Facebook Twitter Digg Stumbleupon Yahoo My Web

Interesting US History
A Website Devoted to Interesting Events in U.S. History





May 18, 2009

Women in the American Civil War

Although women were not permitted to join the military during the Civil War, that did not stop them from contributing to the cause in many ways. One notable case was that of a woman by the name of Sarah Emma Edmonds. At the age of 17, Sarah had run away from her home in Canada to start a new life in the United States, settling in Flint Michigan. Even before the war broke out, Sarah gave up her female identity to pursue a more exciting life she knew would be unavailable to her as a woman.

Posing as Franklin Thompson, Sarah joined the Michigan Infantry originally as a male nurse and courier but eventually as a spy for General George McClellan. Disguising herself as a slave by darkening her skin with silver nitrate and wearing a wig, she made her way behind Confederate lines. Days later she returned to share her information. This went on until she became ill and knowing she could not visit a hospital without revealing her secret, she was forced to leave.

Another woman who had an impact on the American Civil War was Lydia Smith. Lydia was a poor woman who had saved money from years of hard work. After the Battle of Gettysburg, she obtained a wagon and horse and traveled around the area accepting donations of clothing and food for the suffering wounded at the Gettysburg hospitals and then delivered them to the wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. When she was no longer able to get adequate donations she used her own money.

It’s amazing enough that a Union woman would spend her life savings helping Confederate soldiers but what makes it more incredible is that Lydia Smith was black.

Mark Bowman

Click here to sign up for the Interesting History Newsletter


If you would like learn more about the Women in the American Civil War here are some excellent paperback books.  Click the picture to see more detailed information or to buy the book. 

 They Fought Like Demons:
Women Sodiers in the Civil War
 Click picture for details or to buy this book

At least 250 women served-disguised as men-in the ranks of both North and South during the Civil War. Although works about female Civil War soldiers have appeared over the past several years, this volume, by National Archives archivist Blanton and Cook, a Fayetteville State University employee in North Carolina, makes a nice summation. After covering the major combat actions in which women served (and in which several were killed), the authors reconstruct the reasons why women entered the armed forces.

Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Norses, Doctors,
Crusaders, and Others

 Click picture for details or to buy this book

When the Civil War broke out, women answered the call for help. They broke away from their traditional roles and served in many capacities, some of them even going so far as to disguise themselves as men and enlist in the army. Estimates of such women enlistees range from 400 to 700. About 60 women soldiers were known to have been killed or wounded. More than sixty women who fought or who served the Union or Confederacy in other ways are featured.