Female Soldiers in the Civil War

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In our last installment on Women’s Accomplishments, we celebrate female soldiers in the civil war.  Interestingly,women accounted for some of the bravest soldiers in the Civil War! Despite a few men being the most mentioned soldiers in the war, there were plenty examples of female soldiers in the civil war, women who showed courage in the face of war and participated on the battlefield. While they had to hide their true identities, they still managed to be some of the earliest feminists. There was a discovery of burial details in Gettysburg back in July 1863 showing that among the bodies near Cemetery Ridge there was the body of a woman wearing the uniform of a Confederate Private.

Because of the nature of the battle and secrecy of those who participated, estimates are that between 400 and 700 women participated in the war. Over the years, some women were revealed for having fought in the war. Some female soldiers in the civil war did it to be with their loved ones and to share the same experience with them. Others needed reliable wages, adventure or they  exhibited ardent patriotism.

Female Soldiers in the Civil War:  Sarah Edmonds Seelye, The Only Female Civil War Soldier to Obtain a Veterans Pension

Of the women who bravely fought in the war, only one managed to obtain a veteran’s pension after it ended. That was Franklin Flint Thompson. Born Sarah Edmonds Seelye, she was perhaps the greatest spy of the time. During her years of war, she would go undercover into enemy territory disguised as a black man, an Irish peddler woman and even a laundress.

Female Soldiers
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She would eventually desert her post after contracting malaria, knowing that the military hospital would expose her true gender. Seeing there were posters listing Franklin as a deserter of war, she went back as a female nurse and even when people figured out who she really was, she was still respected as being a brave soldier.

While it might seem strange that a woman could go decades without being discovered, it is important to remember that things were very different back then. Men didn’t shower together in a community shower. Instead, soldiers bathed separately and were fully clothed. The Victorian time allowed for more modesty. Thanks to citizen soldiers, women who had little to no experience could also quickly enroll and with loose baggy clothing, they could also better hide their female form under the uniform.

Despite being wounded and found in battle, some women went on to do great things post war too. At the time, very few women were imprisoned or institutionalized for fighting in war.

How Clara Barton, Founder of The Red Cross Helped Hide The Identity of a Female Soldier

Mary Galloway who was shot in the chest was discovered by Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross. Deciding to help the woman, Barton protected Galloway’s identity and had her moved near to Mary’s boyfriend at the time, who was also being treated in a Washington hospital. When Mary and her boyfriend were discharged, they would eventually have a child and named it after Barton.

There is of course a laundry list of women who also fought in the war including:

  • Jennie Hodgers (Albert Cashier) 95th Illinois Infantry
  • Frances Clalin 4th Missouri Artillery
  • Loreta Janeta Velazquez (Lieutenant Harry Buford) Confederacy fighter and Spy
  • Mary Bowser
  • Helen L. Gibson
  • Nancy Hart Douglas
  • Rose O’Neal Greenhow
  • Hanna Snell

It is important to remember that many great women helped to fight in many wars to help keep our country safe. Take a moment to remember their bravery and give thanks for those who ended up giving the ultimate sacrifice.

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