The War Between the States was a conflict between family and friends and some of them were women. This article is a two part series with brief narratives of some of the most famous of these women. Part Two: The Ladies of the North.
Elizabeth Van Lew
Van Lew was born in Richmond in 1818. Educated in Philadelphia she returned home as a strong opponent of slavery. Outspoken in her views, local people considered her to be eccentric and she became known as Crazy Bet.
When the war started Van Lew pretended to be a supporter of the Confederacy. She gathered information about Confederate troop movements and mailed details to General Benjamin Butler and General Ulysses S. Grant. She later devised a special code based on words and letters in books. Van Lew also helped Union soldiers escape from Libby Prison in Richmond.
After the war she was appointed postmistress of Richmond by U. S. Grant, then President. She was resented in Richmond and died a destitute woman having spent her large fortune in her wartime spy efforts. She is buried in Shockoe cemetery under a large boulder donated by "Boston friends."
Budwin disguised herself as a man and followed her husband, John into the War. Both were captured and sent to Andersonville Confederate prison camp where he died.
When Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops got close to Andersonville, Budwin and many other prisoners were moved to the Florence Stockade in Florence, South Carolina. There were about 16,000 Union prisoners held there between September 15, 1864 and February 1865.
Budwin's gender was not discovered until after a routine exam by a doctor, a few months before her death. She was moved to a private room and put to work in the prison hospital. She became ill with one of the many epidemics raging through the camp and died January 25, 1865. Florina is buried in the Florence National Cemetery. It is thought that she is the first woman to be buried in a National Cemetery.
William Fitzpatrick of Western Virginia loved or was loved by Frances Day. Fitzpatrick enlisted in 126th Pennsylvania infantry. A short time later he fell ill and on the 24th of August, 1862, while the regiment was at Cloud's Mills died in the hospital at Alexandria. On the day he died Frank Mayne, a Sergeant of Company F, unaccountably deserted.
When he enlisted he was a stranger to all the men of that company, but in a few days he had so ingratiated himself with his comrades and officers as to be promoted to Sergeant. He was not heard of any more while the regiment remained in service. But long after in the far West a soldier was wounded badly in a great battle and could not conceal her sex. Frances Day on her death bed confessed how she had followed Fitzpatrick into the army and became herself a soldier and a Sergeant in the 126th Pennsylvania infantry.
To verify her story letters were written to the officers of Company F and thus the mystery of the Sergeant's desertion was revealed. Except for her deathbed confession, Day's story would never have been known.
Tubman was born a slave on a plantation in Maryland. Historians think she was born in 1820, or possibly 1821, but birth records weren't kept by most slave owners. Her birth name was Araminta “Minty” Ross, but she took the name of her mother, Harriet, when she was thirteen.
Tubman escaped to freedom in 1849 and later led more than 300 other slaves to the North and then onto Canada to their freedom. The best-known conductor on the Underground Railroad, she was acquainted with many of the social reformers and abolitionists of her time. She spoke often against slavery and for women's rights. During the War, Tubman served with the U.S. Army in South Carolina as a nurse, scout, spy and soldier. In her most famous undertaking she led the Combahee River expedition, under the command of James Montgomery. The mission blew up Southern supply lines and freed hundreds of slaves.
Tubman fought for a military pension, but was only able to win a widow's pension on account of her second husband's service. When Harriet Tubman died, the people of Auburn buried her with full military honors.
For this soldier, camp life was more than exotic. It was a constant tension as "he" attempted to conceal a secret. That is because this soldier, Pvt. Albert Cashier, was in fact a woman.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, her real name was Jennie Hodgers and she arrived in the United States as a shipboard stowaway. At the time of the War’s outbreak she was living in Belvedere, Illinois. Dressed as a man, she enlisted as a private in Company G / 95th Illinois Volunteer Infantry on August 6, 1862. Her regiment was mustered into federal service at Camp Fuller September 4, and a month later departed for Grand Junction, Tennessee, where the 95th was assigned to the Army of Tennessee.
After her discharge she lived in several towns in Illinois through 1869, finally settling down in Sunemin to support herself by working as a farmhand and handyman. She kept her sex a secret until 1911 when her leg was fractured in a minor automobile accident and the doctor called in to treat her discovered she was a woman. Realizing that the 66-year-old Cashier was too crippled by the infirmities of age to live alone any longer her employer arranged to have her admitted to the Soldiers and Sailors home in Quincy. For several years authorities there kept her secret until her failing memory and increasingly erratic behavior induced them to transfer her to the insane asylum at Watertown in March 1913.
When she died at Watertown members of the local GAR chapter saw that she was buried in uniform with military honors. This is the only case of a woman fulfilling an army enlistment.
