Civil War Illustrated
Babes on the Civil War Battlefield

Female Soldiers in the Civil War
By Richard Hall


Women served in combat during the American Civil War in far larger numbers and in more significant roles than has so far been fully recognized in history text books. New stories from diaries, memoirs, and family letters and new access to historical information on the internet have added to the previously published accounts of women who served on the battlefields. The conclusion is inescapable that those who served as soldiers or combat nurses must have been many times larger than the commonly accepted estimate of about 400.

At the outset of the war in April 1861, tens of thousands of young men left their homes and rallied to the flag when President Abraham Lincoln called for the states to provide soldiers to "put down the insurrection." Although it was not fully comprehended at the time, hundreds of young women also enlisted in male disguise.  Their purpose commonly was to be with their husbands or lovers, but many served alone simply out of patriotism or the desire for adventure and excitement.

This is all the more remarkable when you consider the status of American women in 1861. As Margaret Leech reported, society in Washington, D.C., at the outbreak of the war "permitted an unusual freedom to ladies. Moving breathlessly and without privacy in a shower of white kid gloves and calling cards, they had a role to play in the parlors; and might still enjoy homage at an age when in other American cities they would have been relegated to knitting at the fireside."

In other words, this "unusual freedom" for women in Washington society permitted them an ornamental role and some escape from domesticity, unlike their rural sisters. "If her husband were occupied, it was considered correct for a lady to be escorted to a levee by one of his friends. Failing a female companion for a tour of the public buildings, she might with decorum accept the attendance of a child."

Women in the mid-19th Century were severely restricted in their ability to travel freely or to participate fully in the human adventure, except in a subordinate role to men. At the outset of the war, even the notion of female military nurses was considered outlandish, though this would change rapidly as the war progressed and pioneering women such as Dorothea Dix pitched in to establish hospital systems.

In a very real sense, the Civil War liberated women by freeing them to participate in many activities previously considered the exclusive domains of men. But female soldiers? Not a chance! Often when women were found in the ranks wearing a soldier's uniform they were considered to be common prostitutes and sent home in disgrace. However, camp followers and officer's concubines were one thing and women who served in combat on the battlefields and risked their lives were quite another.

Early in the war hundreds of young women played an ornamental role in camp as "Daughter of the Regiment." Mounted on fine steeds, dressed in stylized uniforms replete with bonnets and feathers, and leading the soldiers on parade, they epitomized the optimism and romanticism of the early war period. Their role was to be an inspiration for young male soldiers.

Once the war progressed beyond the stage of naive romanticism about glorious deeds of valor in a noble cause to the harsh reality of soldiers being maimed and killed under confusing and often ignoble conditions, most Daughters of the Regiment disappeared from the scene. A different breed of women asserted themselves, including an undetermined number who enlisted in male disguise and went through formal military training in army regiments North and South.

Besides those who fought in male disguise, hundreds of other women "soldiered" with a specific regiment as nurses and all-purpose helpers. Some drilled along with the soldiers and trained with weapons. All found themselves marching for days on end, camping in the field, subsisting on meager army chow, and enduring the vagaries of weather from extreme heat, drenching rain, and mud to sleet, frost, and snow, usually with inadequate clothing and shelter.

When the bullets and cannon shells started flying, most of these adjunct soldiers stayed on or near the battlefield and served as "medics." Often they got caught up in firefights and rushed to the aid of fallen soldiers on the battlefield, bandaged their wounds, gave them water, and sheltered them from further harm while exposed to enemy fire. Augusta Foster, a nurse from Maine, had her horse shot out from under her at 1st Bull Run, and continued as a field nurse after the battle.

One of the most storied battlefield nurses, and deservedly so, was Anna Etheridge (nee Anna Blair) whose formal title was Daughter of the Regiment. Her fully documented story proves how misleading that title can be in some instances. "Gentle Annie," as the soldiers called her, went to war with the 2nd Michigan Infantry, and was under fire on several occasions. In 1864 she was awarded the Kearny Cross for gallantry.


Annie Etheridge, battlefield nurse with the 2nd and 5th Michigan Infantry, Army of the Potomac. Postwar photo wearing the Kearny Cross for gallantry and another medal. (See Patriots in Disguise pp. 33-45) *Photo courtesy of State Archives of Michigan

On the Confederate side, Lucy Ann Cox initially was a vivandiere and inevitably a nurse in the 13th Virginia Infantry, traveling with her husband in Company A for most of the war. She marched with the soldiers, including the grueling campaigns of Lee's two invasions of the North, and cared for wounded soldiers during combat. When she died after the war, she was buried with military honors.

