Undercover Soldiers of the Civil War

Today When We Think About Men And Women In The Civil War, We Have Very Separate Pictures of What They Were Doing.

Women were nurses who helped the men once they exited the battlefield or brave ladies who patiently awaited the return of their husbands. Sometimes we might see them as romantic spies, working for the war efforts in secret. In contrast, men are the ones who participated in all of the action. This however is not entirely accurate.

Although the Union and Confederate armies technically forbade the enlistment of women in their ranks, there were a great number of women who were not deterred. They assumed men’s names and disguised themselves. They lived and fought alongside the men of the war, giving their lives to the efforts just like the men. Because the women had to disguise themselves and hide their true identities, there is no accurate number of women who fought during the Civil War. However, estimates place as many as 250 women in the Confederate army.

It is surprising that people today have little to no knowledge of the fact that so many women actually served in the war. While their need to disguise themselves and take false names does make it challenging to point to too many specific cases, the existence of women serving in the military was well known at the time and continued throughout the nineteenth century. However, more recent writers focusing on the period have chosen either to diminish the role that women actually played or to ignore them completely. Perhaps this is because their numbers were so few and did not impact the outcomes of any of the battles. They might not seem like an integral part of the story. However, just the fact that the women were there makes them interesting! They were not supposed to be present as soldiers, and yet they went out of their way to disguise themselves and put themselves into harms way.

Some might question how women could have so easily passed for men, but at the time it was relatively simple. In order to enlist, no one asked for any proof of identity, though everyone was subject to a physical exam, which more often than not was a joke. For the majority of women it was only a matter of cutting their hair and changing their name that allowed them to enlist. Once in the camps the women would have learned to pick up on how the men acted and then imitated what they saw. For example, Loreta Velazquez wore a false mustache, developed a masculine gait, learned to smoke cigars, and padded her uniform coat all to make herself appear manlier. She is just one example of numerous women who did what they had to do in order to join the war effort. They knew exactly what they were getting in to when they decided to enlist, but they did it anyway. The women of the Civil War did their duty with as much courage as any man that fought beside them.

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