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The Continuing Struggle, Part Three: Harriett Tubman “The General” and Women’s Rights Today


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been going back to the theme of Women’s rights following the 99th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

So today I am posting a section of the portion of my text dealing with a most amazing woman, Harriet Tubman. The more I read about her the more I stand I awe. This section was a lot less detailed that in is now. I have spent a lot of time working on this section recently, and will probably do some more in the coming weeks, but I think that you will find it interesting, and still relevant in our society.

Her image was to be featured on the $20 bill beginning next year, replacing that of Andrew Jackson, but the Trump administration has put this off until at least 2028. Her story should not be forgotten. Maybe after I retire I can write an in depth biography of this remarkable woman and American Patriot.

So until tomorrow, I with you peace, health, and safety,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The innate prejudices of many military and political leaders about the abilities and limitations of women in military service, often caused them to overlook how women could use that prejudice to their advantage, especially as spies. “African American women were generally dismissed as militarily harmless, a miscalculation that Harriet Tubman…used to immense advantage. Tubman, who had escaped from slavery in Maryland twenty years before the war and who had amassed considerable experience venturing into the south to guide runaways to the North undertook spying expeditions for the Federal troops on the South Carolina Sea Islands.” [1] The incredibly brave woman served throughout the war accompanying Union forces and securing vital information even as she worked to set other slaves free. Tubman’s “spying activities included convincing slaves to trust the Union invaders,” [2] many of whom would join the ranks of the newly raised regiments of U.S. Colored Troops.


Tubman had been fighting her personal civil war for over twenty years before the war began. As an escaped slave she returned to the South time and time again as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, smuggling escaped slaves out of the South and to freedom. She “successfully returned nineteen more times, bringing out an estimated 300 to 400 people…. She worked with a determination bordering on ruthlessness: if an escaped slave tarried, she pushed him in; if a baby cried she muffled the sound.as she herself said later…. “I was the conductor on the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost one passenger.” [3]

In early 1863, Union commanders in South Carolina decided that Tubman would be valuable as a covert operative to lead reconnaissance missions behind Confederate lines and along contested waterways where Confederate personnel had laid torpedoes, what we now know as sea mines, and she organized a small unit of nine men who used small boats to find the torpedoes and warn the captains of Union vessels operating in those streams and rivers.

Eventually, Tubman’s actives “evolved into a kind of special forces operation under Colonel James Montgomery. A fervent believer in guerrilla warfare, Montgomery was a veteran of antislavery border fighting in Kansas.” The pair developed some of the most effective operations mounted by irregular and regular forces conducted by the Union in the war. In July 1863, Tubman came up with a plan for a raid, and in it acted as “Montgomery’s second-in-command during a night raid up the Combahee River, near Beaufort, South Carolina. The Union gunboats, carrying some 300 black troops, slipped up the river, eluding torpedoes that Tubman’s men had spotted. Undetected, the raiders swarmed ashore, destroyed a Confederate supply depot, torched homes and warehouses, and rounded up more than 750 rice plantation slaves.” [4]

The Confederate report on the raid unwittingly ended up praising the work of Tubman and the freed slaves of her unit. It noted that the enemy “seems to have been well posted as to the character and capacity of our troops… and seems to have been well guided with persons thoroughly acquainted with the river and country.” Union Brigadier General Rufus Saxton wrote to Secretary of War Stanton praised Tubman’s work, noting, “This is the only military command in American history wherein a woman, black or white, led to raid, and under whose inspiration, it was originated and conducted.” [5]

Tubman continued her work for the duration of the war and after it continued to assist freed slaves and black veterans and continued her work with campaign for women’s suffrage. In 1890 she was awarded a pension for her work as a spy, nurse, and combat leader. The valiant pioneer of abolition, women’s suffrage, and combat in war who was nicknamed “the General” by Frederick Douglass, died in 1913, and was buried with full military honors.

