Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers of the Civil War therefore assumed masculine names, disguised themselves as men, and hid the fact they were female. Because they passed as men, it is impossible to know with any certainty how many women soldiers served in the Civil War. Estimates place as many as 250 women in the ranks of the Confederate army.
Mary Owens, discovered to be a woman after she was wounded in the arm, returned to her Pennsylvania home to a warm reception and press coverage. She had served for eighteen months under the alias John Evans.
The obituary of Satronia Smith Hunt merely stated she enlisted in an Iowa regiment with her first husband. He died of battle wounds, but she apparently emerged from the war unscathed.
An 1896 story about Mary Stevens Jenkins, who died in 1881, tells an equally brief tale. She enlisted in a Pennsylvania regiment when still a schoolgirl, remained in the army two years, received several wounds, and was discharged without anyone ever realizing she was female.
The Union CMSR for John Williams of the Seventeenth Missouri Infantry, Company H, shows that the nineteen-year-old soldier enlisted as a private on October 3, 1861, in St. Louis and was mustered into the regiment on the seventh. Later that month, Williams was discharged on the grounds: "proved to be a woman. The Confederate CMSR for Mrs. S. M. Blaylock, Twenty-sixth North Carolina Infantry, Company F, states:
This lady dressed in men's clothes, Volunteered [sic], received bounty and for two weeks did all the duties of a soldier before she was found out, but her husband being discharged, she disclosed the fact, returned the bounty, and was immediately discharged April 20, 1862.
Another woman documented in the records held by the AGO was Mary Scaberry, alias Charles Freeman, Fifty-second Ohio Infantry. Scaberry enlisted as a private in the summer of 1862 at the age of seventeen. On November 7 she was admitted to the General Hospital in Lebanon, Kentucky, suffering from a serious fever. She was transferred to a hospital in Louisville, and on the tenth, hospital personnel discovered "sexual incompatibility [sic]." In other words, the feverish soldier was female. Like John Williams, Scaberry was discharged from Union service.
For the most part, women were recognized after they had received serious wounds or died. Mary Galloway was wounded in the chest during the Battle of Antietam. Clara Barton, attending to the wound, discovered the gender of the soft-faced "boy" and coaxed her into revealing her true identity and going home after recuperation.
It is likely the Southern woman died participating in Pickett's charge. In 1934, a gravesight found on the outskirts of Shiloh National Military Park revealed the bones of nine Union soldiers. Further investigation indicated that one of the skeletons, with a minieball by the remains, was female. The identities of these two dead women are lost to posterity.
Some soldiers were revealed as women after getting captured.
Frances Hook is a good example. She and her brother, orphans, enlisted together early in the war. She was twenty-two years old, of medium build, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair. Even though her brother was killed in action at Pittsburgh Landing, Hook continued service, probably in an Illinois infantry regiment, under the alias Frank Miller. In early 1864, Confederates captured her near Florence, Alabama; she was shot in the thigh during a battle and left behind with other wounded, who were also captured. While imprisoned in Atlanta, her captors realized her gender. After her exchange at Graysville, Georgia, on February 17, 1864, she was cared for in Union hospitals in Tennessee, then discharged and sent North in June. Having no one to return to, she may have reenlisted in another guise and served the rest of the war. Frances Hook later married,
Other prisoners of war included Madame Collier. Collier was a federal soldier from East Tennessee who enjoyed army life until her capture and subsequent imprisonment at Belle Isle, Virginia. She decided to make the most of the difficult situation and continued concealing her gender, hoping for exchange. Another prisoner learned her secret and reported it to Confederate authorities, who sent her North under a flag of truce. Before leaving, Collier indicated that another woman remained incarcerated on the island.
On the Confederate side, Lucy Ann Cox initially was a vivandiere and inevitably a nurse in the 13th Virginia Infantry, traveling with her husband in Company A for most of the war. She marched with the soldiers, including the grueling campaigns of Lee's two invasions of the North, and cared for wounded soldiers during combat. When she died after the war, she was buried with military honors.
The records of Catholic orders include reports of female soldiers discovered in hospitals. One chronicler of Catholic orders reports that Catholic sisters were especially given two unusual duties: acting as peacemakers between quarreling soldiers, and attending to female soldiers who often were first discovered when wounded or sick.
In hospitals where there were sisters, such cases were assigned to them and several different communities of sisters noted their care of such women.
