Loreta Janeta Velazquez as Civil War soldier Lieutenant Harry T. Buford
The Civil War kindled patriotic feelings in men and women on both sides of the conflict. Women who desired to serve their country as soldiers had to disguise themselves as men. They also faced challenges in camp life and in marching with men.
The first thing a woman had to do was sew or buy men’s clothing. She’d need trousers, a coat, shoes, and men’s blouses. Padding strategically sewn on undergarments helped mask female curves. Loreta Velazquez, who disguised herself as Confederate Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, used wire net shields to hide her shape.
The women also had to cut their long hair. Short hair and men’s clothing enabled her to pass as a soldier.
As the war progressed, requirements for physical examinations relaxed. The army needed soldiers and didn’t want to find reasons not to accept them. They had to have teeth so they could tear cartridges open. They needed a trigger finger to fire muskets and rifles.
Life in army camps were challenging. Women used the privacy of the woods for nature calls instead of latrines.
Poor nutrition, long marches, intense physical activities, and weight loss might have caused the women’s menstruation to cease, especially during tough campaigns.
Soldiers slept fully clothed, wearing coat and shoes, so this helped the women’s disguise. Bathing was infrequent yet there were men who also preferred privacy when the opportunity for bathing arose.
Women claimed to be younger than they were to explain the lack of whiskers. They kept their coats buttoned all the way to hide the missing Adam’s apple.
They had to remember to talk like a man.
They carried at least thirty pounds of equipment in addition to their haversack (which held their food) and a knapsack (which held clothing and personal belongings.)
And then there were the challenges of battle. The fear. The chaos. Officers shouting orders. When the noise of battle was too loud for soldiers to hear their officers shout orders, buglers and drummers played them. Soldiers had to know what the tunes meant.
No matter the reason for joining, women who served as Civil War soldiers were courageous.
In my Civil War novel, A Musket in My Hands, two sisters have no choice but to disguise themselves as men to muster into the Confederate army in the fall of 1864—just in time for events and long marches to lead them to the tragic Battle of Franklin.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Blanton, DeAnne. “Women Soldiers of the Civil War,” National Archives, 2018/09/29 https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/spring/women-in-the-civil-war-1.html.
Blanton, DeAnne and Cook, Lauren M. They Fought Like Demons, Louisiana State University Press, 2002.
Massey, Mary Elizabeth. Women in the Civil War, University of Nebraska Press, 1966.
Silvey, Anita. I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, Clarion Books, 2008.
Velazquez, Loreta Janeta. The Woman in Battle: The Civil War Narrative of Loreta Velazquez, Cuban Woman & Confederate Soldier, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. (Previously published 1876)