The records of Catholic orders include reports of female soldiers discovered in hospitals. One chronicler of Catholic orders reports that Catholic sisters were especially given two unusual duties: acting as peacemakers between quarreling soldiers, and attending to female soldiers who often were first discovered when wounded or sick. In hospitals where there were sisters, such cases were assigned to them and several different communities of sisters noted their care of such women.

Margaret Hamilton, a Catholic sister from New York State, reported that while serving at the U.S. Military Hospital in Philadelphia--

"We received a large number of wounded after the battle of the Wilderness [May 5-7, 1864], and among them was a young woman not more than twenty years of age. She ranked as lieutenant. She was wounded in the shoulder, and her sex was not discovered until she came to our hospital. It appeared that she had followed her lover to the battle; and the boys who were brought in with her said that no one in the company showed more bravery than she. She was discharged very soon after entering the ward."

Other nurses also discovered female soldiers among their patients. Clara Barton, whose fame spread across the country and around the world, was caring for wounded soldiers during the battle of Antietam in 1862. While giving one soldier a drink of water, a bullet tore through her sleeve and killed him. Later Barton observed that another soldier's face appeared to be "too soft," and she became suspicious when the soldier was hesitant to have his chest wound treated.

The soldier turned out to be a woman named Mary Galloway who had enlisted to be with her husband. "She [Barton] shepherded and shielded the girl, and subsequently located her lover in a Washington hospital." Later Barton reported that the couple had named a daughter after her.

Women were represented in all three main branches of the army (infantry, cavalry, and artillery), a surprising number of them advancing through the ranks to become sergeants, and in some cases officers, until wounded, killed, or being found out through some other extreme circumstance.

By far the most famous female infantry soldier was Sarah Emma Edmonds ("Franklin Thompson") who served for two years in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as soldier, spy, and nurse. After the war when she applied for a pension, her former comrades confirmed her service and she was made the only known female member of the Grand Army of the Republic. She was in combat in several engagements.

Among the more intriguing Confederate female soldiers was Cuban-born Loreta Janeta Velazquez who served as Lt. Harry T. Buford. Her story has been viewed with great skepticism by historians and social commentators. Other than a few scattered contemporary references, her 1876 memoirs have long been the primary source of information about her alleged adventures as soldier and spy for the Confederacy. More recent research has tended to confirm some key portions of her story, though some of her alleged exploits remain controversial and unproven.

In Patriots in Disguise I show and discuss a photograph that appears in a book about Confederate spying operations in Canada during the Civil War. It purports to be of a young Confederate woman who was helping Confederate prisoners in Canada. When I saw the photograph, I recognized her as almost certainly being Loreta Janeta Velazquez of "The Woman in Battle" fame, whose face was portrayed in an engraving in that work. If so, this is a feat of historical detective work for which I have not been properly credited. Compare for yourself the photograph of the unnamed spy and the engraving of Madame Velazquez. Note particularly the nose and mouth area.


Malinda Blalock (a.k.a. Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock) enlisted in Co. F of the 26th North Carolina Infantry, posing as her husband's brother "Samuel." Her husband was William McKesson ("Keith") Blalock. Residents of a western North Carolina mountain region with strongly divided sentiments about secession and the Confederate cause. As a professed "Lincolnite," Keith often was pitted against friends and relatives.    

Although a professed "Lincolnite," Keith was forced by community pressures into enlisting for the Confederacy. Malinda's sentiments originally were pro-South, but out of loyalty to her husband she planned to desert with him at the first opportunity, Somehow the circumstances never quite developed that would allow them to carry out their plan.

Keith and "Sam" fought together in three battles garbed in Confederate gray, until in March 1862 Malinda was wounded in the shoulder. Keith carried her to the surgeon's tent, and in process of removing the bullet the surgeon discovered that "Sam" was a woman. Keith pleaded with the surgeon not to expose her, but the surgeon agreed only to give Keith a short time to work out his next course of action.   

Distraught about the probability of being separated from Malinda, Keith deliberately rubbed poison oak all over himself. By next morning his skin was blistered and swollen, and he had a high fever. Fearing that he had small pox, the physician confined him to his tent under guard to avoid a contagion. It was decided to give him an immediate medical discharge on April 20, 1862.

More excerpts from this Richard Hall writing will be posted here later...

Read the entire article here:

"Babes on the Battlefield"
Fightin Females at Civil War Reenactments
(pictured: Specialist Lindsay Lange of the Ft. Riley Ks. Honor Guard-Battle at Shoal Creek 2002)
This page will showcase female reenactors that participate in Civil War Reenactments primarily as "combatants". Field nurses and artillery crew-women can also be included. Your photo submissions are welcome. (We prefer photos taken of the reenactor in action during the battle) Please include their name,unit,event,location and date that the picture was taken. Any other brief bio info would also be appreciated. Send your photos to the editor and
In addition, this page will also document the actual history of the women who fought in Civil War battles. Read the Historical text in the left hand column and also interspersed with the images on this side.


