Women in the Civil War. Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Most women worked as nurses, cooks, laundresses and clerks. A woman’s main job was to look after the house while their husband was away fighting.
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Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Most women worked as nurses, cooks, laundresses and clerks. A woman’s main job was to look after the house while their husband was away fighting.
Other women also fought in battle. They disguised themselves as men and fought along with the other male soldiers. Some women also worked as spies.
Sarah Emma Edmonds
Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised herself as Frank Thompson, a male bookseller. She enlisted in the Union Army and participated in the Battle of Blackburn’s Ford, First Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Sarah also worked as a spy, disguising herself as a black man and an Irish immigrant. After fighting in the war, Sarah worked as a nurse.
Pauline Cushman was a struggling actress in New York at the beginning of the Civil War. She was accused of being a southern sympathizer and was kicked out of the theater. Pauline enlisted in the army and worked as a spy. She used her looks to get the Confederate army to tell her information. While visiting the camp of Braxton Briggs, she found his secret papers and gave them to the Union. She was caught by the South with secret papers and was sentenced to hang. Pauline was rescued when the Yankees captured the town her jail was in. President Lincoln awarded her with an honorary medal for her findings as a spy. After the war, Pauline toured around the country in uniform, giving speeches.
Elizabeth Van Lew
Elizabeth Van Lew worked as a spy for the Union army. She also spent most of her time caring for soldiers and prisoners of war. She provided northern prisoners of war with bribe money for their freedom, hid escaped northern prisoners of war, and bringing food and books to soldiers. She spent her entire inheritance buying and freeing slaves from the South. Elizabeth found information from the Confederacy and sent it back to Union generals. She was never arrested for her spying. After the war, Elizabeth was appointed postmistress of Richmond. She was shunned by her neighbors for her open support of the Union and the North.
Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker worked as a nurse during the war. She wore men’s trousers under her skirt, wore a man’s uniform and carried two pistols. In 1863, she was summoned as chief surgeon of a regiment in Oregon. She was taken as a prisoner of war in 1864, but was traded for a southern soldier. Later in 1854, she was contracted as assisting surgeon with the Ohio 52nd infantry. Mary was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1965, but had her award repealed in 1917. She refused to return the award, and the medal was finally reinstated in 1975. The reasons for the withdrawal of the medal are still unclear.
Mary Elizabeth Bowser
Mary Elizabeth Bowser was born a slave in Richmond, Virginia. She was given a position in Jefferson Davis’ household as a slave. Using her photographic memory, Mary memorized battle plans and papers and reported them to the North. Davis and his comrades thought Mary was illiterate and openly talked about their battle strategies in front of her. She also helped Elizabeth Van Lew in her spying plans. She was never caught for her spying.
Francis Clalin fought as a soldier in the Battle of Fort Donelson, and the Battle of Stones River. She enlisted in the Union army to be with her husband under the name of Jack Williams. Frances’ husband died in the Battle of Stones River, and she was wounded as well. She was discharged from the army after her gender was revealed by a surgeon. When her train home was attacked by Confederate soldiers, she decided to re-enlist in the Union army. She better disguised herself as a man and learned new skills. She was reported to be a good horseman and swordsman.
Sally Louisa Tompkins
Captain Sally Louisa Tompkins ran Robertson hospital in Richmond for soldiers. Sally’s hospital achieved the most patient outcomes, with only 73 soldiers dying there. Only the most severely wounded soldiers were sent to Robertson Hospital, and most survived. Sally ran the hospital, made all medical decisions, purchased all medical supplies, acted as a nurse, and kept hospital records. Jefferson Davis commissioned her as an unassigned captain to keep her hospital running. She is the only woman to receive an officer’s commission in the Confederate Army.
Loreta Janeta Velazquez
Loreta Janeta Velazquez was a Cuban-born soldier in the Confederate army. She enlisted in 1861, without the knowledge of her husband. She fought in the battles of Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff, and Fort Donelson. While she was in New Orleans, her gender was revealed. She was discharged from the army. She re-enlisted and fought in the battle of Shiloh, under the name Colonel Harry T. Buford. She raised a Cavalry Company and acted as a special agent and counterspy.
Amy Clarke disguised herself as Richard Anderson and enlisted in the Confederate army to be with her husband. Her husband died during the Battle of Shiloh, and Amy requested to be moved into the Infantry. She was taken prisoner in the Battle of Richmond, where her gender was revealed. After promising never to dress as a man again, she was released and discharged as part of a prisoner exchange.
Women in the Confederate Army:
Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a fervent secessionist and a renowned spy. She used her charms and looks to gather information from northern generals and sent them to Confederate officials. Jefferson Davis credited Rose with winning the battle of Manasses for her spying. She sent a message to General Pierre GT Beauregard, causing him to win the Battle of Bull Run. She was imprisoned twice, once in her own home and another time in the Old Capitol Prison. While she was in prison, Rose still managed to send secret messages. After being released from prison, she was exiled to the South. She acted as an unofficial Confederate emissary to England and France. Rose died in 1864 with military honors.
Belle Boyd was a spy for the Confederate Army. She operated her spying missions from her father’s hotel in the Shenandoah Valley. She also organized parties to visit Confederate troops. After a killing a Union soldier for pushing her mother, Belle became a courier for Confederate generals. She provided information for General Turner Ashby and “Stonewall” Jackson. “Stonewall” Jackson made her an honorary aide-de-camp on his staff, and made her a captain. She was arrested and imprisoned twice for betrayal. When she was released from prison the second time, she was sent to Europe. She married a ship captain in England and died upon her return to the United States.
Antonia Ford worked as a spy. She passed information from Union forces to General Stuart and Colonel John S. Mosby. She also worked as a courier for Rose O’Neal Greenhow. Antonia was rewarded the honor of aide-de-camp by General Stuart. She reported about the conversations she heard from the Union generals quartering in her house. She was arrested twice, first for spying and assisting a kidnapping. After being released a second time, Antonia married the Union soldier who arrested her, and swore an oath to the Union.
Sarah Emma Edmonds:
Elizabeth Van Lew:
Mary Edwards Walker:
Mary Elizabeth Bowser:
Sally Louisa Tompkins:
Loreta Janeta Velazquez:
Rose O’Neal Greenhow: