Women in the Civil WarPosted: September 7, 2011
The enlistment of thousands of patriotic young men to join both the United States and Confederate armies at the start of the Civil War overwhelmed existing inventories. For both the North and the South uniforms, food, and medical equipment were in short supply. No organization was equipped to handle the demands of the new and larger volunteer forces.
Amelia Hutter Reeder (Mrs. Andrew H.), pictured here, served as President of the Easton Sanitary Aid Society. Mrs. Reeder had three sons fighting for the North during the War. Under her leadership, bandages were rolled and medical supplies were collected. Fairs, picnics, and pageants were important fund raising events. The women collected cash donations, knitted socks, and made clothing for the troops. Clean clothes were vital to the health of the men, and the packages from home brought comfort to the often tired and footsore soldiers.
A few women followed their soldier-husbands to war. These women worked as laundresses, nursed the wounded, mended the men’s clothes, or cooked. They were soldiers in all respects, including the hardships, except they had no formal training. One husband and wife team from Pennsylvania worked together in the hospitals of Maryland and Virginia. One Southern woman, who accompanied her husband, was known as “Mother of the Regiment” for the care she gave the Confederates.
Both the North and the South forbade the enlistment of women into the army. However, some women cut their hair, assumed men’s names, and disguised themselves to pass as men. The Cavalry was a popular branch for these women soldiers as it was an informal unit with looser discipline than the regular Army. Their true sex became known only when the women were so severely wounded as to be hospitalized. Many survived the entire war without discovery.
Other women served both armies as spies or smugglers, concealing weapons, drugs, on medicines in their luggage or in their clothing. Women could also carry messages in their elaborate hair styles. Several generals employed women as couriers, scouts, or spies reporting on troop positions or movements. A young African American woman, employed as a servant in the home of Confederate
President Jefferson Davis, passed important information to Union authorities. Another African American laundress in a Confederate camp would transmit messages to the Union Army by the arrangement of laundry on the clothesline.
The management, organizational, and accounting skills learned by the women on the home front would prove valuable after the Civil War as women entered into politics and fought for the right to vote.
- Submitted by Elaine Greek