February 28, 2013

The women who fought as men: Rare American Civil War pictures show how females disguised themselves so they could go into battle

Conventional narrative has framed the Civil War as a man’s fight, with historical accounts focusing almost exclusively on the men who fought as Yanks and Rebs in the 1860s. But such commonly accepted accounts present, like all history, a revisionist history that excises the stories of the women who, despite the extraordinary obstructions of the era, took to the battlefields. In They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War (public library), historians DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook chronicle and contextualize more than 250 documented cases of women who served in the ranks of both the Union and Confederate armies dressed as men, “the best-kept historical secret of the Civil War” — an act at once rebellious and patriotic, using this usurped male social identity to claim full status as citizens of their nation and access male independence in an age when neither was available to women. Blanton and Cook write in the introduction:
Popular notions of women during the Civil War center on self-sacrificing nurses, romantic spies, or brave ladies maintaining their home front in the absence of their men. This conventional picture of gender roles does not tell the entire story, however. Men were not the only ones to march off to war. Women bore arms and charged into battle, too. Women lived in germ-ridden camps, languished in appalling prisons, and died miserably, but honorably, for their country and their cause just as men did.

Union cavalryman Jack Williams (left) fought in 18 battles and was wounded three times and taken prisoner once. He was later revealed to be Frances Clalin a mother-of-three from Illinois

Sarah Edmonds served for two years in Company F of the second Michigan Infantry. She later wrote of her experiences in her memoir Nurse and Spy

Sarah Pritchard cut her hair and donned men's clothes to join the Confederate army with her husband Keith

Dual identities: Irish immigrant Jennie Hodgers enlisted in the Union army as Albert Cashier and then remained a man once the war ended

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