This excellent addition to the “Women of Action” series features fifteen biographies of women involved in various aspects of the American Civil War.
Five women “soldiers” are featured in the initial segment. The tales of four women who served their “country” as spies during the War years are followed by stories about four nurses. The book concludes by featuring three “vivandieres.”
A vivandiere, also known as “cantinieres,” were women who braved danger during battle to help provide immediate care for injured soldiers. Usually carrying water – either in canteens or small kegs – along with bandaging materials, vivandieres were the often first to help care for an injured soldier. Those readers who are familiar with our country’s early history should have some basic knowledge of efforts made to care for the soldiers.
Unfortunately, medical care failed to keep pace with new weaponry.
The Introduction provides an outstanding backdrop to the bloody War Between the States.
The huge numbers of soldier deaths – Northern and Southern – around 625,000 -- as the author points out, is equal to the combined American soldier deaths from the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean War. Add to the Civil War soldier deaths an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Civil War civilian deaths!
The war between Confederate and Union forces shattered literally thousands of families and devastated the economy.
Slavery, of course, was the bone of contention in this vast horrific event. Included in the difficulties between the Northern and Southern regions were “’states’ rights’ as well as economic and social differences.
Slavery had actually existed on the North American continent even before the thirteen original American colonies were formed.
The soldiers featured include Sarah Emma Edmonds, Frances Elizabeth Quinn, Mary Ann Clark, Frances Louisa Clayton, and Maria Lewis.
Sarah Emma Edmonds chose running away to the War over a forced marriage. Ms. Edmonds’ father – as a means of paying his debts -- was planning to marry his young daughter – at age seventeen – to “an elderly farmer.”
Ms. Edmonds chose flight over a forced marriage and managed to survive by enlisting in the Union Army as Franklin Thompson. Sarah served in various capacities – as a male nurse, a mail carrier for her regiment, as a spy – actually blackening her skin with silver nitrate to disguise herself as an African American man.
Young Frances Elizabeth Quinn enlisted in the Second East Tennessee Cavalry but was discovered as a woman and dismissed. Re-enlisting, Frances fought again and escorted captured Confederate soldiers to Louisville, KY, to the Union’s military prison. Again discovered by a friend from her hometown to be a female, Frances continued until seriously injured and imprisoned.
Mary Ann Clark was described as “A Good Rebel Soldier”. Frances Louisa Clayton became “Jack Williams – A Rough Northern Soldier.”
Maria Lewis, for her disguise, chose to portray a character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin – George Harris. Maria – a former slave – was a cavalryman, remained disguised as a man, and scouted, fought, and skirmished on horseback.
The second segment includes descriptions and brief stories of four spies: Harriet Tubman, Mary Carroll, Loreta Janeta Velazquez, and Mary Jane Richards. Ms. Richards – born to a white mother and black father – was considered a slave of the Richmond, Virginia, Van Lew family.
Sent away to school in 1850, Ms. Richards traveled to Liberia, Africa, in 1854, but returned to Richmond in 1860. Sent to work in the Confederate White House, she spied on Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals and other officials visiting with Mr. Davis.
Brief biographies of Civil War nurses make up the third segment of Courageous Women of the Civil War. Of the thousands who served -- both loyal to the Union or to the Confederacy – Georgeanna Woolsey, Susie King Taylor, Harriet Ann Jacobs, and Cornelia Hancock – are included in the author’s nurse stories.
Few American women had expert training in nursing though many had cared for family members during illnesses. Caring for severely injured or ill male soldiers was not considered a good occupation for young women – especially near the battlefronts.
Initially, men were assigned to serve as nurses; however, Congress soon approved hiring female nurses for Union hospitals with consideration of food rations and $12.00 per month payment.
Many women who served as nurses wanted to be near their husbands or wanted to show their patriotism. Nurses served in hospitals, on board ships or riverboats, and on battlefields. The United States Sanitary Commission was soon formed to help oversee and provide medical supplies to the Union army.
Civil War vivandieres make up the final segment of Courageous Women of the Civil War and features Marie Tepe, Kady Brownell, and Annie Lorinda Etheridge. Hired principally as laundresses or cooks by the soldiers, these women prepared meals and washed clothing.
Annie Etheridge was probably the best known vivandiere and received the Kearney Cross for her battlefield care of the wounded. Etheridge was involved in twenty-eight battles and following her death in 1913, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition to the wonderful stores about Civil War era soldiers, Courageous Women of the Civil War: Soldiers, spies, Medics, and More also contains an excellent Glossary and Bibliography. The Notes section also provides an excellent overview of resources utilized by the author.
As the Civil War began, most thought one battle would suffice -- unfortunately, as the author of Courageous Women of the Civil War: Soldiers, Spies, Medics, and More points out -- the war would continue for many long months and destroy the lives of thousands of Americans.
This small book tells the stories of many women participants of that terrible 19th century tragedy and brings a personal touch to a few of the many ladies who served alongside men during the Civil War.
Title: Courageous Women of the Civil War: Soldiers, Spies, Medics, and More
Author: M.R. Cordell
Publisher: Chicago Review Press