When I wove the tale of Summer Rose in disguise as a Civil War soldier in to my novel, some may have thought that my inspiration came purely from my imagination. Not so! There have been many accounts of women, not only camping with troops as nurses and cooks to support their husbands, but also as soldiers who bravely fought alongside the men during the Civil War. Below is an excerpt from a recent article by Sam Smith on the "Civil War Trust" site. Enjoy!
Female Soldiers in the Civil War On the front line
August 5, 2012
On Aug. 29, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run, Union soldiers could
see a young woman helping the wounded seek shelter under a rock ledge, while
taking fire herself. At Petersburg in June 1864, Sgt. Frederick O. Talbot, of
the First Maine Heavy Artillery, found himself standing beside this same woman
as she beckoned soldiers to the frontline breastwork to be treated. He was told
that the men of the Fifth Michigan Infantry would have anyone’s “life in a
minute” for saying “any harm of her.”
Annie Etheridge had gone off to war with her husband, James, in 1861. He
deserted after the First Battle of Bull Run, but Annie remained, serving as a
battlefield medic with the Second and Third Michigan, a unit eventually
incorporated into the Fifth Infantry Regiment.
Etheridge is the most famous of the Civil War “daughters of regiments,” who,
along with “mothers,” tended soldiers in camp, sometimes in battle, and on the
march. She went on foot and horseback, treating the wounded and taking them off
the field. Although she participated in 28 battles, she was wounded only once.
And she did more than tend to the wounded. On two occasions she rallied the
troops: at Chancellorsville, riding along the line, urging the soldiers to hold
it, and at Spotsylvania, leading retreating troops back into battle, under hot
fire. Etheridge received the coveted Kearny Cross, awarded to enlisted personnel
of the First Division, Third Army Corps who “most distinguished” themselves in
Etheridge, along with Marie Tepe of the 114th Pennsylvania, are perhaps the
most romantic heroines of the war, because they served under fire, undisguised,
in feminine attire. An additional 400 women, according to the Sanitary
Commission agent Mary Livermore, were known to have disguised themselves as
They include Jennie Hodgers, who enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry,
serving for three years and participating in 40 battles. Her motive: “I wanted
excitement.” Hodgers developed a reputation for being a daring soldier, evincing
“nerveless performance in combat situations and tirelessness on the march.” She
returned to Illinois and lived out the next 50 years as a man, her gender
revealed only when she became an elderly victim of an automobile accident.
Like Hodgers, many disguised women maintained their cover by adopting male
lifestyles and mannerisms. Others were discovered in sad, obvious, odd and funny
ways. Most women were identified as such when they came sick or wounded into
hospitals. Having sweet faces, peachy complexions and small hands and feet were
clear give-aways. Yet a Rochester recruit got up one morning and, completely
forgetting herself, put her pants on over her head, thinking they were her
dress. A cavalryman and teamster working for Gen. Philip Sheridan were revealed
when they fell drunk into a river and attempts were made to revive them.
Conversely, Pvt. Franklin Thompson, a k a Sarah Emma Edmonds, of the Second
Michigan Infantry, kept the secret for one woman who died on the field at
Antietam: Edmonds buried her in an unmarked grave.
Female soldiers passing as men could be determined to stay the course,
enlisting in new regiments after each discovery. Fourteen-year-old Lizzie
Compton, a Canadian, served in eight regiments. Frances Hook holds the record
for serving in 10 different regiments. Versatile Fanny Wilson of Williamsburg,
N.Y. enlisted in the 24th New Jersey, took sick at Vicksburg and was discharged,
did a stint as a ballet dancer, and then joined the Third Illinois Cavalry.
The Civil War women also carried on a century-old family tradition.
Continental Army women traveled with their husbands’ units, working as nurses,
cooks, laundresses and water carriers for artillery units. The Civil War carried
on this family tradition. Civil War soldiers were mostly farmers, and farm
families worked together in the home and the fields, so separation in war would
have been the odd circumstance. Keith Blalock of the 26th North Carolina told
his recruiter that he wouldn’t enlist unless his wife was enrolled with him.
They fought in three battles together.
Often they enlisted from the same motives as men: a patriotic sense of duty,
to uphold family traditions, to gain better or any pay, for abolition. Private
Lyons Wakeman, a k a Sarah Rosetta, of the 153rd New York Infantry, wrote home:
“I am as independent as a hog on the ice.”
