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Women in the Civil War: Spies, Soldiers, Medical Service

Welcome to our guest blogger and Civil War author, Ann Parker. Ann is on a blog tour this week, celebrating the release of her latest novel related to strong women in the Civil War. Enjoy–and as always, feel free to comment, below.

Women have always been part of the military, although not always openly and not part of the draft. In fact, I am of an age such that I can recall the debate in the 1980s as to whether women should be included in Selective Service (http://www.sss.gov/wmbkgr.htm).

Go back far enough, though … to the U.S. Civil War … and you might be surprised at the varied roles women played on both sides. There were women who spied for both sides, from Harriet Tubman—who set up a network of spies in South Carolina, made up of former slaves—to Belle Boyd—one of the most famous Confederate spies. (Smithsonian has a nice online piece about six women here http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Women-Spies-of-the-Civil-War.html).

Hundreds of women went “underground” in other ways, and assumed male aliases, disguised themselves in men’s uniforms, and charged into battle as soldiers for the Blue and the Gray. Some women eluded detection for the entire Civil War, while others were not discovered until they were wounded, killed, or gave birth. Some enjoyed being freed from traditional women’s roles to the point that they continued their deceptions well after the close of the War. (If you find this an interesting topic, I can heartily recommend the book THEY FOUGHT LIKE DEMONS http://www.amazon.com/They-Fought-Like-Demons-Soldiers/dp/1400033152 by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook)

Sometimes soldiers were pulled from their regiments for medical duty, and sometimes those soldiers were women in disguise. Whereas we might view the nursing field as traditional women’s work, this wasn’t so during the Civil War, where most military nurses were men. The medical service area was a topic of special interest to me, as I researched my latest Silver Rush mystery book, MERCURY’S RISE.

I should point out there were women who enlisted in the Civil War directly into the medical services, without donning aliases or trousers. They were unusual women, women who took their “own paths,” often facing down extreme difficulty and outright hostility. Mary Edwards Walker was one such: In June 1855, Mary graduated from the Syracuse Medical College, the nation’s first medical school and one which accepted women and men on an equal basis. When war broke out, she tried to join the Union Army. When she was denied a commission as a medical officer, she volunteered, serving as an acting assistant surgeon—the fist female surgeon in the U.S. Army. In 1863, she was appointed assistant surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland. She earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. You can read more about her here http://www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/walker.htm.

Of course, for every woman who fought or otherwise served in the Civil War, thousands stayed behind, raising families, running farms and small businesses, “holding the home together.” To support the war effort, some women worked for various organizations such as the Ladies Hospital Aid Society and the United States Christian Commission. Some sewed items to be shipped to the soldiers.

No matter what they did—from solidering to sewing—the women who took part were incredible women. The more I read about these women and their efforts and their histories, the more my admiration for them grows. This post is my small way of honoring these women of a time long gone, of saluting their bravery, tenacity, and strength.

———–BIO———–

Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, MERCURY’S RISE, was released November 1. Publishers Weekly says, “Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers.” Library Journal adds, “Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!” Learn more about Ann and her books at http://www.annparker.net

MERCURY’S RISE and the other Silver Rush mysteries are available from independent booksellers, amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.

Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! Winner will be announced later this week. To see the rest of Ann’s virtual tour, check out her Appearances page on her website.

 

 

Thanks, Ann, for sharing with us about women’s roles in the Civil War. 

 

 

 

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Liz #

    Interesting as always.

    Perhaps the best known female Civil War participant is Clarissa Harlowe “Clara” Barton, who went on to form the American Red Cross. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Barton operated the Office of Missing Soldiers. Clearly a woman who found a practical solution whenever she saw a need.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Barton

    November 9, 2011
  2. Hello Liz!
    Interesting! I knew about the American Red Cross connection, but not about her efforts re: Office of Missing Soldiers. I love it when I learn something new… Thank you! 🙂

    November 9, 2011
  3. Sandra #

    There’s a whole lot of folk songs about women who dressed as men to follow a lover to war (or sea). I suspect most listeners have no idea how many women really did do that! Life in a war zone was terrible; I don’t know how they did it.
    Sandra

    November 9, 2011
  4. Florence Evans #

    This has been the most interesting of the Strong Women Blogs that I have read. Thanks Sylvia.

