Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Woman’s Place is On the Front Lines with Her Man

There are many interesting characters who participated in the War Between the States, some of which, of course, were women. Most everyone has heard of Clara Barton, the field nurse who nearly lost her life on the battlefield at Antietam, only to go on after the war and found the American Red Cross. Annie Etheridge also served as a battlefield nurse for the Michigan Volunteers. She was presented the Kearney Cross, a decoration given to enlisted men, for her bravery. Dr. Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor, only to have it revoked later on. It was finally restored to her during Jimmy Carter's administration. Louisa May Alcott was so moved by what she saw in field hospitals that she wrote "Hospital Sketches," and went on to write "Little Women" after the war.

A number of female spies for both sides did their part, including Belle Boyd, who served as a Confederate spy. She began her illustrious career at age 17, when she shot and killed a Yankee who invaded her home. Other Confederate female spies included Antonia Forc, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Nancy Hart, Laura Ratcliffe, Lottie and Ginnie Moon, and Loreta Janeta Velazquez. On the Union side, there was, of course, Harriet Tubman, who was the chief engineer of the Underground Railroad. Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a male soldier, calling herself Frank Thompson. She was a master of disguise, and used her creativity to her advantage when she entered into enemy territory to obtain information. Her spying days came to an end when she contracted malaria, and had to admit her true identity. Other spies included Pauline Cushman, Elizabeth Van Lew, Mary Edwards Walker, and Mary Elizabeth Bowser.

Many women disguised themselves as soldiers so that they could remain with their husbands. It seems bizarre today, but back then, modesty ruled the day, so no one questioned a person's true gender. Some managed to keep their identities a secret until their deaths, when their military service was revealed in their obituaries. Amy Clark, Rebecca Peterman, Frances Clalin, Mary and Molly Bell, Jennie Hodgers, and Frances Hook are some, to name a few. It is fascinating to think that many women were so bold as to disregard Victorian culture, lose their hoop skirts, and march off to war!

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