Women’S Roles In The Civil War
In the 1860s, the lives of women, children, and men would be changed forever. Women at home replaced the males in their usual tasks like business, farming, or defending and supporting the family. Women faced many challenges at home, but each one would help them get through the pain and suffering their loved faced in the field. Women became aware of the ongoing struggle men faced in the war and used that to motivate them to take action. Women participated in the war as secret soldiers, nurses, and even spies. Women dressed up as males to replace their fathers or husbands in the Civil War. Women also joined the war for the reliable wages, promise of adventure and excitement, and to not experience the dreadful news that awaited them at home. Women played a significant role during the Civil War in the home and on the battlefield.
Women in the Home
Women knew that the beginning of the Civil War would change their lives and their families lives. The men, which included husbands, fathers, friends, and brothers, were sent off to fight for the cause of the Union or Confederacy, leaving women to hope for their return. Women received dreadful letters from their loved ones with news about the living conditions and the war. “Just read a letter from John–says he has slept the last four nights on the ground in the snow with nothing but his blanket over him & slept quite warm & comfortable..Have since heard on the street that the 1st Regt. Have been ordered to Staunton [Virginia]…Probably they will go to Bowling Green where a battle is expected soon. I feel terribly disappointed I hurried home, locked my door & had a great cry, but after awhile got calmer so I could take my place at the table…” (Pearl, 1940).
Women like Louisa Brown Pearl received letters from their sons and husbands explaining what their lives were like in the war, consisting of painful conditions and homesickness. Women suffered greatly from the Civil War due to their new roles, but also “women who lived close to the fighting as soldiers from both sides took corn, live-stock, wood, and anything else they could get to feed and warm themselves and their horses” (Middle Tennessee University, n.d.). This became another obstacle for all women having to fight and provide for their lives and their families lives. Women did many things “in the absence of men, the women undertook their duties, and many a fine crop was planted and harvested by them” (Crump, 1907). Women took up their roles by doing anything and everything to keep their families alive.
Women’s roles began to form at the beginning of the Civil War. The women stepped in as the new head of the household “[performing] exhausting, physical work in and around their homes” (Middle Tennessee University, n.d.). Women began protecting and providing for their families, continuing the business, or farms “the cultivation of land, or a scanty living from the hills and valleys of this border, was made through much difficulty by women and children” (Crump 1907). Women knew their family and friends in the war needed as much help as possible so women “became valued employees at munitions plants and arsenals, building the machinery of war” (Civil War Trust, n.d.). Women made gunpowder, ammunition, and filled cartridges to supply the troops fighting the war, but by doing so put themselves in danger. Women such as Mary Jane Black encountered first hand the dangers of the arsenal:“Two girls behind me; they were on fire; their faces were burning and blood running from them. I pulled the clothes off one of them; while I was doing this, the other one ran up and begged me to cover her. I did not succeed in saving either one” (Black, 1862).Women suffered greatly on the homefront during the Civil War just as on the front line. Women continued their newfound roles playing a significant role during the Civil War.
Women in the War
Women began to join the fight on the front to “share in the trials of their loved ones. Others were stirred by a thirst for adventure, the promise of reliable wages, or ardent patriotism” (Civil War Trust, n.d.). Women contributed to the war as soldiers, nurses, and even spies to further help the effort. Women couldn’t bare the fact that “a man having his leg or arm sawed from his body while living, was horrifying to [their] hearts, yet [they] had to get used to it as well as all other distressing scenes attending a state of war.” (Tennessee 4 Me, n.d.). Women experienced the trials and terrors of the war first hand, seeing all the death that it had brought. Women contributed greatly to the war “from cooking meals to helping out on hospital ships” (Middle Tennessee University, n.d.). Women suffered the same pain and “like the men, there were women who lived in camp, suffered in prisons, and died for their respective causes” (Blanton, 1993).
Women faced many challenges in the war only to help their loved ones. Women had a significant role as spies, soldiers, and nurses. Women that fought in the war like Sarah Edmonds Seelye “could only thank God that [she] was free and could go forward and work, and [she] was not obliged to stay at home and weep” (Seelye, n.d.). Women soldiers did almost everything to conceal their identity by “[sleeping] clothed, [bathing] separately, and [avoiding] public latrines” (Civil War Trust, n.d.). Women fought bravely and courageously just as any male would do. Women also worked as nurses on the front line tending to wounded soldiers. Nurses like Clarissa Barton “traveled with the Union army giving aid to Union casualties and Confederate prisoners” (Civil War Trust, n.d.). Clarissa Barton later founded the American Red Cross. Nurses like Clarissa Barton also experienced the unimaginable pain during the war trying best to save as many lives as possible “she staunches his blood/cools the fever-burnt breath/And the wave of her hand stays the [Angel] of Death/She nurses him back, and restores once again” (Barton, 1892). Women also contributed to the war as confidential spies.
One such spy Loreta Janeta Velázquez, “did succeed in disguising herself as a man ; that she did participate in a number of important battles, and that she rendered invaluable services to the Confederacy, both as a soldier and as a spy, and also as a secret-service agent” (Velázquez, 1876). Pauline Cushman, a union spy, “gathered information about enemy operations, identified Confederate spies and served as a federal courier” (Smithsonian, 2011). Women, like Pauline and Loreta, would use this information to help the war and the men and women fighting in it. These women, and many more contributed to each side of the war hoping for a win and their families to come home. Women had a significant role during the civil war challenging society by joining the war secretly, serving as spies to gather intel that would affect the war, and filling in the roles of the men that had left for battle. Women remained steadfast and strong defending their families and friends at home and in the war by doing whatever they could to produce a beneficial outcome after the aftermath of the war. Women changed the views people had of them in society from a weak woman to a courageous, independent, and strong woman that could accomplish any task given to her. Although the women faced many challenges and obstacles they began to shape a new society with women’s rights.
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