

key and sounder

dot code was developed in the 1860s, he said, because of difficulty

between the Army Signal Corps and the semi-private US Military

Telegraph Service. Executives of the Northern telegraph companies

were afraid the military would take over their lines, Mathers

explained. "Everything of importance was sent in cipher. Union

generals weren't shown the secret codes. Even Lincoln was out

of the loop."


Uncle Tom's Cabin is probably the most

influential work of fiction in American

history. This Christian epic turned

millions of Americans against slavery,

bringing the "peculiar institution"

closer to its destruction.

Harriet Beecher Stowe :

Three Novels : Uncle Tom's Cabin Or, Life Among the Lowly; The Minister's Wooing;

Oldtown Folks


Confederate women:

Forced to finally face reality and change

their lifestyle

from Lizzie Neblett, a housewife

facing a life of physical labor for

the first time,

to Sallie Tompkins, a Virginia

aristocrat turned military nurse,

to Belle Boyd, a ruthless teenaged spy.

Their lives changed overnight and they

found themselves head of the family responsible for the entire family and/or



One black woman started life as a slave, then managed to buy her freedom, and later set up a successful living as a seamstress, eventually going to work for Mary Todd Lincoln in the White House

Women not only had to tend to the family and the land but

take on other issues as well. Slave and class relations,

regional politics, lynchings, farm management, medical

practices, mental illness to name a few.


During the Civil War, one of the tasks which

Southern women took up for the Cause was to

sew uniforms for soldiers

Southern women organized

within their communities

to support the war effort and

care for sick and wounded


many other activities women undertook,

from going "daily to the Hospitals..."

to "offer(ing) to write letters to the

dear ones at home."


…..contribution of chickens to feed the soldiers. She explains that

at the depository in Lynchburg, soldiers "use an average

of five dollars worth of chickens daily." In addition to

chickens, vegetables to pickle were also in high demand since

"the soldiers are particularly fond of it."


….occupied with caring for sick and wounded Confederate soldiers in hospitals set up on the Lawn at the University of Virginia.

In a letter to her brother Eugene at camp, she describes the

horrors of a Confederate hospital. "Most of our immediate

neighbours are getting on well but just across the lawn there

are some of the worst cases & the sight & sounds we have

to encounter daily are most distressing. I am mightily afraid

we shall have some sort of infectious fever here for it is impossible

to keep the place clean & there is a bad smell everywhere.“

Despite the conditions, she writes, "(t)hey say though that the

patients are much more comfortable at this hospital than anywhere

else. I should think the hospitals must be very uncomfortable indeed."


Confederate States of America. Congress. Senate. A bill to

regulate the pay and allowances of certain female employees

of the government. Richmond, January 5, 1865.This measure

established equitable wages and other compensations

(including firewood and additional rations) for women employed

in hospitals, and in the Quartermaster's Department

and the Ordnance Department.


Daily Richmond Examiner, March 14, 1864:

"City Intelligence--Terrible Laboratory Explosion Brown's Island--Between Forty and Fifty Persons Killed and Wounded--Horrible Scene." Throughout the war, women made the ultimate sacrifice for Confederate patriotism. This incident illustrates the dangers of their wartime industrial employment. The explosion occurred on March 13, 1863, killing thirty-five women and injuring thirty-one. The explosion horribly burned many victims beyond recognition.


As the war progressed and conditions in the South worsened, it became increasingly difficult for families to keep their daughters in school. In this 1863 letter from Fannie Booth of Danville Female College, to her grandmother, she mentions that "several girls have left on account of the high board." However, the cost of education did not diminish its value in Fannie's eyes. "I value an education higher than property, therefore I will remain at school as long as Brother Edwin thinks we can afford it."


a favorite of Confederate soldiers;

after the war many Southern

women were named "Lorena”

"Lorena," Macon, Georgia:

John C. Schreiner & Son: 186?,

sheet music. "Lorena" was an

antebellum song with Northern origins.


"Pray, Maiden, Pray," Richmond, Virginia: George Dunn & Co.: 1864, sheet music. This ballad, "respectfully dedicated to the patriotic women of the South," suggests the prayers of Confederate women could bring victory to the cause of Southern Independence: "Maiden, pray that yon trumpet blast/And rocket's signal light/But summon squadrons thick and fast!/To win in our victorious fight/For Home, for Freedom and the Right/Pray, maiden, pray!"


Approximately 258,000 Confederates died

from bullets or disease.

We can never know the

number of women who died of broken hearts.


As much as possible Confederate women tried to live normal lives despite shortages of specific foods and goods.

The fact that the war took so many men from home was particularly worrisome to women left on the plantations and in towns, as Mrs. Roberts describes in this March, 1862 letter. "(S)hould the darkies trouble I assure you we would be in a bad way are (sic) men are thinned out so." However, hard times did bring about ingenuity. Mrs. Roberts describes her innovation of using rye as a substitute for coffee, which was in short supply due to the blockade


Henry County, Virginia resident complains to her

sister about hard times and high prices, August 23, 1862

"Times are very hard here every thing is scarce and high . . .

corn is selling for ten dollars,

bacon 45 cents per pound, brandy is selling

about here from 4 to 5 dollars per gallon,

in Danville it sells for eight dollars.

We cannot get a yard of calico for less than

one dollar we cannot get a pound of

copperas [a sulfate used in making ink] for less

than a dollar and 25 cents."


Southern women were determined to protect

themselves against the "ultimate outrage" (rape)

-63-year-old Lucy Johnston Ambler confided in her diary:

"I intend to get Mr. Downs to show me how to shoot

tomorrow and how to load."

….gloating March 6, 1863 letter from a Baltimore brother-in-law describing the good life in the North, latest fashions, parties and balls, museums, and churches. He offers to send her ribbons of any color she wants and urges her to "Come down and see for yourself."


January, 1865 letter from one sister in rural

Virginia to another explains the toll the war

had taken on the social interactions and

social life of Southerners. "You can tell what

ladies we have been all this year. I have nothing

to do but sit in the house & sew all day."


The federal government preferred to expel Confederate women suspected of disloyalty

As Union forces made their way across the South, many women were forced to flee from their homes, moving from one Confederate state to another just ahead of advancing armies.


…pass signed by Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon,

January 23, 1865: allows this lady to cross enemy lines to visit


Confederate soldiers and civilians,

including women, were required to

take oaths of allegiance after the

war and formally apply for pardons

if they wished to obtain federal

assistance, return of captured

property (excepting slaves)

or restoration of their civil rights


After the war, Southern women remained

loyal to the Confederacy. An 1866 invitation

to a benefit supper to raise funds for a

Confederate cemetery, this Ladies' Memorial

Association of Charlottesville describes its mission as

"to embrace the sisterhood of those who once

called the Confederate cause their own”


Your Task:

  • Now that you have become familiar with the lives of women
  • during the Civil War, it is your task to publish the employment section
  • of a magazine. This magazine will become a
  • permanent part of an exhibit at the Museum of Texas.
  • You must include two (2) of the following job descriptions in your employment section.
  • Each job description needs to be a half page and include an illustration to support the job description.
    • Nurse
    • Spy
    • Soldier
    • Slave owner
    • 5. Any other vocation or position you want to include
    • (be creative!!)