Women soldiers in Civil War Reenactments
Should Women be allowed to participate in Civil War Reenactment Battles?
NEVER! Only as Field Nurses Only if well trained and disguised Yes, with no restrictions Other

View current results

(Pictured-April Rodgers at the Battle of Prairie Grove 2002)

April has been featured in many articles and interviews relating to her role in civil war reenactments. View more photos of April here:

"When the bullets and cannon shells started flying, most of these adjunct soldiers stayed on or near the battlefield and served as "medics." Often they got caught up in firefights and rushed to the aid of fallen soldiers on the battlefield, bandaged their wounds, gave them water, and sheltered them from further harm while exposed to enemy fire. Augusta Foster, a nurse from Maine, had her horse shot out from under her at 1st Bull Run, and continued as a field nurse after the battle."

( Pictured Michelle Martin at the Battle of Bentonville 2003)

Michelle is an instructor at Ft. Scott Community College in Ft. Scott Kansas. She has played many roles and characters of  Civil War women on both sides of the Conflict. Read her account of firing the cannon pictured above:

"Historical evidence indicates that many women served in the artillery throughout the war. In contrast to the women who served in the more glamorous cavalry, female cannoneers when discovered often were described in unflattering terms. One who served in the 15th Indiana Battery was described in a newspaper report after the war as being a "strange character."
During the summer of 1864 when a Confederate female artillery soldier was captured, a newspaper that reported her being taken to Grant's headquarters as a prisoner described her as "a coarse featured Amazon...who was in charge of a rebel battery when she was captured, and had on an officer's uniform of the United States." According to Union nurse Anna Holstein, the woman ranked as a sergeant and "was the last to leave the gun" before being captured.

(Pictured-Trooper Melissa Hendicks 5th MO. Cav. Battle of Wentzville 2002)

Melissa, from Desota, Misssouri has been riding with the 5th Missouri Union cavalry for over a year and is a proud mother of three children.

"In order to be self-sufficient in the field, cavalry soldiers carried all their fighting and camping equipment with them. Typical supplies included three-days subsistence for themselves and their horses, 40 rounds of carbine ammunition, 20 rounds of pistol ammunition, shelter tent and camping equipment, and various tools and cleaning equipment. A cavalry horse usually carried about 270 pounds altogether. As a result of manhandling horse and supplies on a daily basis, cavalry soldiers had an unusual incidence of back problems, frequent ruptures, and hemorrhoids.
Despite the physical strain involved, a large number of women are known to have served in the cavalry branches of the Union and the Confederate armies. Lizzie Compton reportedly served in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in 1863, and later in the 125th Michigan Cavalry and a number of other regiments. A contemporary report stated that, "Seven or eight times she was discovered and mustered out of service, but immediately re-enlisted in another regiment."


More info on Sandy pending...

Why did women fight? Except where the female soldiers survived the war and left interviews or memoirs, little is known about their motivations. By inference from the records, the majority appear to have been motivated simply by shared patriotism and an unwillingness to be separated from their loved ones.

(Battle of Bentonville 2003-Unknown Female Cavalry rider )

If you know the identity of this reenactor please let us know-thanks!

General Philip Sheridan in his memoirs reported an extraordinary incident one day when two female soldiers were accidentally discovered in his command. A cavalry soldier along with a teamster from Tennessee, while on a foraging expedition in Kentucky, got drunk on apple cider, fell in a river, and both were discovered to be female when they were saved and resuscitated. Sheridan personally interviewed them next day and records the incident with some bemusement, referring to them as "she dragoons."
"The East Tennessee woman [the teamster] was found in camp, somewhat the worst for the experiences of the day before, but awaiting her fate contentedly smoking a cob-pipe," he recorded. "The cavalry soldier proved to be a rather prepossessing young woman....How the two got acquainted I never learned, and though they had joined the army independently of each other, yet an intimacy had sprung up between them long before the mishaps of the foraging expedition."

Pictured: Ann Sitzman of Elliott's Scouts. Ann is a Junior at Shawnee Mission East High School and has been reenacting with the Elliott's Scouts for two years now.

"During the 1861 Kanawha Valley Campaign in West Virginia a young soldier was discovered to be a woman after serving three months in the 1st Kentucky Infantry when she aroused suspicion by the way she pulled on her stockings. A newspaper correspondent covering the campaign reported:

"She performed camp duties with great fortitude, and never fell out of the ranks during the severest marches. She was small in stature, and kept her coat buttoned to her chin."

More info on this reenactor pending...

Remember to send  us more photos like these and Thanks very much!


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