Women in the Civil War

Loreta Velaques of New Orleans dressed as Lt. Harry Buford so she could accompany her husband to war. Said to have served briefly as a company commander under Confederate Brig. Gen. Bernard Bee at Manassas, her comrades in arms learned her secret a year later. According to her colorful memoirs, she then became a secret agent.

Like Velaques, Florena Budwin posed as a man so she could go into battle with her husband. Both were captured and sent to the military prison at Andersonville, where he died. Florena somehow survived and was sent to another Confederate prison at Florence, South Carolina. When she was caught up in an epidemic of illness, the doctor who discovered her sex offered her a special room plus food not served to ordinary prisoners.

Albert J Cashier of the Ninety-fifth Illinois Regiment fought at Vicksburg, Nashville, and Mobile. Fifty years after enlisting, Cashier was injured in an automobile accident. At a hospital, Cashier was discovered to be a female. Questioned, she admitted nothing except that she was of Irish birth and was really named Hodgers.

An even later discovery took place in 1934 near Shiloh National Military Park. Digging in his garden, Mancil Milligan found a quantity of human bones. He eventually learned that he had stumbled upon the unmarked grave of nine Federal soldiers killed in the battle.

While Milligan's find evoked wide interest in the region, it was not until pathologists examined them that a more interesting discovery was made. One set of bones belonged to a female, probably killed or fatally wounded by the minie ball that lay close to her ribs.

Investigation failed to identify the woman who died at Shiloh. According to some authorities, however, she was the only female positively known to have been killed in combat.

Extracts from More Civil War Curiosities by Webb Garrison.

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, February 2001

Johnny Rebs fight to keep a woman out of the war

Some people decorate their lawns with garden gnomes or ornamental ponds. But Patty Lediner had something different in mind for the end of the gravel driveway at her sprawling country home near Bakersfield, Northern Arkansas. She fancied a replica civil war-era howitzer.

When her husband duly obliged by building her a handsome 12lb cannon, the stage was set for a most uncivil fracas that is sending shock waves through America's vigorous community of history buffs and civil war addicts.

"It's an awesome-looking little artillery piece," Lediner said proudly last week. Yet her efforts to show it off at the regular civil war games staged across the country by costumed Confederates and Yankees have fallen foul of a thoroughly ungentlemanly prejudice. The good ol' southern boys who still mourn the glory days of General Robert E Lee cannot bear the thought of a woman carrying a gun. Or, in this case, a woman towing a full-scale howitzer.

Lediner's efforts to join in a succession of mock civil war battles have provoked open hostilities with the 7th AR, an Arkansas battalion of Confederate infantrymen. The battalion cancelled one of its performances rather than allow Lediner to attend. "Gentlemen of the 7th, this cannot be allowed to happen," wrote First Sergeant Gary Roberts in the unit's newsletter.

The state government has been forced to step in to consider claims that women are being illegally discriminated against at re-enactment events staged on public property. In Little Rock, another woman has filed a lawsuit in a federal court, claiming that her constitutional rights were infringed when she was barred from a mock battle.

At stake is the future of a national hobby-cum-obsession that attracts tens of thousands of civil war devotees, many of them from Britain and elsewhere. When Americans marked the 125th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1998, more than 13,000 costumed "soldiers" took part in a re-enactment before an estimated 75,000 spectators.

For many of those taking part, authenticity is a creed. Civil war buffs go to extraordinary lengths to replicate 19th-century materials and conditions, from the fibres in their uniforms to the powder in their muskets.

When Lediner and her husband Wolfgang decided to add a bronze Napoleonic cannon to their arsenal, she unearthed original blueprints from the Smithsonian Institute and found a local machinist who could manufacture a 1,080lb barrel to exactly the old specifications.

For her critics, however, the crucial question has nothing to do with the calibre of her ammunition or the wheelbase of her prairie gun carriage. Civil war purists complained that women had no place on the battlefield and that Lediner's attempts to disguise herself as a male soldier - complete with Confederate cap and trousers - were undermining the dignity of an earnest historical venture. "There was a woman in the ranks," sighed Lediner. "That became a huge issue."

"We cannot allow this 'male wannabe' to push, shove and bully her way, uninvited, into our event," complained Roberts in his newsletter.

Thus was the battle of Bakersfield joined. In a text-book diversionary feint, the 7th AR claimed it was not opposed to women at all, but was merely seeking to ensure authenticity. And there was no historical evidence that women dressed as men had ever fought with artillery in Arkansas.

Redneck rubbish, retorted Lediner. The historical record showed that many women disguised themselves as men in order to accompany their husbands to the war. "Doggone it, women were soldiers and spies," she said. In her uniform at a distance, she added, she was unrecognisable as a woman. She is 5ft 5in tall, slim, with short blonde hair that tucks into her cap. "We are very conscientious about our appearance," she said.

Lediner hoped last week that state officials would eventually rule against discriminatory events being held on public property. Most of the bigger reenactments are stated in state parks.

As for the tarnished southern tradition of gentlemanly chivalry, the infantrymen of the 7th AR may have learnt an important lesson. Never meddle with a lady who has a howitzer on her lawn.

An article written by Tony Allen-Mills, which appeared in 'The Sunday Times' 17th August 1997.

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, June 2000

Women Who Wore the Blue and Grey

Not all of the soldiers who fought in the blue and grey were men. Adventure seeking women - perhaps as many as several hundred – disguised themselves as males and took up arms. Although the true identity of most was quickly discovered, some managed to sustain the deception for months and even years.

Sara Edmunds, a Canadian immigrant who joined the 2nd Michigan Infantry in 1861 under the name of Frank Thompson, was a master of disguise. In her account of her war experiences, she related that General George B McClellan employed her as a spy during the Peninsular Campaign in 1862 – completely unaware of Private Thompson's true identity. For her first mission, she blackened her face with silver nitrate, covered her hair with a wig and slipped behind Confederated line at Yorktown dressed as a young male slave.

On other occasions Edmonds posed as a female slave, a dry-goods clerk and a Confederate infantryman, infiltrating enemy lines 11 times in all without detection. In 1863 she contracted malaria, and rather than submit to a medical examination that might reveal her gender, she deserted and resumed civilian life as a woman. Not until 1883 did she confess her secret life as a soldier.

Even more remarkable was the career of Jennie Hodgers, an Irish woman who enlisted under the alias of Albert Cashier in the 95th Illinois Volunteers. Described by a fellow soldier as "the smallest man in the company," she fought at Vicksburg, in the Red River Campaign and at Nashville before being mustered out in 1865. After the War, she kept her masculine identity and even collected a soldier's pension. Not until 1911, when an automobile accident forced her hospitalisation for surgery, was her true identity uncovered. When the Bureau of Pensions convened hearings to determine whether to continue her government stipend, her wartime comrades testified on her behalf. The board ruled that Hodgers was indeed a veteran, entitled to all the benefits thereof.

Sgt. Martin Cross, 1st V.A.

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, February 1998