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.
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
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.