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Women in the Civil War

Women Were There

Women were very effective spies

The War Between the States was also a war between brothers, cousins, friends and neighbors - and some of them were women. We know from certain military records, antique books, and lately some newer books, that women served as nurses, as Union and Confederate soldiers, and some were even spies. One woman served without pay as a physician, acted as a spy, and was a POW.

Emmeline Piggott became North Carolina's most famous spy and smuggler. She is said to have carried dispatches in the large pockets located under her full skirts. She avoided capture many times but was finally caught, arrested and imprisoned. She was eventually released and sent home.

Elizabeth C. Howland, trained in medicine by her father, was also highly successful as a Confederate spy. She often sent her young son and daughter to carry dispatches. Appearing innocent, the children were allowed to pass through enemy lines undisturbed.

Pauline Cushman, born in the South at New Orleans, had a brief career as a Union spy. She followed the Confederate troops in Kentucky and Tennessee, often reporting their activities to an advancing Union army. Gen. Braxton Bragg of the Confederacy discovered her true intentions and after a brief trial, she was ordered to be hung. She escaped death after Union troops invaded and she was abandoned during the Rebels escape.

Belle Boyd was the South's most colorful and famous female spy. She was twice imprisoned and arrested six times. Belle defied Union authorities by carrying important letters and papers across enemy lines. Ironically, before the war ended, Belle Boyd married a Captain Harding, a Union naval officer.

Nancy Hart served as a Confederate scout, guide and spy, carrying messages between the Southern Armies. She hung around isolated Federal outposts, acting as a peddlar, to report their strength, population and vulnerability to General Jackson. Nancy was twenty years old when she was captured by the Yankees and jailed in a dilapidated house with guards constantly patrolling the building. She gained the trust of one of her guards, got his weapon from him, shot him and escaped.

Elizabeth Van Lew asked to be allowed to visit Union prisoners held by the Confederates in Richmond and began taking them food and medicines. She realized that many of the prisoners had been marched through Confederate lines on their way to Richmond and were full of useful information about Confederate movements. She became a Union Spy for the next four years, setting up a network of couriers, and devising a code.

Antonia Ford, a Fairfax, Virginia, resident impressed soldiers from North and South with her beauty, charm and conversation. Impressed with her ability to recall those conversations, Jeb Stuart awarded her a written commission as "my honorary aide de-camp."

Based on information provided by Antonia - on March 9, 1863, Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby and 29 men entered the Union encampment and captured Union General Stoughton, while he slept in the Gunnell House. In addition, Mosby captured 2 captains, 30 privates, and 58 horses. Following Mosby's raid, Union officials searched Antonia's house and found the commission. Union Maj. Joseph C. Willard arrested and escorted "the spy" to the Old Capitol Prison. Along the way, Antonia stole his heart, and 7 months later Willard secured her release and they were married.

Harriet Tubman, though best know for her work in freeing slaves, after the outbreak of the Civil War, also served as a soldier, spy, and a nurse, for a time serving at Fortress Monroe, where Jefferson Davis would later be imprisoned. Her experience leading slaves along the Underground Railroad was particularly helpful because she knew the landscape so well. She recruited a group of former slaves to scout the locations of rebel camps and report on the movement of the Confederate troops.

Sarah Lane was born February 11, 1838 in Greene County, Tennessee. In 1854, Sarah married Sylvanius H.Thompson and they had two children. Sylvanius later became a private in the 1st Tennessee Calvary U.S.A., where he served primarily as a recruiter for the Union Army. Sarah worked alongside her husband assembling and organizing Union sympathizers in a predominately rebel area around Greeneville, Tennessee. In early 1864, Sylvanius Thompson was ambushed and killed by a Confederate soldier.