    November 9, 2011
  5. Hi again Sandra!
    You’re right… the conditions were terrible, no matter who you were in the war. It amazes me that so many women were able to keep their gender secret for as long as many did… sometimes the length of the war and beyond.

    November 9, 2011
  6. Hello Florence!
    Thank you! High praise indeed… 🙂 This blog is wonderful for raising interest in the roles of women in all areas of life, through all eras of history. I learn something new with each post.

    November 9, 2011
  7. The deprivations women, especially those living in the South, had to endure was appalling. With so many of the men gone, these women were often left alone to defend their homes and their lives against Northern aggressors. Just because it was during the Victorian era, didn’t necessary mean every man was a gentleman and would protect a woman’s virtue. Great blog post Anne.

    November 10, 2011
  8. Hello Dianne!
    Absolutely right… The veneer of civilization is very thin sometimes, particularly in wartime. For those who stay behind trying to defend their homes and their lives, it can be absolutely horrible…

    November 11, 2011
  9. Liz #

    Looking for something else today, I came across this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Women_in_the_American_Civil_War

    No mention of Belle Boyd or Clara Barton, although Mary Edwards Walker made the list.

    November 11, 2011
  10. Hi Liz!
    Interesting… I looked, and noticed there’s no subcategory for “Spies,” although they include subcategories for nursing, cross-dressing, and the sanitary commission. A bit odd. Maybe it’s an entry that’s still “under construction.”

    November 11, 2011
  11. Reading Ann Parker’s ‘veneer of civilization’ and Gone with the Wind and immediately thereafter, Cold Mountain, popped into my head.

    November 11, 2011
  12. Hi Ken! I loved Cold Mountain… and it’s been a long time since Gone with the Wind, but yes, that definitely applies as well…
    Thanks for the comment. 🙂

    November 11, 2011
  13. …. And the winner for this stop is….
    KEN CONSAUL

    Ken: Please contact me at annparker(at)annparker.net.
    Thank you, everyone, for joining me in the ongoing conversation here about women in the Civil War at Writing Strong Women. And thank you, Sylvia, for hosting me! 🙂

    November 26, 2011
  14. JoAnne Craft #

    I have many women who lived as men, and as soldiers in the U.S. with the first KNOWN woman enlisting as a men in the Revolutionary War; on my Pinterest board “People And Times We Should Know About”. Many women lived as men out west, as outlaws, and cowboys. In his introduction to his novel The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, (the second novel The The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy) Stieg Larsson writes about women serving as fighting forces, and how it probably goes back into antiquity. That got me interested in researching this topic. I have found out that females did serve as men in all armies, but this fact was completely left out of the history books. If it wasn’t for advent of the internet, these women would still be lost to history, as are other women who played vital roles through out the history of the planet.

    August 27, 2012
    • JoAnne Craft #

      I have many women who lived as men, and as soldiers in the U.S. with the first KNOWN woman enlisting as a men in the Revolutionary War; on my Pinterest board “People And Times We Should Know About”. Many women lived as men out west, as outlaws, and cowboys. In his introduction to his novel The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, (the second novel The The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy) Stieg Larsson writes about women serving as fighting forces, and how it probably goes back into antiquity. That got me interested in researching this topic. I have found out that females did serve as men in all armies, but this fact was completely left out of the history books. If it wasn’t for advent of the internet, these women would still be lost to history, as are other women who played vital roles through out the history of the planet.

      August 27, 2012
      • JoAnne Craft #

        I know of many women who lived as men, and as soldiers in the U.S. with the first KNOWN woman enlisting as a men in the Revolutionary War; on my Pinterest board “People And Times We Should Know About”. Many women lived as men out west, as outlaws, and cowboys. In his intro. to his novel The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest Stieg Larsson writes about women serving as fighting forces, and how it probably goes back into antiquity.

        August 27, 2012

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