Margaret Hamilton, a Catholic sister from New York State, reported that while serving at the U.S. Military Hospital in Philadelphia--
"We received a large number of wounded after the battle of the Wilderness [May 5-7, 1864], and among them was a young woman not more than twenty years of age. She ranked as lieutenant. She was wounded in the shoulder, and her sex was not discovered until she came to our hospital. It appeared that she had followed her lover to the battle; and the boys who were brought in with her said that no one in the company showed more bravery than she. She was discharged very soon after entering the ward."
Other nurses also discovered female soldiers among their patients. Clara Barton, whose fame spread across the country and around the world, was caring for wounded soldiers during the battle of Antietam in 1862. While giving one soldier a drink of water, a bullet tore through her sleeve and killed him. Later Barton observed that another soldier's face appeared to be "too soft," and she became suspicious when the soldier was hesitant to have his chest wound treated.
The soldier turned out to be a woman named Mary Galloway who had enlisted to be with her husband. "She [Barton] shepherded and shielded the girl, and subsequently located her lover in a Washington hospital." Later Barton reported that the couple had named a daughter after her.
Women were represented in all three main branches of the army (infantry, cavalry, and artillery), a surprising number of them advancing through the ranks to become sergeants, and in some cases officers, until wounded, killed, or being found out through some other extreme circumstance.
Malinda Blalock (a.k.a. Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock) enlisted in Co. F of the 26th North Carolina Infantry, posing as her husband's brother "Samuel." Her husband was William McKesson ("Keith") Blalock. Residents of a western North Carolina mountain region with strongly divided sentiments about secession and the Confederate cause. As a professed "Lincolnite," Keith often was pitted against friends and relatives.
Although a professed "Lincolnite," Keith was forced by community pressures into enlisting for the Confederacy. Malinda's sentiments originally were pro-South, but out of loyalty to her husband she planned to desert with him at the first opportunity, Somehow the circumstances never quite developed that would allow them to carry out their plan.
Keith and "Sam" fought together in three battles garbed in Confederate gray, until in March 1862 Malinda was wounded in the shoulder. Keith carried her to the surgeon's tent, and in process of removing the bullet the surgeon discovered that "Sam" was a woman. Keith pleaded with the surgeon not to expose her, but the surgeon agreed only to give Keith a short time to work out his next course of action.
Distraught about the probability of being separated from Malinda, Keith deliberately rubbed poison oak all over himself. By next morning his skin was blistered and swollen, and he had a high fever. Fearing that he had small pox, the physician confined him to his tent under guard to avoid a contagion. It was decided to give him an immediate medical discharge on April 20, 1862.
Malinda quickly informed the incredulous Colonel Zebulon Vance (later Governor of North Carolina and a U.S. Senator) that she was a woman. After a surgeon verified her claim, she was discharged on the same day. Keith and Malinda then slowly found their way home to the mountains of western North Carolina to recuperate.
Under constant threat of recall to Confederate service, Keith and Malinda became outlaws and embarked on a campaign as Federal partisans and guerrillas in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina and East Tennessee. They guided Union sympathizers and escaped Union prisoners through the mountains to safety in the North. Toward the end of the war they served as scouts and raiders with the 10th Michigan Cavalry
During the summer of 1864 when a Confederate female artillery soldier was captured, a newspaper that reported her being taken to Grant's headquarters as a prisoner described her as "a coarse featured Amazon...who was in charge of a rebel battery when she was captured, and had on an officer's uniform of the United States." According to Union nurse Anna Holstein, the woman ranked as a sergeant and "was the last to leave the gun" before being captured.
Despite the physical strain involved, a large number of women are known to have served in the cavalry branches of the Union and the Confederate armies. Lizzie Compton reportedly served in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in 1863, and later in the 125th Michigan Cavalry and a number of other regiments. A contemporary report stated that, "Seven or eight times she was discovered and mustered out of service, but immediately re-enlisted in another regiment."
General Philip Sheridan in his memoirs reported an extraordinary incident one day when two female soldiers were accidentally discovered in his command. A cavalry soldier along with a teamster from Tennessee, while on a foraging expedition in Kentucky, got drunk on apple cider, fell in a river, and both were discovered to be female when they were saved and resuscitated. Sheridan personally interviewed them next day and records the incident with some bemusement, referring to them as "she dragoons."
"The East Tennessee woman [the teamster] was found in camp, somewhat the worst for the experiences of the day before, but awaiting her fate contentedly smoking a cob-pipe," he recorded. "[The cavalry soldier] proved to be a rather prepossessing young woman....How the two got acquainted I never learned, and though they had joined the army independently of each other, yet an intimacy had sprung up between them long before the mishaps of the foraging expedition."
