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
On and Off the Battlefield
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.
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
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
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.
disguised as men, on both sides during the
American Civil War
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
formed the Red Cross which is still in existence today.
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.
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
"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.
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!
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.
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, 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
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."
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;
Forced to finally face reality and change
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.
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."
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.
"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."
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!"
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
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."
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."
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.
January 23, 1865: allows this lady to cross enemy lines to visit
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
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”