Most women, however, seemed to have joined to be with their husbands,
boyfriends or brothers. Reportedly, the husband of Mary Owens, a Pennsylvanian,
“was killed by her side in their first battle.” In one Philadelphia case, after
the husband enlisted, the wife was unable to support herself and their new baby;
so she left the infant with neighbors and joined her husband’s regiment. The
baby died shortly thereafter. Melverina Peppercorn of Tennessee saw no reason
why she should not enlist. She was older than her brother and could shoot as
well as he. Twenty-year old Eliza Wilson, a “daughter” of the Fifth Wisconsin
Regiment, in which several family members had enrolled, trudged along “in storm
and sunshine” with her compatriots.
In the Victorian era, women’s lives could be tenuous: a number of female
soldiers were orphans, widows and escaping abused children and wives and
prostitutes. A 19-year-old drummer girl in the 112th Indiana Regiment joined to
be with her three orphaned siblings in 1861. By the time The Chicago Tribune
reported her medical treatment in September 1864, all her brothers had been
killed in battle.
Women performed multiple duties. Cuban-born Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a k a
Lt. Harry T. Buford of the Confederate Army, was surely the busiest devotee:
soldier, smuggler, secret and double agent, detective, courier and bounty-jumper
agent. Mary Ellis, wife of the colonel of the Union First Missouri Cavalry,
assisted with surgeries, nursed on the battlefield and served as a courier and
Women also served in naval roles. Elizabeth Taylor, a British volunteer,
served disguised as a sailor, likely on a Confederate raider. In January 1863,
presumably, Augusta Devereaux, the captain’s wife, retook their merchant ship,
J. P. Ellicott, from a Confederate prize crew, with the help of mostly Caribbean
seamen. She commanded the vessel to St. Thomas, where it was turned over to the
United States consul. In mid-February 1862, Mary Louvest, a Norfolk free black,
hand delivered traced plans of the Confederate ironclad Merrimac to Secretary of
the Navy Gideon Welles, advising that the Merrimac would soon go on the
Of course, women’s primary role was medical. Some 20,000 female doctors,
nurses, matrons and other hospital workers enrolled. Otherwise, women served as
clerks, cooks, scouts, telegraphers, recruiters, and arsenal workers. A few
women rose to officer rank, the reported highest being a Union major. They held
federal- and state-appointed positions as Sanitary Commission and military state
agents. There was one chaplain, and Christian Commission workers and freedmen
teachers. Southern women formed militia groups like the Rhea County, Tenn.,
Cavalry and the Nancy Hart Girls of La Grange, Ga., and joined and aided
guerrillas as well.
Whatever duties they performed, the Civil War women who valiantly served
their causes distinguished themselves from men in one major way: They were all
volunteers, as has been every woman who ever enrolled in military service in our
Sources: Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 8, 1862; The New York Times, March
1, 1863; The Chicago Tribune, Sept. 16, 1864; Deanne Blanton and Lauren Cook,
“They Fought Like Demons”; Linda Grant De Pauw, “Founding Mothers”; Richard
Hall, “Patriots in Disguise” and “Women on the Civil War Battlefront”; C. Kay
Larson, “Bonny Yank and Ginny Reb,” Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the
Military, (Spring 1990/Summer 1992), and “Springing to the Call: A Documentary View of Women in the American Civil War”; Jane E. Schultz, “Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America”; Jonathan D. Sutherland, “African-Americans at War: An Encyclopedia”; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of Rebellion.
C. Kay Larson is a member of the board of the New York Military Affairs
Symposium and the author of “Great Necessities: The Life, Times, and Writings of Anna Ella
Carroll, 1815-1894” and “South Under a Prairie Sky: The Journal of Nell Churchill, U. S.
Army Nurse and Scout
The Heart of Camelann starts and ends in the Valley of Camelann, a mythical enclave hidden in the mountains of south central Pennsylvania. It’s a magical place that gives the characters great peace. Near the end of the book, Daniel talks about how Camelann made him feel: "The view, the smell, the cool air touching his cheek, the squawk of the ducks, the place never failed to bring him peace."