More often than dramatic disclosure of this kind, the discovery of women in male disguise was due to happenstance. A young woman was found in Captain Gerard's company of the 66th Indiana Infantry after fooling the soldiers for some time. One day by chance her uncle visited the camp, accidentally met and recognized her. She was immediately discharged.
During the 1861 Kanawha Valley Campaign in West Virginia a young soldier was discovered to be a woman after serving three months in the 1st Kentucky Infantry when she aroused suspicion by the way she pulled on her stockings. A newspaper correspondent covering the campaign reported:
"She performed camp duties with great fortitude, and never fell out of the ranks during the severest marches. She was small in stature, and kept her coat buttoned to her chin."
Two Confederate female casualties (one dead, one seriously wounded) were discovered after the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863. As confirmed in the Army Official Records of the war, the body of an unidentified female Confederate soldier was discovered by a burial detail near the stone wall at the angle on Cemetery Ridge. She had been a participant in Pickett's famous charge.
An author reporting on Pickett's charge at Gettysburg noted, "The fact that her body was found in such an advanced spot is testimony to her bravery. However, except for an unverified story that the woman had enlisted in a Virginia regiment with her husband and was killed carrying the colors during the charge, Hays' notation [in the Official Records] is the extent of acknowledgment she received for having given her life for her country."
Another female Confederate casualty at Gettysburg was reported after the battle by a wounded Union soldier from Michigan, while in hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania. He wrote a letter home saying that there was a female Confederate soldier in hospital with them who had been wounded severely and lost a leg at Gettysburg. He thought this was "romantic" and felt sympathy for her.
After the battle of Atlanta in summer 1864, a soldier's story appeared in a New York newspaper:
"With the rebel dead and wounded who fell into our hands at the battle of Atlanta on the 21st [July] was a handsome young soldier in a neat gray jacket and pants. The soldier's leg was injured and amputation was deemed necessary. The noble youth was placed on the surgical table when lo -- it was a female! So many `tender youths' have been captured by us since the commencement of the campaign that but little attention was given her features.
Among the numerous cases of soldiers whose careers were ended by pregnancy is one reported by Civil War nurse Harriet Whetten. Whetten recorded in her diary on Aug. 21, 1862, that she had discovered a woman among the hospitalized Union soldiers in her care who was pregnant and had to be sent home.
Several of the soldiers whose careers were ended by motherhood were veteran sergeants and even officers. When a female sergeant in the 74th Ohio Infantry gave birth after 20 months in service, Gen. Rosecrans (Apr. 17, 1863) termed it "a flagrant outrage...in violation of all military law and of the army regulations.
A remarkable coincidence came to light after October 20, 1863, following the battle of Philadelphia, Tennessee. Two women serving in different Union cavalry units were captured, and both were taken to Belle Isle prison in the James River near Richmond, Virginia, still in disguise.
One, a soldier named "Tommy" in the 45th Ohio (Mounted) Infantry, became ill in the prison and, when her sex was discovered early in February 1864, she was released. The other, Mary Jane Johnson, had served in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry for about one year. She was discovered to be a woman during her imprisonment at Belle Isle.
At least two Union female soldiers were imprisoned at Andersonville, with hints that others may well have been there.
A Michigan cavalry soldier, John L. Ransom, kept a diary while imprisoned at Andersonville. His diary entry for Dec. 23, 1863, notes "A woman found among us--a prisoner of war....She tells of another female being among us, but as yet she has not been found out."
This was not the only instance when exposed female soldiers told the authorities that they knew of other women in the ranks. Another case in point is the story of two female cousins, Mary and Molly Bell, who fought for the Confederacy as "Tom Parker" and "Bob Martin," respectively. They first enlisted in a cavalry company, were captured by Union forces, then were rescued by John Hunt Morgan's men. Next they enlisted in the 36th Virginia Infantry.
In Fall 1864 while serving in Gen. Jubal Early's command in the Shenandoah Valley, the two were arrested and labelled by Early as suspected "camp followers" after serving for two years in his command. This glib labeling does not exactly do justice to the facts.
A regimental historian of the 36th Virginia reports that while on picket duty, "Martin [Molly Bell] killed three Yankees and was promoted to corporal." At Belle Grove during the battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19, 1864, their captain (in whom they had confided) was captured. When they tried to confide in the lieutenant who took command, he turned them in to Gen. Early who put them on a train to Richmond. There they spent three weeks in Castle Thunder Prison before being sent home to Pulaski County, Virginia, still in their uniforms.
Interviews with their former comrades confirmed that Tom Parker and Bob Morgan had been "valiant soldiers" who had never shirked their duty. During their interview with Gen. Early upon being exposed, Mary and Molly Bell told him that there were at least six other women in his army.
