Women Of The Civil War

Often we remember only the male participants and soldiers of the Civil War. A great number of women also served in the ranks.

Often when we think of the Civil War and the sacrifices that were made during it, the faces and stories of the soldiers come to mind. The male soldiers, the male doctors, the male officers. But the Civil War was not fought by men alone. Countless women served time both behind the lines, and right in the heart and heat of battle.

Females served during the war as nurses, doctors, civilians desiring to help in any way possible, and sometimes even as soldiers. There are stories of young ladies pretending to be boys in order to join the cause and fight for what they believed.

Perhaps one of the most familiar names of a Civil War heroine is Clara Barton. The former school teacher saw the need for help on the battlefields and immediately went into action. She served as a nurse to the wounded, and made sure they had food and medicine. Clara also clearly understood the emotional needs that the wounded would be having and her support was sometimes as important as the food. It is no wonder why Clara was soon given the nickname "Angel of the Battlefield."

President Lincoln requested that Clara lead a search for missing Union soldiers and having done so, she helped to mark the graves of many soldiers who would otherwise be unknown. Clara also helped to build the American Red Cross in later years.

Mary Ann Bickerdyke, known as "Mother Bickerdyke" was a woman who knew what was needed, and more importantly, knew exactly how to get it. Mother Bickerdyke went into the field hospitals close to the fighting, and made a difference in the sanitary conditions in those hospitals. One of the stories that has survived of Mary Ann Bickerdyke is that once she was asked by one of the military surgeons what authority she had to do what she was doing, and it is said that she answered, "On the authority of Lord God Almighty, have you anything that outranks that?"

Mother Bickerdyke accompanied General Ulysses Grant while on the road to Vicksburg, and General William T. Sherman requested she be in the ranks for his Atlanta campaign.

Mary Edwards Walker overcame tremendous prejudice to become one of the first female doctors in the country. Doctor Walker put in an application to be a surgeon at the outbreak of the Civil War, but volunteered as a nurse when her request was denied.

Matilda Jane Pierce, called Tillie, was 15 years old when the war touched her small hometown of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Tillie was sent away from her home in the center of town to where it was thought she would be safer. As fate would dictate, the farm to which she relocated to for safety ended up in the center of very fierce fighting over the three day battle and became a field hospital.

Tillie did what she could to help the soldiers passing by the farm. She offered water and encouragement, and as the battle raged on, she found herself nursing the wounded. Injured soldiers kept appearing at the field hospital, and Tillie continued doing whatever she was able to do in order to help them. The horrid sights she saw and things she experience were later authored into a book by Tillie during her adult life.



Another Gettysburg young lady was destined to have her name permanently etched in history. Twenty year old Jennie Wade was staying with her mother and sister, the sister having just given birth. Jennie made sure there was always fresh bread and water for the soldiers in the area and chose not to go to the basement as many folks in the town were doing by that time.

On the third and last day of the battle that was fought in Gettysburg, Jennie was kneading bread dough, as she had been doing for the troops. A sharpshooter's bullet passed through two doors and struck Jennie where she stood at her dough tray. This dreadful occurrence gave Jennie Wade the distinction of being the only civilian to be killed during the battle of Gettysburg.

Kady Brownell was not satisfied with being an

"ornament" or servant when she enlisted with her husband into the Rhode Island Infantry. Her company was comprised of sharpshooters and Kady practiced with all her might until she became one of the best. She carried the flag as color bearer and earned the rank of Sergeant. Although there was great danger to the color bearers, she did her job well and with honor.

In the heat of battle, Kady Brownell carried the flag, which meant that she could not have use of a gun at the same time. She had signed up for a three month enlistment, but after obtaining her discharge, she reenlisted immediately. During this second duty period, Kady also served as the regiment's nurse in addition to once again having charge of the flag at certain times. Other times she was refused the honor when the fighting was especially heavy.

Jennie Hodgers began a double life in 1862 when she enlisted with the Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Everyone knew her as Private Albert Cashier and she went through the Civil War period without anyone ever finding out she was actually a female. She fought hard at places like Vicksburg and kept up with her male counterparts as they faced the intense battles.

Jennie never revealed her secret after the war and continued to masquerade as a man. It was finally disclosed when she was in her late 60s and had been committed to an insane asylum.

Another woman who volunteered for duty, this time with the 2nd Michigan Infantry, was Anna Etheridge. Her desire was to not only help nurse the wounded, but to offer them encouragement. She was given the nickname of Gentle Annie.

Being under direct fire on the battlefield while attending to the wounded was something Annie faced constantly. She rode directly to the front lines and offered first aid to the troops who had fallen. Many lives were saved due to her bravery, and Annie was presented with the Kearny Cross for her acts of courage and humanity. The Cross was primarily only presented to enlisted men.

All women, obviously, were not content to merely sit at home and wait for the war to end. Of course, the majority of them had obligations and families to care for, but the women who fought for what they believed and aided the war effort are more numerous than we may imagine. They did what they were able to do and gave no thought to the danger that might be facing them as they did what they perceived as their duty.

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