Monday, July 22, 2013
Women in Uniform: The Female Soldier
Woman Soldiers in the American Civil WarIntroduction by The Civil War Society's Encyclopedia of the Civil War
In the last few years, historians have become more and more aware of what was previously thought to be a limited phenomenon in the Civil War: the incidence of women disguising themselves as men and enlisting in the army, for any number of reasons.
There were numerous women openly serving with the armies on both sides, but recognized as female; the Union forces, more so than the Confederates, had in their ranks vivandieres, women who marched alongside the men, often going into battle with them, to provide medical assistance, carry water and ammunition down the line, and to carry messages between troops and their commanders. In addition, women such as Captain Sally Tompkins, who ran a hospital in Richmond for the Confederacy and was rewarded with a salaried rank in the Southern army, and Bridget Divers, who served openly in her husband's company of the First Michigan Cavalry, were tireless fighters in their own ways for the aims of their nations and flags.
But as time goes by, more stories are coming to the surface of women who left home disguised as men and passed through the haphazard enlistment process without being detected for what they really were. With few exceptions, these women served gallantly for all or part of the war; some of them, revealed to be women when they fell ill or were wounded, were either honorably discharged or summarily dismissed, depending on the mood of whatever general caught them or had to deal with them. Some of them even drew veterans' pensions in the years following the war.
Their reasons for serving were as different and varied as the women themselves. Sarah Emma Edmonds, a young Canadian girl, ran away from home to avoid an arranged marriage; she impersonated a male bookseller in the United States for a time, then enlisted in the Union army as Frank Thompson. She served with the Second Michigan Infantry until a bout of malaria made her fear she would be caught in her masquerade; she deserted, but was legally cleared of that desertion long after she had been married and had become a mother. See also Women in Uniform: The Female Soldier.