Civil War Women: Tubman, Tompkins, And Stowe

Important civil wartime heroines, women who became involved in the separate causes of the Civil War - writing, spying, bandaging, and leading slaves to freedom.

"During all periods of the (Civil) War, instances occurred of women being found in the ranks, fighting as common soldiers, their sex remaining unsuspected, and the particular motive in each case often unknown." F. Moore, 1866

Heroines - Harriet Tubman, Sally Louisa Tompkins, and Harriet Beecher Stowe - one for the South; two on the side of the North. All three concerned for the devastation that war brings.

Herself an escaped slave from Maryland, Harriet Tubman became the master of elusion, leading countless slaves over rough terrain along what was known as the Underground Railroad. The way often took them over mountains and through rivers by night, with the groups resting in seclusion during the day or finding shelter in caves, safe houses, or the homes of sympathizers. Because she used Bible verses as her codes of passage, Harriet came to be known as "Moses." At one time, a reward of $40,000 was offered bounty hunters for the head of "the woman known as Moses." Because of her knowledge of the terrain she covered on escape missions, Harriet was employed by the Union as a scout to help plot Confederate troop positions and supply sources. She often risked her life to penetrate Rebel lines, but she was never caught.

Sally Louisa Tompkins lived in Richmond, Virginia at the outbreak of the war. Just days after the First Battle of Bull Run, Richmond was flooded with casualties that filled the understaffed hospitals beyond capacity. Sally persuaded a judge in Richmond to turn over his home for a private hospital. Between her own household and other friends, Sally tended the sick and wounded. Sally's care was unusual from that of other hospitals in that she was ahead of her time in cleanliness and sanitation. While on the battlefield, the same surgery tools were used again and again on different individuals without in-between cleansing; Sally's techniques encouraged washing and cleanliness as part of the treatment for the wounded. Sally's hospital gained a reputation for saving lives. In fact, more Confederate soldiers returned to the battlefield from Sally's hospital in Richmond than any other medical facility in the south. During the 45 months that Sally's hospital was in existence, countless soldiers were sent to her. Only 73 were lost to death. In fact, Confederacy President Jefferson Davis bestowed upon Sally the rank of Captain and made her Richmond hospital an official army-supported medical facility. It was renamed Robertson Hospital and was run by "Captain Tompkins" for the duration of the war.

The daughter of an Ohio minister, Harriet Beecher Stowe had little first-hand knowledge of slavery. Still, she - like everyone else - had heard the stories of cruelty by some slavery owners. Based on these gleanings of information, Harriet imagined a black man's plight as a slave. In her mind, she named this man Tom. Harriet Beecher Stowe penned what became the book of the century, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Though controversial, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" sold 300,000 copies in 1857 in the United States alone, later outselling all other books during the period of the Civil War. Harriet's book sparked a renewed and focused look at slavery and was instrumental in converting thousands to the abolitionist cause.

Three women - two white, one black - two Unionists, one Confederate - all three heroines concerned with the uncertainty of life as they knew it during extremely difficult times. War is never without its price. All three women gave unselfishly.

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