Women in the American Civil War

Mark Bowman asked:




Although women were not permitted to join the military during the American Civil War, that did not always stop them. By some counts, as many as 400 women made their way into the military of both the North and South by posing as men. One notable case was that of a woman by the name of Sarah Emma Edmonds. At the age of 17, Sarah had run away from her home in Canada to start a new life in the United States, settling in Flint Michigan. Even before the war broke out, Sarah gave up her female identity to pursue a more exciting life she knew would be unavailable to her as a woman.

When the war began, Sarah, posing as Franklin Thompson, joined the Michigan Infantry originally as a male nurse and courier but eventually as a spy for General George McClellan. Disguising herself as a slave by darkening her skin with silver nitrate and wearing a wig, she made her way behind Confederate lines. Days later she returned to share her information. This went on until she became ill and knowing she could not visit a hospital without revealing her secret, she went to Illinois and checked into a private hospital.

Unfortunately, while Sarah was in the hospital, Franklin Thompson had been listed as a deserter. She knew if she returned under the name Franklin Thompson, she would be arrested for desertion so she volunteered as a female nurse in Washington D.C. Two years after the war ended Sarah was married and wrote a book about her experiences which became a best seller.

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