Women In The Civil War

Women Were There.

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, vivandiers, sutlers, and as Union and Confederate soldiers, and even spies. A vivandier, by the way, is a French army term applied to women who provided food, provisions, and liqueurs to soldiers. For more about them please visit History of Vivandiers. Sutlers were peddlers who sold goods to military units in the field. One woman served without pay as a physician, acted as a spy, and was a prisoner of war.

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. Some say that this book is a mix of fantasy and fiction. The original is in my personal collection and it is a delightful book to read. 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 three years as Albert Cashier. Her identity wasn’t revealed until 1913.

The trials and tribulations of Lt Harry T. Buford, Confederate Officer,later found to be Madam Loreta Velazquez, have also been recorded. 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 has become controversial and is much disputed by historians.

And historical records verify the fact that over eighty 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 the most poignant story about women in the Civil War is one told in the book Women in War , 1866, 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.


"Major" Pauline Cushman claimed Confederate sympathy yet she actually spied for the Union, often as an actress. Her many adventures were capitalized upon by P.T. Barnum who advised her tours.


Did you know that a woman was awarded The Medal of Honor?

Dr Mary Walker, a surgeon in the Civil War, was awarded the 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….

Dr. Walker was an early suffragette, one of the earliest women physicians, a champion for more comfortable clothing for women and a pioneer for women in many areas that we take for granted today. Her medal was rescinded, then subsequently restored by President Carter.

Emmeline Piggott became North Carolina’s most famous spy and smuggler. She is said to have carried dispatches in the large pockets 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 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.


Susie Baker, later King Taylor, 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. Although she was only fourteen years old, she taught the soldiers in her husband’s regiment to read and write and did their laundry. In January 1863, Susie King began to nurse the wounded men who returned to camp from a raid up the St. Mary’s River. Susie also learned to clean, load and fire a musket. Susie King nursed the wounded soldiers for four years until she and her husband were mustered out of the regiment in 1866. However she retained her interest in nursing and helped organize a branch of the Woman’s Relief Corps. She published her autobiography in 1902, "Reminiscences of my life in camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops late 1st S.C. Volunteers."

A Unique Buffalo Soldier
Cathay Williams was born into slavery near Independence, Missouri in 1842. She grew up and worked as a house-girl for wealthy planter William Johnson in Jefferson City, Missouri. During the Civil War, Union soldiers liberated Williams and she spent the remainder of the war as a paid servant of the Union Army. On November 15, 1866, shortly after her job with the Army ended, Cathay Williams disguised her gender and joined the 38th Infantry, Company A, in St. Louis. At the time, there was no requirement for a physical examination and she enlisted using the name William Cathay. She was discharged from the Army at Ft. Bayard, New Mexico on October 14, 1868.

Courageous Nurse
Annie Etheridge was known for her courage in giving medicial help to the wounded on the battlefield as a part of the Michigan Volunteers, serving the regiment as a nurse. She was an expert horsewoman and at the start of the war she filled her saddle bags with lint and bandages and oftern rode through battles caring for the wounded. Her first-aid and nursing services were carried out with ranks the 2nd Michigan Regiment with the Army of the Potomac. When the 2nd Michigan was transferred to fight in the West, Annie stayed with the Army of the Potomac and joined the 3rd Michigan, serving it at the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg, later joining the 5th Michigan. In the summer of 1864, General Grant ordered all women to leave the camps and lines, including Annie who had to leave the regiment . She didn’t stop serving and joined the hospital service at City Point in Virginia. Annie Etheridge served to the end of the war and was presented the Kearny Cross, a decoration for bravery for enlisted men. Here are two pictures of Annie Etheridge during and after the Civil War.