The Civil War brought tough times for civilians as well as soldiers. Neither the Union nor the Confederate armies allowed women to fight as soldiers, leading some women to disguise themselves as men to muster into the army.
There are about four hundred women known to have served as soldiers on either side. Mary Livermore of the U.S. Sanitary Commission wrote in 1888 that she was convinced the number was much higher. Since most were discovered after being a soldier two years or more, Mrs. Livermore believed that some were never detected.
Why did women join the army?
Newspapers printed stories about soldiers involved in gambling, drinking, and other immoral behavior. Some women mustered in to keep an eye on husbands and beaus.
There were women who chose the army as an escape over unbearable family situations. Some women living in poverty joined for the pay. Some sought adventure, love, or excitement. Others wanted to be near a brother, husband, or fiancé.
As the war continued, bonuses offered to new recruits as well as soldier’s pay enticed some women to enlist.
A myriad of reasons, as individual as the women themselves, drove them to don a soldier’s garb and march into danger.
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.