Other women served in various roles caring for the wounded. In the North, “Dorothea Dix organized the Union’s army nurses for four years without pay; Mary Livermore headed the Union’s Sanitary Commission, inspecting army camps and hospitals….Scores of others like Clara Barton, volunteered to be nurses.” [6] All of these women did remarkable service, mostly as volunteers, and many witnessed the carnage of battle close up as the cared for the wounded and the dying which often created ethic concerns for the women nurses:

“Clara Barton described her crisis of conscience when a young man on the verge of death mistook her for his sister May. Unable to bring herself actually to address him as “brother,” she nonetheless kissed his forehead so that, as she explained, “the act had done the falsehood the lips refused to speak.” [7]

The very existence of so many women who served in the ranks during the Civil War, and their “demonstrated competence as combatants, challenge long-held assumptions about gender roles…. From a historical perspective, the women warriors of the Civil War were not just ahead of their time. They were ahead of our time.” [8]

Of the women that served in the ranks during the war, some were discovered, and many of them remained protected by their fellow soldiers. Quite a few of these closeted women soldiers received promotions and even served as NCOs or junior officers. With women now serving in combat or combat support roles in the U.S. Military since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the stigma and scandal that these cross-dressing women soldiers of the Civil War has faded and as scholars and the public both “continue probing cultural notions of gender and identity, the reemerging evidence that women historically and successfully engaged in combat has met with less intellectual resistance and has taken on new cultural significance.” [9] As the United States military services examine the issues surrounding further moves to integrate the combat arms we also should attempt to more closely examine the service of the brave and often forgotten women who served on both sides of the Civil War.

In addition to these tasked many other women were engaged in the war as “supply organizers, relief workers, pamphleteers all aided the cause, and female journalists covered it. Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton became powerful forces helping soldiers; Anna Carroll provided the propaganda. And the Civil War boasted its own version of Rosie the Riveter, women who did the dangerous work of making munitions at arsenals, many losing their lives in awful accidents.” [10]

Likewise, the war caused many educated women to take much more interest in “political and military issues and led many women to articulate a sharper consciousness of national affairs…. The feminist paper The Mayflower commented that “nearly every letter we receive breathes a spirit of deep feeling on the war question.” The editorial added that among women, “There seems to be little disposition to think, speak, read or write of anything else.” [11] In particular one women, Anna Ella Carroll, the daughter of Thomas King Carroll, a former governor of Maryland, “was interested in political theory and practice and was a profound logical thinker as well as an effective propagandist for the Union.” [12]  During the war she was in part responsible for persuading the governor of Maryland to keep the pro-secession legislature from meeting in 1861, defended Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in that state, and is believed to have originated the military strategy in the Tennessee River Campaign, for which she was never given full credit even though there is documentary evidence that many leaders knew of her involvement. A recent biographer concluded that she “was a “tragic victim of reconstruction,” for if a military strategist, she was not given due credit.” [13] In the South it was often the same, the diaries of many educated Southern women show a tremendous interest and discernment of what was happening during the war, and in domestic politics, and frequently expressed their criticism of government and military strategy as the war continued.

                                                      Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.394

[2] Sizer, Lyde Cullen Acting Her Part: Narratives of Union Women Spies in Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1992 p.130

[3] Ibid. Sizer Acting Her Part: Narratives of Union Women Spies  p. 127

[4] Ibid. Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence in the Civil War location 481 of 991

[5] Ibid. Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence in the Civil War location 481-482 of 9911

[6] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.10

[7] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.12

[8] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.208

[9] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.204

[10] Ibid. Roberts Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington 1848-1868 p.3

[11] Attie, Jeanie Warwork and the Crisis of Domesticity in the North in Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War edited by Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992 p.253

[12] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p. 168

[13] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.169

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, women's rights

The Continuing Struggle Part 2: Women as Spies, Nurses, and Soldiers in the Civil War

Clayton-Francis-L

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since yesterday was the 99th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, today, and for the next few days I am going back to a part of my Gettysburg and Civil War text dealing with women’s rights. This one continues yesterday’s article, and deals with some of the facts about women who masqueraded as men in order to serve as soldiers. I have spent a lot of time working on this section recently, and will probably do some more in the coming weeks, but I think that you will find it interesting, and still relevant in our society.

I have two more in the current series, but I am going to add an article or two to catch us up with some current issues regarding women’s rights. This article is a continuation of yesterday’s if you need to catch up. 

