Attitudes Toward Women Civil War Soldiers

Approximately four hundred known cases of women serving as Civil War soldiers on either side–and an unknown number of ladies who slipped away or died without detection– subjected themselves to possible criticism from the general public and their comrades.

Society and the military were critical of women soldiers who didn’t accompany a male relative such as a husband or brother. The general public was not ready for unmarried women on the front lines.

A Southern journalist categorized women in Confederate military camps in three ways: families of officers, laundresses and cooks, and prostitutes. So how did he classify female soldiers, scouts, and nurses?

The wives of officers living in army camps generally maintained the military’s respect. Union General Ulysses S. Grant sometimes had his family in camp.

The motivation of other women’s presence in army camps puzzled the public. There was a tendency to doubt the female soldier’s conduct. Some endured unjust accusations of misbehavior.

There were also female visitors in camp who came to see loved ones. Most parents refused to allow their young, unmarried daughters to visit army camps. They sometimes sneaked in anyway.

Many women simply wanted to be near their men.

Prostitutes followed the camps. Government records show that camp followers numbered in the thousands around army camps. Some bootlegged liquor and acted as spies.

Hundreds of women, including female soldiers, became pregnant in army camps.

The military and the public knew all this. Unfortunately, those experiences affected how men viewed women soldiers.

The women who served as Civil War soldiers endured many obstacles. Public opinion during and after the war was one of them.

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)



Apple Pie Recipe Without Apples used by Confederate Soldiers


Recipes used to be called ‘receipts.’ Confederate soldiers were often low on supplies and had to make do with ingredients found nearby.

I found an intriguing recipe called “Apple Pie Without Apples” in an 1863 book, Confederate Receipt Book. I had to make this one.

The main ingredient is crackers. Civil War soldiers ate hard tack, which John D. Billings describes in his book, Hard Tack and Coffee, as “a plain flour-and-water biscuit.”

Billings, a Civil War soldier, had two of these crackers while writing his book that published in 1887. (It doesn’t say if the hard tack was baked during the war.) When measured, he found they were 3 1/8 inches by 2 7/8 inches and almost ½ inch thick.

This apple pie recipe uses crackers. The soldiers would have used hard tack because that was available.

blog-127Place crackers in a small bowl. (Not having hard tack on hand, I thought Triscuits might be an acceptable substitute.  I used 20 of these crackers. Regular crackers would also be fine.) Soak these in water until soft. For our modern crackers, this takes about five minutes. I can’t imagine how long soldiers soaked the hard tack.

Empty excess water. Mash the softened crackers.

Add 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, ¼ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and ½ teaspoon nutmeg to the crackers. Mix together.

Spray ramekins with cooking spray. Spoon mixture into ramekins until about 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

My husband tried it first. “It’s strange. It doesn’t taste like apple pie.”

I had to agree. This recipe does not taste like apple pie. I didn’t really care for it.

Soldiers probably didn’t have cinnamon too often in camp but this spice would definitely enhance the flavor. In the next batch I added a teaspoon of cinnamon along with the nutmeg.

Both my husband and I agreed that cinnamon improved the “appleless” pie. Though it was a strange and unfamiliar dessert, I’m happy I tried it. It would make a fun dish at Civil War reenactments.

For the Confederate soldier starving for his mother’s apple pie, eating this dessert probably gave him a nostalgic taste of home.

-Sandra Merville Hart


A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times. Confederate Receipt Book, Applewood Books, 1863.

Billings, John D. Hardtack & Coffee, University of Nebraska Press, 1993.