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Women of the Civil War
Many people overlook the role of women in war. It is said even by women that the men go off to fight, and the women stay home and wait. Well here is a paper about women who didn’t sit home and wait for their husbands, brothers, fathers, sons, and sweethearts to come back. They did something to help their country when it needed it most.
Women Who Fought
As many as 400 women from the North and South disguised themselves as men and enlisted in the army. Amy Clarke volunteered as a private so she would not have to be parted from her husband. After he died at Shiloh, she continued to serve. She was wounded twice. Then she was captured by the Yankees. Her secret became revealed and she was ordered to return to her home, but not before she had put on female apparel.
Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmonds is another example. At the age of twenty, she enlisted in the volunteer infantry company as Frank Thompson. Her disguise was successful for nearly a year. She fought in the Battle of Blackburn’s Ford, the First Battle of Bull Run, and the Peninsular campaign of May-July 1862. She undertook at least two intelligence missions behind Confederate lines “disguised” as a woman. She deserted in 1863. After leaving the army, she worked as a nurse for the United States Christian Commission. A short time before her death, she petitioned for a veteran’s pension. Two years later the pension was granted to her by Congress.
Some women did not dress up as men to fight. Southren women in New Orleans despised the Yankee men that occupied their city. They spit on, cursed at, and even emptied their chamber pots on Yankee soldiers whenever they got the chance. Because these women were of the upper class, the officers were reluctant to punish these ladies. General Order No. 28 was put into effect by Benjamin Butler, the Union major general in charge of keeping peace in New Orleans. The order said that women who insulted Yankee soilders would be “treated as a woman of the town.” This terrified the ladies so much, that no officer had to carry out the order’s threat.
Many communities of women organized their own companies to defend their homes. At first, the women organized the companies because they wanted a role in the war. After a couple of years, there were so few men left in communities, that woman felt defenseless and felt that they had to ban together to protect themselves.
The women of LaGrange, Georgia formed a military company they named for Nancy Hart. Nancy Hart was a local hero of the revolutionary war who once trapped British officers in her basement. The ladies acquired a disabled soldier to teach them marksmanship. When Yankees came to torch LaGrange, they were met with a hundred women soldiers armed and ready to defend their homes. An officer of the Nancy Harts invited the Yankees to tea, explaining that she thought “it to be good policy to conciliate the enemy.” LaGrange was not torched, and the Yankee commander later married one of the Nancy Harts.
The “Battle of the Handkerchiefs” refers to a tale about a group of outspoken Confederate women and some Union officers. When a group of Confederate captives was being shipped to Baton Rouge, the women of New Orleans threw a levee to show their sympathies. The mob of women waved parasols and handkerchiefs and refused to disband. The Union officers had a hard time controlling the riot. Southern newspapers ridiculed the Yankee soldiers and commended the courage of the ladies.
Women Spies and Traitors
During the civil war, many women used their gender to disguise treasonous activities they committed every day. Women were excused from punishment for acts that would have warranted death in a male.
The most famous woman spy of the Civil War was Bell Boyd. Bell first defied Union authority when she was seventeen. She shot and killed a Yankee solidier for trying to enter her home and raise the union flag. Belle said the soldier cursed her mother “in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive.” When a group of officers investigated, they concluded that Belle had
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American Civil War spies, Belle Boyd, Confederate States of America, Women in the military, Confederate States Army, Union, Gone with the Wind, Bibliography of the American Civil War
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