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The Civil War: A Man’s War? Recently modern scholars are starting to accept women in active roles during the war and are trying to understand their lives and their contributions. Most often the Civil War is looked upon as a man’s war, but thousands of women also took part in the war. Rarely have these women been studied in depth. If they have been studied, they have been separated into Women’s History and not included in the overall study of the Civil War. Why then should women who soldiered and spied be studied more? Women should not be necessarily studied in place of men, but along side of them in Civil War history. They should not be shoved aside as merely observers, but viewed as participants in the war.
The Numbers: Thousands of women served in the Civil War. Some Historians say the true number will never be known. Most have never been discovered. Many were buried without their sex being revealed.
Why Did they Serve? They fought for their cause, love of country, and to stay close to loved ones. They fought for both the Union & Confederacy Armies. Most served at least 2 years or more with the same unit.
Who Were they? Mary Owens aka John Owens joined the 9 th Pennsylvania Calvary Mary Corbin served in the 89 th Ohio Annie Clarke aka Richard Anderson served in the 11 th Tennessee Lucy Matilda Thompson aka Bill Thompson was in the 18 th North Carolina There are hundreds of examples.
How Did Male Soldiers Feel About It? Many people were against women serving in the Civil War. It was even against military regulation for women to serve as soldiers. During the Civil War, men in the ranks rarely tolerated women that were found to be serving with them. The only ones that accepted women in the ranks were the husbands, sweethearts, and brothers of women that followed them to war. Those men wanted the women with them and kept their secret. Even after the war, the armies denied that women served at all. They did not want to acknowledge that women had served alongside men in the war.
Stereotype: During the war and up until about the 1990s, women soldiers and spies were reduced in history to camp followers and prostitutes. In Bell Irvin Wiley’s 1952 classic, The Life of Billy Yank, he refers to women soldiers as “Union Amazons” and “freaks and distinct types” who were “however interesting, comprised only a minority of the rank and file.” -Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 339. Example: Malinda Blalock during the war was written about by fellow soldiers in a positive light. After the war her character was attacked because she served.
Stereotype: In 1966, Mary Elizabeth Massey in her book, Women in the Civil War, wrote, “There is no question that many and probably most of the women soldiers were prostitutes or concubines.” -Mary Elizabeth Massey, Women in the Civil War. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 84. Undoubtedly there were women who were camp followers and prostitutes in Civil War army camps. But not all women who entered the camp were morally challenged. Perhaps the biggest reason that this stereotype still exists is that there is not much documentation of women soldiers and spies.
Were They Any Good? Lauren Cook Burgess in “‘Typical’ Soldier May Have Been Red-Blooded American Woman” stated: “At least six reported to have served as commissioned officers, the highest rank attained being major (one Union, one Confederate). Noncoms included a woman who served briefly as a sergeant in the 126 th Pennsylvania, an orderly sergeant in Gen. Rosecran’s command and a corporal who startled unsuspecting comrades in the 10 th Massachusetts when she had a baby while in winter camp at Falmouth, Va.” Lauren Cook Burgess, “‘Typical’ Soldier May Have Been Red- Blooded American Woman,” The Washington Times (5 October 1991) sec. B2, p. B3.
Where Did They Serve? Research shows that women soldiers were at many important battles. At least two Union women fought at the Battle of Lookout Mountain. Among numerous other battles, women soldiers were at Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam, Petersburg, Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
How Many Were Killed? There is no way to tell how many. Many women kept the secret of others who were killed. If they found a woman that had been killed on the battlefield, they would silently bury her and not tell a soul. Some women watched their reasons for joining the war, their husbands, boyfriends, and brothers, fall right before their eyes. Annie Clarke of the 11 th Tennessee watched as her husband was killed at Shiloh. She was wounded, but managed to bury her husband on the battlefield with her own hands.