Women Who Fought In the Civil War
Submitted By: Tierahnee Balfour
History 2010 Enhanced
Mrs. Teresa Prober
19 October 2012
It is an accepted convention that the Civil War was a man’s fight, but to the women in that time period, it was not. Many women sacrificed their lives to fight for their family and for their country. The Civil War is symbolic in American history because it shaped society, as we know it today, “Free of slavery”. During the Civil War, women were mostly confined to the domestic sphere and were not allowed to serve in combat. Researchers have noted that women did indeed disguise themselves as men just to fight. During this time period, women felt strongly about staying in their courters performing lazy housewife jobs. They also felt fighting in the war was more intriguing and more powerful. There are many documented cases of women portraying soldiers in the Civil War and what it was like for them to go through such drastic measures. During 1861-1865 the American Civil War occurred. The war is often referred to as The Civil War, which the eleven southern slave states declared secession from the United States and formed the Confederates States of America. According to Stephanie McCurry, we know the Civil War as the “brutal four-year conflict waged between the USA (United States of America) and the CSA (Confederate States of America) that settled the question of secession and Union and defeated the South's bid for national independence”.1 After the four year Civil War, the Confederacy surrendered and the slavery was abolished everywhere in the nation. The American Civil War is very important to the American History. The Civil War was not only to free the slaves, but it allowed African Americans to be able to serve in the Confederate army. Slavery was a political, economical and social moral issue that strongly divided the nations apart. The Civil War also helped with the power of state rights. Throughout that time period, the government had been gaining more power at the expense of states. This caused dramatic issues with the North and South all together. There was another division issue that was resolved within the Constitution. During The Civil War, not only did men fight, women fought as well. During this period, both the Union and Confederate armies forbid the enlistment of women. With this happening the women begin to pursue masculine names, disguised themselves as men, and hid the fact that they were women. According to DeAnne Blanton, “the women fought like demons, trading their skirts in for uniforms, cutting their hair and wear caps”.2 It has been recorded that only half of the women did disguise themselves as men and the other half served as spies and nurses or stayed home to preform new house roles once the fathers, brothers, and husbands were called to serve. There were six hundred documented cases of women fighting in The Civil War.3 Harriet Tubman was documented as one of the women who were spies in the Civil War. She was called the union spymaster. Not only was Harriet Tubman a spymaster she was a former slave known for leading three hundred people to freedom. She was considered the conductor of the Underground Railroad. Harriet volunteered to be a cook and a nurse before she was asked to gather a network of spies for the Union. These specific spies were former slaves as well. Harriet was the first woman in history to lead a military expedition to freedom. Harriet wanted to collect her earnings for her service in the Union, an amount $1800. The government authorized a payment of twenty dollars per month until her death in nineteen thirteen.4 Pauline Cushman was also a Union spy. She was a poor actress from New Orleans who was dared to interrupt a show and toast Jeffery Davis and the Confederacy. Cushman was sent to the Union to occupied Nashville. She began her work to gather information about the enemies operations, identified Confederate spies and serve as a federal courier. Once Cushman was discovered she was sentenced to be hanged but was saved by the Union Forces of Shelbyville. After this incident Cushman was forced to stop her work. After the war Cushman begin to act again. She used her experiences with the war, in the plays, dressing up in her uniform used in the Union. She supported herself as a seamstress and after having an illness she became addicted to morphine and died of an overdose at age sixty.5 Before the 1900’s and The Civil War, women had limited rights. Women could not speak for themselves, vote for themselves, they never had a say so in any economic issue. Researchers could say that women have been fighting this battle before the dawn of time. According to Patricia Haynes, “because of a man being known to be dominant in the society, this brought tragedies and uproars within women.”6 When the Nineteenth Amendment was passed women got the right to vote, and they were able to voice their own opinions and their opinions mattered and counted towards society. The struggle women had for equality was a long and hard battle. Most women during that time either gave up or died believing they would never have the chance to speak in society. Researchers have noted it was not hard for women to disguise themselves as men, but it was very difficult to uphold such a role. According to Bonnie Tsui, “women had to hide out all the time just to keep private, they had to bind down their breast, cut off their hair to wear caps, and they also had to deal with rape issues to continue to fight in the war”.7 Women survived these episodes of events for a long period of time. Women also performed major labor; cotton field plantation and washed clothes. Most of the women in the war were suppliers and commissioner workers. Anything a male did a female had to do the exact same thing. The struggle for women being enlisted in the army was surreal. Women indeed carry the agony of bearing a child of which no man would understand. For the women who live to see The Civil War end, these specific episodes still affects them in their normal lives even having the war being over. As far as a woman being enlisted in The Civil War, if a woman were to get caught portraying a male serving in the war, this would bring about a huge uproar. Many peers in the army knew there were women enlisted and serving, but the country did not fully understand this concept. According to Jennie Hodgers, “if a woman was to get caught the ultimate punishment would be briefly imprisoned.”8 Jennie Hodgers fought as Albert Cashier, she enlisted in Illinois, fought the entire Civil War without being discovered, and she lived the remaining years of her life as a male for the next 50 years. 9 Another woman who enlisted in The Civil War was a woman named Sarah Edmonds. Edmonds enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry on her first try to disguise herself as Franklin Flint Thompson. Edmonds did not fight in the war she was a spy. After contracting malaria, Edmonds checked into a private hospital to treat her malaria in hopes of coming back to the military. Edmond never returned to the military instead she worked as a nurse in the hospital. 10 After The Civil War, many of the economic issues before the war were no longer apparent. The Civil War, as stated above, abolished slavery, gave women rights and the society had government and state powers. The Civil War was a remarkable move for that specific era. Many people today feel highly about The Civil War because it brought upon change. It made the world a better place for people to live. After The Civil War, many opportunities became available to women. Women were allowed to do more and say more, also many nations became free nations and the Civil War brought peace upon these nations. The Civil War is counted as our peacemaker, our remarkable change of life. According to Sarah Pugh, “The Civil War was a domestic sphere that changed our world, our nation; it helps us to be free.”11 The Civil War is what our country looks up to. Although women had hardships, trials and tribulations, most women pulled through those triumphs with a clear mind and a clear heart. During that era, women were indeed brave enough to go to war for their families. This event impacted women today, if women could survive through hard times like that then, then women today can survive through any trials and tribulations. Women fighting in the Civil War were real, it was true, and only women brave enough to take on such drastic measures and had clear mindset of saving their families pulled through those rough nights and hard days. Bibliography Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook. They fought like demons: women soldiers in the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. (Accessed October 19, 2012). Civil War Trust. Jennie Hodgers. N.p., 25 Dec. 1843. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jennie-hodgers.html. (Accessed November, 26, 2012). Hynes, Patricia. "On the battlefield of women's bodies: An overview of the harm of war to women." Women's Studies International Forum 27.5-6 (2004): 431-445. (Accessed October 19, 2012). Stephanie McCurry. “Why Do We Love Our Civil War?” Civil War Times 51.5(2012): 60-65 Americana: History and Life with Full Text. (Accessed October 19, 2012). Pugh, Sarah. "American Civil War: Letter & Diaries." In First Person. N.p., 14 July 1861. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. www.alexanderstreet2.com/CWLDLive/index.html. (Accessed October 19, 2012). Tsui, Bonnie. She went to the field: women soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford, Conn.: TwoDot, 2003. (Accessed October 19, 2012). U.S. History | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine." History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian Magazine. N.p., n.d. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/us-history/. (Accessed October 19, 2012).