On a personal note, while working in my back yard I managed to pick up a contagious bacterial infection on my face from scratching a place where my new BIPAP mask had irritated it. Of course I did it with dirty fingers, resulting in the infection. So I have to be careful and though I am showing improvement after two days of antibiotics and antibiotic cream, it would be nice for it to be gone. We were also at the center of an intense pop up thunderstorm with swirling winds that took down a major branch on my tree in my back yard as well as broke my flagpole in half. A couple of neighbors lost fences, I saw homes where the siding had been ripped away, and another home where a tree sustained heavier damage than ours. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Of course when war broke out the logical end of this train of thought was should women be allowed to serve in the military. Legally and socially it was not possible for women to serve in the military in 1861, but this did not stop women from doing so. Even so, “women were not expected to defend their country, and when they did nevertheless and were found out, they learned that they were not necessarily a welcome addition to the military. Women who returned home after the Civil War as veterans reaped few of the societal rewards for having rendered such service.” [1] Quite a few women on both sides of the conflict chaffed about not being allowed to fight for their countries, their families and their causes, and despite official prohibitions that kept women from serving in any capacity but nursing, a good number of women found their way to go to war. While men in the North and South “were expected to enlist, any woman actively participating in the Civil War was an oddity if not a renegade.” [2] In some cases this involved hundreds of women taking male identities in order to fulfill their desires to serve their countries.

The motives of these women varied. In some cases women wanted gain the economic privileges of full citizenship, and for others the glory reserved to only to men. In our modern parlance those that took male identities would be considered transvestites or possibly transgender, but for them “transvestitism was a private rebellion against public conventions. By taking a male social identity, they secured for themselves male power and independence, as well as full status as citizens of their nation. In essence the Civil War was an opportunity for hundreds of women to escape the confines of their sex.” [3]

During the war hundreds of women went to war, dreaming of being a second Joan of Arc, taking on the identity of men, however, their idealistic vision of wanting to serve the cause of their country, was not viewed favorably by many, men and women alike, as “they were usually viewed by contemporaries as mentally unbalanced or immoral.” [4] Their morality was question, their motivation was questioned, and their character was questioned, all because they broke long held social, and religious barriers in order to fight for what they believed.

These brave and socially progressive women enlisted under male names and pretended to be men. Unless they were discovered to be women, or unless they confessed to their wartime service either during or after the war, most of their records were lost. In 1861 Private Franklin Thompson “enlisted in Company F of the 2ndMichigan Infantry…unknown to comrades, Thompson actually was Sarah Emma Edmonds.” [5] Edmonds served in the illustrious Iron Brigade until the disaster at Fredericksburg. Well known for her courage as Franklin Thompson, Edmonds participated in some of the bloodiest combats of the war. At Antietam she was caring for the wounded when she came upon a soldier who had been wounded in the neck. That soldier informed Edmonds that she was dying and after a surgeon came by and confirmed what the soldier said the dying soldier told Edmonds:

“I am not what I seem, but I am female. I enlisted from the purest motives, and I have remained undiscovered and unsuspected. I have neither father, mother nor sister. My only brother was killed today. I closed his eyes about an hour before I was wounded….I am Christian, and have maintained the Christian character ever since I entered the army. I have performed the duties of a soldier faithfully, and am willing to die for the cause of truth and freedom….I wish you to bury me with your own hands, that none may know after my death that I am other than my appearance indicates.” [6]

That unknown woman was not alone, at least nine women, eight Union and one Confederate, fought at Antietam and of those five were casualties. Five women, two Federal and three Confederate took part at Gettysburg. All three Confederate women at Gettysburg were either killed or wounded, or captured, including two women who took part in Pickett’s Charge. [7]

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                                                   Sarah Edmonds

Sarah Edmonds published a book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army while recovering from malaria in 1863. The book, which was published the following year, sold 175,000 copies, the proceeds that she donated to care for sick and wounded Union veterans. After the war, Edmonds attended Oberlin College, married, had three of her own children and adopted two more. She “became a member of the Grand Army of the Potomac, the organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. She applied for, and received, a military pension, and upon her death in 1898 was buried with full military honors.” [8] She was the only women admitted to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Another of the women to serve was Frances Louisa Clayton. Fighting for the Union as a member of the Minnesota State Militia Cavalry and 2nd Minnesota Battery, serving under the command of Ulysses S. Grant she was wounded at Fort Donelson. Like many other women soldiers, Clayton mastered the art of behaving as a man. She “became “a capital swordsman,” but also commanded attention with her “masculine stride in walking” and “her erect and soldierly carriage.” [9]

