Women Soldiers and During the Civil War Discussion

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The Civil War was not solely a “man’s war.” Indeed, women proved crucial to the economy and society on the home front of both sides as men left in large numbers to fight. A few historians have examined the roles of women at home, including Drew Gilpin Faust’s examination of white slaveholding women overseeing the last days of slavery in Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (2004).

However, it is not just women’s home front roles that have received attention from scholars in recent years. In this discussion you will explore some of the roles women played in the war, including on the field of battle, and the efforts historians have undergone to discover this hidden history. First, make sure to read all three parts of DeAnne Blanton’s Women Soldiers of the Civil War (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. (1993) and the Smithsonian interview with Bonnie Tsui, The Women Who Fought in the Civil War (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Then, using the readings as evidence, consider the following in a post of at least 250 words:

  • How and why did women play an active role in the war as soldiers and in medical care and why has this history been ignored or trivialized by historians in the past?
  • How did these roles contrast with traditional expectations of femininity in the Victorian era?
  • Blanton argues that what is important is not their “individual exploits but the fact that they fought.” What do you think she means by this? Do you agree?

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Women Soldiers of the Civil War Spring 1993, Vol. 25, No. 1 By DeAnne Blanton © 1993 by DeAnne Blanton It is an accepted convention that the Civil War was a man's fight. Images of women during that conflict center on selfsacrificing nurses, romantic spies, or brave ladies maintaining the home front in the absence of their men. The men, of course, marched off to war, lived in germridden camps, engaged in heinous battle, languished in appalling prison camps, and died horribly, yet heroically. This conventional picture of gender roles during the Civil War does not tell the entire story. Men were not the only ones to fight that war. Women bore arms and charged into battle, too. Like the men, there were women who lived in camp, suffered in prisons, and died for their respective causes. Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers of the Civil War therefore assumed masculine names, disguised themselves as men, and hid the fact they were female. Because they passed as men, it is impossible to know with any certainty how many women soldiers served in the Civil War. Estimates place as many as 250 women in the ranks of the Confederate army.(1) Writing in 1888, Mary Livermore of the U.S. Sanitary Commission remembered that: Some one has stated the number of women soldiers known to the service as little less than four hundred. I cannot vouch for the correctness of this estimate, but I am convinced that a larger number of women disguised themselves and enlisted in the service, for one cause or other, than was dreamed of. Entrenched in secrecy, and regarded as men, they were sometimes revealed as women, by accident or casualty. Some startling histories of these military women were current in the gossip of army life.(2) Livermore and the soldiers in the Union army were not the only ones who knew of soldier-women. Ordinary citizens heard of them, too. Mary Owens, discovered to be a woman after she was wounded in the arm, returned to her Pennsylvania home to a warm reception and press coverage. She had served for eighteen months under the alias John Evans.(3) In the post - Civil War era, the topic of women soldiers continued to arise in both literature and the press. Frank Moore's Women of the War, published in 1866, devoted an entire chapter to the military heroines of the North. A year later, L. P. Brockett and Mary Vaughan mentioned ladies "who from whatever cause . . . donned the male attire and concealed their sex . . . [who] did not seek to be known as women, but preferred to pass for men."(4) Loreta Velazquez published her memoirs in 1876. She served the Confederacy as Lt. Harry Buford, a selffinanced soldier not officially attached to any regiment. The existence of soldier-women was no secret during or after the Civil War. The reading public, at least, was well aware that these women rejected Victorian social constraints confining them to the domestic sphere. Their motives were open to speculation, perhaps, but not their actions, as numerous newspaper stories and obituaries of women soldiers testified. Most of the articles provided few specific details about the individual woman's army career. For example, the obituary of Satronia Smith Hunt merely stated she enlisted in an Iowa regiment with her first husband. He died of battle wounds, but she apparently emerged from the war unscathed.(5) An 1896 story about Mary Stevens Jenkins, who died in 1881, tells an equally brief tale. She enlisted in a Pennsylvania regiment when still a schoolgirl, remained in the army two years, received several wounds, and was discharged without anyone ever realizing she was female.(6) The press seemed unconcerned about the women's actual military exploits. Rather, the fascination lay in the simple fact that they had been in the army. The army itself, however, held no regard for women soldiers, Union or Confederate. Indeed, despite recorded evidence to the contrary, the U.S. Army tried to deny that women played a military role, however small, in the Civil War. On October 21, 1909, Ida Tarbell of The American Magazine wrote to Gen. F. C. Ainsworth, the adjutant general: "I am anxious to know whether your department has any record of the number of women who enlisted and served in the Civil War, or has it any record of any women who were in the service?" She received swift reply from the Records and Pension Office, a division of the Adjutant General's Office (AGO), under Ainsworth's signature. The response read in part: I have the honor to inform you that no official record has been found in the War Department showing specifically that any woman was ever enlisted in the military service of the United States as a member of any organization of the Regular or Volunteer Army at any time during the period of the civil war. It is possible, however, that there may have been a few instances of women having served as soldiers for a short time without their sex having been detected, but no record of such cases is known to exist in the official files.(7) This response to Ms. Tarbell's request is untrue. One of the duties of the AGO was maintenance of the U.S. Army's archives, and the AGO took good care of the extant records created during that conflict. By 1909 the AGO had also created compiled military service records (CMSR) for the participants of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate, through painstaking copying of names and remarks from official federal documents and captured Confederate records. Two such CMSRs prove the point that the army did have documentation of the service of women soldiers. Women Soldiers of the Civil War, Part 2 Women Soldiers of the Civil War, Part 3
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Women during the Civil War
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Women during the Civil War
Even though the Civil War was solely the place for male soldiers, women often enlisted
and went on to achieve the same level of achievements as their male counterparts. They played
an active role, by ensuring that they showcased the same level of patriotism as their male
counterparts (Blanton, 1...

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