Walker was a proponent of women's rights and dress reform especially the wearing of "Bloomers" which didn't enjoy wide currency until the sport of bicycling became popular. In 1855 became one of the earliest female physicians upon graduation from Syracuse Medical College. She married Albert Miller a fellow student, in a ceremony that did not include a promise to obey; she did not take his name, and to her wedding wore trousers and a dress-coat. Neither the marriage nor their joint medical practice lasted long.
At the start of the War Dr. Mary E. Walker volunteered with the Union Army and adopted men's clothing. She was at first not allowed to work as a physician but as a nurse and as a spy. She finally won a commission as an army surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland in 1862. While treating civilians she was taken prisoner by the Confederates and was imprisoned for four months until she was released in a prisoner exchange.
Her official service record reads:
Dr. Mary E. Walker (1832 - 1919) Rank and organization: Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian), U. S. Army. Places and dates: Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861 Patent Office Hospital, Washington, D.C., October 1861 Following Battle of Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Tennessee September 1863 Prisoner of War, Richmond, Virginia, April 10, 1864 - August 12, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, September 1864. Entered service at: Louisville, Kentucky Born: 26 November 1832, Oswego County, N.Y.
After the War she became a writer and lecturer and usually appeared dressed in a man's suit and top hat. Dr. Mary E. Walker was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for her service in an order signed by President Andrew Johnson on November 11, 1865. In 1917 the government revoked 900 of these medals and asked for Walker's medal back. She of course refused to return it and wore it until her death two years later. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter restored her medal posthumously making her the first woman to hold a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Cushman was born in New Orleans in 1833. At 18 Cushman went to New York where she began an acting career. She toured the United States in a variety of different plays.
On the outbreak of the War Cushman was asked to become a Union Army spy. In 1863 she toured Tennessee and after visiting the camp of General Braxton Bragg of the Confederate Army, she managed to discover his battle plans.
Cushman was captured and sentenced to death. While waiting to be executed in Shelbyville, the Union Army captured the town and freed Cushman. Despite her narrow escape, Cushman agreed to carry out further spying missions behind the Confederate lines. She provided considerable information for General William Rosecrans and President Abraham Lincoln awarded her with an honorary major's commission.
Sarah Emma Edmonds
Born in New Brunswick, Canada, Sarah E. Edmonds was the fifth daughter of Isaac and Elisabeth Leeper Edmondson (the family’s original name). Her father had hoped for a large family of sons to help him farm his land but was bitterly disappointed with his female offspring.
Sarah was keenly aware of her father’s disappointment and after some education and acquisition of "male skills". Sarah tried very hard to be the boy her father wanted abandoning female attire and becoming an expert equestrienne and noted marksman. But she never won the approval of or even a kind word from Isaac, whom she dubbed "The Brutal Father." She eventually ran away from home to Michigan.
When the War broke out Sarah cut off her hair and became Frank Thompson and enlisted as a private in Company F, 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. She perfected her masculine qualities and her guise was successful. In 1861 Sarah went to Virginia and served as a male field nurse but when she tried to be recruited as a combat soldier she was rejected for being too small and delicate.
Her second recruitment attempt succeeded and she was sworn in as a private. She did guard duty and drilled as hard as any of the men. She fought at First Manassas and at Chickahominy and even spied for the Union (once disguised as a woman). In 1863 when her secret was soon to be discovered she deserted.
Moving to Ohio Sarah shed her male identity and became a nurse in a hospital. She wrote a book that was published in 1865 entitled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army claiming to have served as a female nurse. Sarah eventually married and kept her secret from most until 1882 when she applied for a veteran’s pension. Some of her army confidants wrote affidavits corroborating her petition and Congress granted Sarah the pension.
Sarah Lane Thompson
Lane was born on February 11, 1838 in Greene County, Tennessee. In 1854 Sarah married Sylvanius H.Thompson and they had two children. Sylvanius later became a private in the 1st Tennessee Calvary USA where he served primarily as a recruiter for the Union Army. Sarah worked alongside her husband assembling and organizing Union sympathizers in a predominately rebel area around Greeneville Tennessee. In early 1864 Sylvanius was ambushed and killed by a Confederate soldier.
Spurred by her husband's death Sarah continued her work for the Union delivering dispatches and recruiting information to Union officers. When General John Hunt Morgan and his men spent the night in Greeneville Sarah managed to slip away and alert Union forces to his whereabouts. Union troops invaded the area and by her accounts personally pointed out Morgan hiding behind a garden fence to a Union soldier who proceeded to kill Morgan.
Susie King Taylor
Susie Baker was born a slave in 1848 in Georgia. She learned to read and write while living with her grandmother. Susie gained her freedom in 1862 as contraband of war and was appointed laundress of the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops.
In 1862 Susie married Sergeant Edward King one of the members of the regiment. In January 1863 Susie King began to nurse the wounded men who returned to camp from a raid up the St. Mary's River. During this time she learned to clean, load and fire a musket. For four years Susie nursed the wounded soldiers until she and her husband were mustered out of the regiment in 1866.