Occasionally post-mortem forensic evidence is accidentally revealed after a long period of time. We now know that an unknown female soldier was killed at Shiloh (Apr. 6-7, 1862) and buried on the battlefield. In 1934, 72 years later, a gardener working on the fringes of the battlefield found some human remains and notified authorities. Nine bodies were exhumed, along with fragments of military uniforms and gear. One was identified as a woman, and with her remains was the minie ball that apparently had killed her.
When some bodies were being removed from a Georgia battle site in 1886 for reinterment in a national cemetery, the remains of Private "Charles Johehouse" of the 6th Missouri Infantry were recognized as those of a woman in uniform. She was in full uniform and had been shot through the head.
Like the story of "Otto Schaffer," a farmer in Butler County, Kansas, who had served in the Civil War and was only discovered at death to be a woman, reports of this type suggest that for every known female soldier there may have been on the order of five to ten that went undiscovered.
William Fitzpatrick enlisted in the 126th Pennsylvania Infantry, but died in a Virginia hospital in 1862. Not until many years later was it discovered that Sgt. Frank Mayne, who deserted after Fitzpatrick died, was really Frances Day who had joined the infantry to be with her boyfriend, Fitzpatrick.
The regimental historian states that Mayne was not heard from again until long afterwards when "...in the far West, a soldier, wounded badly in a great battle, could not conceal her sex, and Frances Day then told how she had followed Fitzpatrick into the army and become herself a soldier and a Sergeant...; of her desertion upon her lover's death, and the abandon and despair which led her to seek again the ranks of the army."
It is interesting to note that except for her "deathbed confession," Day's story would never have been known.
When Marian Green's boyfriend enlisted in the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics regiment in fall of 1861, she saw him off to war in December. Unable to bear being away from him, she arranged with a certain surgeon to enlist in a detachment recruited for the regiment and, in summer 1862, joined the regiment along with many other new recruits. (One suspects this sort of "arrangement" may have happened more than once.)
That fall the boyfriend was taken ill and he was sent to hospital. A couple of days later Green showed up at his bedside, remaining for months to nurse him and other patients. She had kept her sex a secret as a soldier in the regiment, but the boy wrote to her parents informing them of her presence and the parents arranged for her return home. Later when a portion of the regiment returned to Detroit for discharge, Marian met her boyfriend there and they were married
As in the case of Mary and Molly Bell, the officers sometimes knew that one of their soldiers was a woman, but let them continue in service. "Charles H. Williams," a woman whose real name is not known, served three months in Company I of an early Iowa regiment. She was discovered when mustered out with the regiment.
She was described in newspaper reports as having small and rather delicate hands, large and lustrous eyes, and jet black hair. "She was born in Davenport where her mother now resides," the newspaper said. "Capt. Cox learned her sex but allowed her to remain.
A female soldier from Cincinnati, Ohio, who was detected in the ranks by an officer pleaded to stay in service. The officer did not report her and she remained in the ranks. "She looks as brave as any soldier in the division," he reported under a newspaper nom de plume. "I say bully for her, and if I only could get 100 of such I would send a company."
Mrs. Frances Clayton allegedly served in a Minnesota regiment along with her husband. According to contemporary newspaper reports "the better to conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew, and swear with the best, or worst, of the soldiers.
An unknown woman enlisted in Capt. Brand's company of the 107th Pennsylvania Infantry disguised as a man. When discovered, a newspaper reported that "[she] could smoke a cigar, swagger, and take an occasional `horn' with the most perfect sang froid." She returned home and resumed female attire about a month later without explanation, but said she is determined "to try it again."
Among the more prominent female soldiers were Rebecca Peterman, 7th Wisconsin Infantry; Sarah Emma Edmonds ("Franklin Thompson"), 2nd Michigan Infantry; Mary and Molly Bell, 36th Virginia Infantry; Jennie Hodgers ("Albert Cashier"), 95th Illinois Infantry; and Frances Hook, who served in six or more Illinois regiments. Their stories are reported in detail.
New research by DeAnn Blanton and Lauren M. Cook has established that Rebecca Peterman (whose name previously had been reported as Georgeianne Peterman) served first as a "drummer boy" in the 7th Wisconsin Infantry in 1862, seeing action at Antietam. In the same regiment were her stepbrother and a cousin. As it turns out, quite a few female soldiers had accomplices in the ranks, sometimes relatives and sometimes a boy friend. A Mrs. Watkins and a Mrs. Epping enlisted with their husbands in Company G of the 2nd Maryland Infantry (Union), and after being discovered still continued campaigning with the regiment as laundresses.