Women Who Fought in the Civil War
During the American Civil War, women weren’t allowed to join the battles, but many weren’t content to stay home while their fathers, brothers, husbands, cousins, uncles, grandfathers, and other loved ones went off to fight.
Instead of staying behind, hundreds of women disguised themselves as men and changed their names in order to fight for their country with their families. Find out more about the brave women who took drastic action to be able to serve in their military and fight for their country.
The First American Women in the Military
The motivations that drove women to disguise themselves and fight in the Civil War were similar to the motivations of the men who fought. Soldiers were fighting for a cause they believed in, whether that was the union of the existing United States or the independence of the Confederate States. In addition to fighting out of patriotism, women and men would have known that joining the war efforts promised a steady wage. Plus, some women were hungering for adventure.
Below, we've written about three of the many stories of the brave women who fought in the Civil War.
Sarah Edmonds Seelye
Sarah Edmonds Seelye is one of the courageous women who went to war, but that wasn’t her first experience disguising herself as man. When Sarah was young, she lived in Canada with her abusive father. At just 16 years old, she ran away and worked in a small Canadian town for a year.
Living in constant fear that her father would find her, Edmonds decided to leave to seek refuge in the United States. In order to make it across the border, however, she would need to be accompanied by a man (which she didn't exactly have handy). So she disguised herself as one and changed her name to “Franklin Thompson.”
Once in the US, Edmonds worked as a Bible salesman, but she wanted to do something more when the Civil War broke out. She became Franklin Thompson once again and went to war on the Union side. While in the Army, she served as a medic, a mail carrier, a spy, and a soldier. She suffered many injuries during her service, but she never sought medical attention for fear that she would be discovered.
In 1863, Edmonds applied for furlough so that she could return home and get treatment for her injuries. Her request was denied, causing her to abandon her post as a Union soldier. Franklin Thompson was charged with desertion.
Once she returned home, Edmonds wrote a book about her time as a disguised soldier, which helped clear her military record. She became the only woman to receive pension and military awards for her service in the Civil War.
Jennie Hodgers was born in Ireland, but few things are known about her life before she joined the war. A detailed history of her life begins on August 6, 1862, when Jennie enlisted in the Union army with the name “Albert Cashier.” She served for three years and fought in over 40 battles before she was released from duty in 1865.
However, Jennie wasn’t content to leave behind the benefits of being a man. Instead of revealing her true identity, Jennie continued to live as Albert so that she could receive her pension and vote in government elections. While disguised as a man after the war, Jennie held odd jobs like working as a farmhand, a lamplighter, a janitor, and a cemetery worker.
When Jennie died in 1915, she was buried in her military uniform and her grave stone was marked with her alias, Albert Cashier. Fifty-five years later, a gravestone with her given name was placed next to the original marker.
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman
Like Jennie Hodgers, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman’s life before enlisting in the Union army is relatively unknown. She was born and raised the oldest of nine children on a farm in New York. When she was 19 years old, she didn’t have any prospects or plans for marriage, and she knew her family was in debt.
Instead of going to work as a domestic for slim wages, she decided to disguise herself as a man to find work that paid better. While she was working on a coal barge, she learned that she could earn far more if she joined the Army. So she enlisted as Lyons Wakeman.
Sarah wrote many letters to her family, and they saved every one of them, giving historians an interesting insight into the life of a female soldier of the time period. Sarah served on guard duty in Virginia and Washington DC before she was transferred to another regiment where she fought in many battles.
In 1864, after only two years serving in the army, Sarah died from an unidentified disease. As far as anyone knows, her true gender was never discovered, and her male alias was the name placed on her grave marker.
Although they don’t have to disguise themselves to serve in the United States armed forces anymore, women still exhibit courage by enlisting in a military that has only recently officially opened its doors to them.
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