There are about four hundred known cases of women serving as Civil War soldiers on either side. They enlisted for varying reasons. They faced challenges at every turn. They were discovered in a variety of ways.
The consequences for the women varied. They could be dismissed or imprisoned, depending on the officer’s decision.
Newspaper reporters wrote of Southern women who were arrested while in uniform. Federals captured two female soldiers and imprisoned them.
A female Union soldier was captured after being wounded in battle. She was sent back to Union lines with a note, “As Confederates do not use women in war, this woman, wounded in battle, is returned to you.”
After being imprisoned on Johnson Island, a Confederate officer delivered a baby boy in December of 1864.
A Union major ordered her men in battle. They later discovered her identity and imprisoned her for violating the “regulations of war.”
Loreta Janeta Velazquez disguised herself as Confederate soldier Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. She was arrested when the apparatus of her disguise slipped. She was charged with acting as a spy and then released, but she returned to her soldier disguise. She was later arrested when comrades suspected her of being a woman. Loreta confessed. The mayor fined her $10 and ordered ten days imprisonment. After her release, she reenlisted in a different company, this one in the 21st Louisiana.
Confederate women who were imprisoned as POWs usually were kept there even after their identity became known.
Female soldiers facing a provost marshal received varying degrees of punishment.
Women were sometimes sent to civilian authorities who could order them to serve time in the city jail or the Guard House. Some women were sent to the workhouse while others were released.
One woman was court-martialed.
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
Abbott, Karen. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, Harper, 2014.
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)