I love creating characters, starting them out as a handful of wet imagination then bit by bit adding bones and skin and deep creases in their foreheads until they pop onto the page with blond hair and big shoulders or blue eyes, dimples, and a slim waist. They walk and talk, bleed and breathe. I loved building their character, giving them flaws, then nudging them to grow and change. One thing that struck me as I studied the Civil War, and I suppose it is true of all wars, was how young the soldiers were. These young officers, Daniel and Hal, were born in 1840. When the war started they were 21. Much was asked of them and they gave much. Immersed into more responsibility than few men are ever given, they grew. As Amelia tells Daniel in the early part of the story: She shook her head, looking amazed. “I find it difficult to believe you’re old enough to grow a moustache, let alone be a major. Isn’t it a sad state of affairs? Our soldiers are still growing.” Her amber eyes filled with tears and she took his arm and turned away, leading him toward the library. “I’m so glad you’re safe and whole. You know, they blinded Martin West, and Cal Shuman lost both legs. No one expects him to live very long. My God. Both legs, can you imagine? Is he twenty-one?”
I didn’t plan to have the non-human characters become so popular. They did so all by themselves. The horses, Chester, Dulcey, and Rabbit and the dogs, Nip and Tuck, then Lewis and Clark, even the goats demanded personalities. Here are some little know facts about Civil War horses. Over a million horses and mules became casualties of the war, 1500 were killed at Gettysburg, alone. Did you know that every day, every horse needs 14 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of grain and sufficient water? Tells you what much of those supply lines the generals sweated over carried.
Horses were the backbone of both armies and some were revered long after the war. Lee’s horse, Traveller, followed him to Washington and Lee College where students about plucked clean his tail for souvenirs. Traveller died a year after Lee in 1871. His bones unofficially wandered for about a century until in 1971, Traveller's remains were buried in a wooden box encased in concrete, a few feet away from the Lee family crypt, where his master's body rests. The stable where he lived his last days, directly connected to the Lee House on campus. Traditionally the doors were left open to allow his spirit to wander freely. One 20th century President of Washington & Lee caught strong criticism from many members of the Washington & Lee community for closing the stable gates in violation of this tradition. He later had the doors to the gates repainted in a dark green color, which he referred to in campus newspapers as "Traveller Green."
Stonewall Jackson originally acquired Little Sorrel for his wife. However, the small Morgan within a day presented himself as a true warhorse and became Stonewall Jackson’s faithful mount After the war Little Sorrel was sent to the Virginia Military Institute by train and veterans stood alongside the tracks to salute the horse as the train passed. Little Sorrel lived to the ripe old age of thirty-six. His hide is on display at the VMI museum, but his bones are buried at VMI near a statue of General Jackson.
Rienuzi, later to be renamed Winchester, who plays a big part in The Heart of Camelann, stayed with General Sheridan throughout the war and the Indian Wars that followed. The 2nd Michigan Cavalry had brought the Morgan stallion, Michigan born and bred, to Rienzi, Mississippi and presented him to General Sheridan at the beginning of the war. He lived to be twenty and resides, stuffed, at the National Museum of History in Washington.
Cincinnati, the horse General Grant claimed was the finest warhorse to ever live, followed him to the White House.
My grandfather was the son of a Civil war veteran, and Nip and Tuck were the names of his childhood pets. Nip and Tuck in the story are based on my daughter’s present day queen of the house, Maggie, who is loved by her family and me. The dogs in the story have Maggie’s character, her intelligence, and fierce protectiveness.
My friend, Brad Wind, did some magic to multiply Maggie’s photo’s into Nip and Tuck.
Daniel and Hal served first with General Buford’s cavalry then after his death with General Phil Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. I purposefully did not put Hal and Daniel in a specific unit. I did not want to take anything from the very real men that lived, fought, and died in those units. Remember the story is based on history but it is fiction.
The history has been meticulously researched. I did fudge in one place. Mosby and Custer hanged each other’s men after the Battle of Cedar Creek. In the story the hangings happen prior to that battle.
Little details tend to draw the most comments. “They didn’t have real coffee. They wore union suits not drawstring drawers. Where, pray tell, did they get olives? A well-brought up girl wouldn’t run around in her underwear. Remember, Hal and Daniel came from well-to-do families. In the North, if you had money, deprivation did not occur. I think they dined on olives and wore silk robes and drawstring drawers. They drank real coffee! If you still feel they were deprived. Check out the menu at the Russian Ball in November 1863 as reported in Harper’s Weekly. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/winslow-homer-russian-ball.htm.