Albert-Cashier

However, most women were more discreet during and after the war regarding their true sexuality. Private Albert Cashier hid his sexuality identity for his entire term of service. He enlisted in August 1862 as a member of the 95th Illinois. Cashier was born in Ireland as a woman, Jennie Hodgers. He fought in forty battles and was discharged with the regiment in August 1865. At Vicksburg he was briefly captured by the Confederates while conducting a reconnaissance “but managed to escape by seizing a gun from one of her guards, knocking him down, and outrunning others. Comrades recalled Private Cashier climbing to the top of their fieldworks to taut the enemy into showing themselves.” [10]

After the war “Albert” returned home and lived as a “farmer and handyman and served as a caretaker in his church. He never married.” In 1890 he applied for and received a military pension and in 1911 the now elderly “man” was struck by a car and suffered a broken leg. The doctor treating him discovered that Albert was not a man, but a woman. But the doctor kept his confidentiality and without revealing “Albert’s” secret had the Union veteran admitted to the local Soldier’s and Sailors’ Home at Quincy, Illinois.” [11] A few years later the elderly “man” began to exhibit erratic behavior and was “committed to a public mental hospital and the word was out.” [12] With her story now sensational front page news and “old comrades in arms came to her defense.” [13] Her comrades had never known that “Albert” was a man during or after the war, while the news was a surprise to them they came to her defense. To combat some of the sensationalism in the media Albert’s fellow soldiers testified “to Albert’s bravery in combat and public good works in later life. Albert/Jennie died at Watertown State Hospital in 1915 at age seventy-one. The local post of the Grand Army of the Republic arranged for her burial. Her headstone reads: “Albert D.J. Cashier, Company G, 95th Illinois Infantry.” [14]

There are similar accounts of women who served as soldiers in the Confederate army including Mrs. Amy Clarke who enlisted with her husband and continued to serve until after his death at the Battle of Shiloh. Her gender remained secret until she was wounded and captured by Union forces. As “soon as she had recovered they gave her a dress and sent her back into Confederate lines; but a short time later she was seen in Mississippi making plans to re-enlist.” [15]

Wartime records are sketchy but as a minimum it is believed that “between 250 and 400 women disguised as men found their way into either the Federal or Confederate armies.”  [16] A more recent estimate is that in the Confederate army alone there were some 250 women who served as soldiers during the war. [17] Casualties were high for the women that are known to have served as soldiers, they had a “combined casualty rate of 44 percent” including the fact that fully “eleven percent of women soldiers died in the military.” [18] Some of those women are now well known but many others are lost to history. Most women tried to keep their sexual identities secret, even to the point of their death on the battlefield. Most of the women who served in the armies returned home to resume relatively normal lives after the war.

Other women would serve as spies for both sides, often rendering valuable assistance to their countries. The women who served as spies often took their lives into their hands; however, they often provided vital information to the Union or Confederate officers that they served. Pauline Cushman “parlayed her acting talents into a series of elaborate ruses that allowed her to pry information out of admiring and complaisant Confederate officers; Belle Boyd used an equal measure of talent in as a northern Virginia coquette to elide the same kind of information out of Federal officers.[19]

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                                                  Elizabeth Van Lew

Even those women who were successful often suffered for their service during and after the war as they learned “that few people completely trusted or respected a spy, not even a “friend.” [20] Many, especially Southern women who spied for the Union were ostracized and persecuted in their communities after the war, and found little support from Northern politicians. Rebecca Wright, a young Quaker schoolteacher in Winchester, Virginia provided information that “enabled him to defeat General Early’s forces” in the Valley of 1864. She lost her job, and her former friends and neighbors boycotted her family’s businesses. Rejected for a pension, Sheridan helped Wright obtain “an appointment in a government office, remaining there for the rest of her days.” [21] Elizabeth Van Lew was a lifelong resident of Richmond and daughter of a wealthy businessman.  She helped Union prisoners escape from Richmond’s notorious Libby prison and when Grant besieged Petersburg, Miss Van Lew “supplied him with a steady stream of information” [22]

To be continued….

                                                       Notes

[1] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.209

[2] Silvey, Anita I’ll Pass for Your Comrade Clarion Books, New York 2008 p.9

[3] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.5

[4] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.79

[5] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell  p.119

[6] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.68

[7] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp. 15-16

[8] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.90

[9] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.58

[10] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp. 16-17

[11] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[12] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[13] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.90

[14] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[15] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.81

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.394

[17] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning  p.87

[18] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp.206-207

[19] ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.395

[20] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.87

[21] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War pp. 103-104

[22] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.102

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