Spurred by her husband's death, Sarah continued her work for the Union, delivering dispatches and recruiting information to Union officers. When CSA General John Hunt Morgan and his men spent the night in Greeneville, Sarah managed to slip away and alert Union forces to his whereabouts. Union troops invaded the area and by her accounts, she personally pointed out Morgan hiding behind a garden fence to a Union soldier who proceeded to kill Morgan

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1817. "Wild Rose", as she was called from a young age, was a leader in Washington society, a passionate secessionist, and one of the most renowned spies in the Civil War. Among her accomplishments was the secret message she sent to General Pierre G.T. Beauregard which ultimately caused him to win the battle of Bull Run. She spied so successfully for the Confederacy that Jefferson Davis credited her with winning the battle of Manassas.

Rose was imprisoned for her efforts first in her own home and then in the Old Capital Prison. Despite her confinement, Greenhow continued getting messages to the Confederacy by means of cryptic notes which traveled in unlikely places such as the inside of a woman's bun of hair. After her second prison term, she was exiled to the Confederate states where she was received warmly by President Jefferson Davis.

Dr Mary Walker, a surgeon in the Civil War, was awarded our nation's highest honor by President Andrew Johnson

The citation reads, in part: "Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, has rendered valuable service to the government, and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways, and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, KY., under the recommendation of Major-Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United states, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a southern prison while acting as contract surgeon...."

Susie Baker, was born a slave in 1848 in Georgia. She learned to read and write while living with her grandmother. Susie gained her freedom in 1862 as contraband of war and was appointed laundress of the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops. In 1862, Susie married Sergeant Edward King, one of the members of this regiment. In January 1863, Susie King began to nurse the wounded men who returned to camp from a raid up the St. Mary's River. She also learned to clean, load and fire a musket. For four years Susie nursed the wounded soldiers, until she and her husband were mustered out of the regiment in 1866.

Some historical records verify the fact that over sixty women were either wounded or killed at various battles during the Civil War. It is estimated that over 400 women served in the Civil War on both sides, not counting the thousands who served as nurses. Perhaps one of the the most poignant stories about women in the Civil War is told in Women in War, by Frank Moore.

"In 1863, at age 19, a woman known only as Emily, ran away from home and joined the drum corps of a Michigan Regiment. The regiment was sent to Tennessee and during the struggle for Chatanooga a minie ball pierced the side of the young soldier. Her wound was fatal and her sex was disclosed. At first she refused to disclose her real name but as she lay dying she consented to dictate a telegram to her father in Brooklyn. Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to deliver my country but the fates would not have it so. I am content to die. Pray forgive me . . . Emily."

Many stories have been written about unique Civil War women, including Sarah Emma Edmonds, alias Franklin Thompson. In Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, 1865, which is subtitled The Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-Fields, the author chronicles her adventures and escapades as she gathers information and nurses the wounded. Historians have verified that Emma Edmonds, as Franklin Thompson, did serve in the units she mentioned at the times she said.

Another fairly well known story is that of Jennie Hodgers who served and fought for the Union for three years as Albert Cashier. Her identity wasn't revealed until 1913.

Lt Harry T. Buford, Confederate Officer, later found to be Madam Loreta Velazquez, recorded her trials and tribulations in her book - "Loreta Janeta Velazquez The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army." Richmond, Va: Dustin, Gilman & Co., 1876. It has become controversial and is much disputed by historians.

Florena Budwin, wife of a Pennsylvania soldier of the Civil War disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Union Army to be near her husband. They were captured and imprisoned at the infamous Andersonville Prison where her husband died. She was then transferred to Florence, S.C., where her identity was revealed. She remained at the prison to care for Union soldiers, finally dying of illness in 1865. She was buried at Florence National Cemetery and is believed to be the first woman buried in a National Cemetery.

We will never really know how many women died on the battlefields, buried in an unmarked grave ... and lost forever, to family and to history. After the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1863, the bodies of two Confederate women, in uniform, were found. A Union flag bearer, also a woman in uniform, was killed on the hill near Picketts Charge. And a young woman named Frances Day was mortally wounded while serving as Sgt Frank Mayne in the Western Theater.

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