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In early , with the support of abolitionist friends in the North, Tubman traveled to South Carolina, where she served as a nurse and teacher for the hundreds of newly liberated slaves who had assembled in Union camps. She soon recruited groups of black men who slipped behind Confederate lines, posing as servants or slaves in order to gather military intelligence.

Pauline Cushman

She also organized dangerous missions in which Union troops destroyed plantations and spirited former slaves away on warships. In June , Tubman herself led an armed expedition along the Combahee River, disrupting Confederate supply lines and liberating more than slaves. Later in life, Tubman became a key figure in the suffrage movement. According to her own account, the man invaded her home, tore down a Confederate flag and spoke offensively to her mother; enraged, year-old Belle shot and killed him.

Acquitted of the crime but closely watched by Union troops, she beguiled her enemies into revealing military secrets, which she then transmitted to Confederate commanders. In May Boyd was staying in Fort Royal, Virginia, with relatives whose hotel had been taken over by Union officers. She eavesdropped on their meetings through a hole in a door and rode through enemy lines, reportedly dodging bullets along the way, to report to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. She was imprisoned that July in Washington, D.

Why Did Women Fight in the Civil War?

Boyd sailed for England in May to serve as a Confederate courier but was intercepted by Union troops. One of them, a naval officer named Samuel Hardinge, fell in love with the alluring spy and helped her escape to London, where they wed. The book also states that most women spies volunteered for the job, although sometimes they were recruited by spymasters. Since the Civil War took place during the Victorian-era, dominated by strict societal rules for women, women spies were often caught or aroused suspicion due to the unladylike behavior that went along with being a spy, such as allowing men into their homes at all hours of the night, arranging meetings with men in various locations and riding on horses and in buggies unaccompanied.

Apprehended women spies were often branded as prostitutes, unless their reputations were strong enough to protect them. As soldiers caught on to the activities of these women spies, it became harder and harder for them to cross enemy lines without getting searched or apprehended. Punishment for the crime of espionage was stiff.

Male spies were often imprisoned or executed, usually by hanging. Women were rarely executed though and were usually imprisoned or deported to Canada or the south.


Confederate spies often gathered information directly from the Union troops who, when occupying southern towns, would invite local women to army-sponsored balls, where they would sometimes talk about their military plans, not realizing the potential for espionage. These women spies also eavesdropped on soldiers during dinner parties, at boarding houses where the soldiers would stay or gathered information from their friends and connections in southern society.

As she gave him comfort, the youth confided that he was actually a female, enlisted as a man to be near her only brother, who had been killed earlier in the day. Her race is run. In southern clime, She rests among the brave; Where perfumed blossoms gently fall, Like tears, around her grave.

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No loving friends are near to weep, Or plant bright flowers there; But hirdlings chant a requiem sweet, And strangers breathe a prayer. She sleeps in peace; yes sweetly sleeps. On March 20, , Emma was transferred to Louisville, Kentucky. Disguised as a young Kentucky lad, she went spying again.

Women Soldiers of the Civil War | National Archives

Arriving at an outlying village, she found a wedding in progress. The bridegroom was a captain of rebel cavalry on the lookout for likely recruits. Stopping to ask for a bite to eat, Emma was noticed by the captain and found herself conscripted into a unit of mounted rebel troops. Next day, outfitted as a Confederate trooper, she rode out to engage the Yankees. Encountering a detachment of Union cavalry, a fight broke out. In the melee, Emma contrived for her horse to become unmanageable and appear to accidentally send her across Union lines. Luckily, once across, she was recognized and protected.

Returning to the fight, Emma was spotted by the captain who had forced her into rebel service.

Women Soldiers in the Civil War

I escaped without receiving a scratch, but my horse was badly cut across the neck with a sabre. Although commended for her performance, Emma was barred from spying in the area again lest she be recognized and hanged from the nearest tree.

However, Emma had one more mission to perform before retiring from espionage—to help break up a Confederate spy ring operating out of Union-occupied Louisville. The merchant obligingly introduced her to a Confederate agent who in turn told her about a sutler spying for the South while selling supplies to Union soldiers, and about a second southern agent who came and went as a photographer selling pictures to Union generals. Later, in , while posted to a military hospital near Vicksburg, Mississippi, Emma contracted malaria. Unable to admit herself for treatment for fear of betraying her true sex, she travelled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she put on a dress and checked into a hospital.

Cured and on her way back to her unit a few weeks later, Emma was shocked to come across an army bulletin posted in the window of a newspaper office that listed her nom de guerre, Frank Thompson, as a deserter. The offence was punishable by death. With her military career finished, Emma used the last of her funds to go by train to Washington where, as Sarah Edmonds, she worked as a nurse for the United States Christian Sanitary Commission until the end of the war. It became a bestseller, and Emma donated all of her royalty earnings to the U.

War Relief Fund. She and Linus were married in and raised three sons, one of whom enlisted in the U.

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Finding him behind a desk in his dry goods store, Emma asked if he might know the present whereabouts of Frank Thompson. I am Frank Thompson! I think, wilted. Carrying the brand of deserter had never settled well with Emma. On her behalf, Damon contacted other men of the old Second Michigan, told them that Frank Thompson had turned up, and that Frank was a woman named Emma Seelye.

War Department. After residing in various U. She is the only woman ever to be so honoured. Her last years were plagued with illness—attributed to the extreme conditions and exertions of her war years.

'I Wanted to Do My Part': Women as Soldiers in Civil War America

They were also difficult financially; sometimes she was nearly destitute. Emma had succumbed to a stroke. Although devoted to the cause of her adopted country; Emma always remained a Canadian—heart and soul. Enjoying an off-duty tour of the Senate chamber while on furlough in Washington during the summer of , her memoir records that she came upon two paintings depicting respectively the surrenders of Lord Cornwallis and General Burgoyne to American forces during the Revolutionary War.

Her Canadian blood ran hot as she took in the portrayals of Britannia in defeat. Seelye, Army Nurse. Why did so many women, up to in the Confederate armies and in the Union, disguise themselves as men to fight in the American Civil War? Women played prominent roles during the war as nurses, cooks, laundresses, and camp followers. Sometimes they even found it necessary to take up arms and defend themselves when caught in the thick of fighting. All of these roles were accepted, even honoured, by the soldiers and the public.

Female Spies In The Civil War

The case was different for those women who disguised themselves as men in order to fight. If discovered at all, they were discharged and presumed to be of questionable moral character. Their bravery in battle was often forgotten in favour of the sensational story of their cross-dressing. These women were viewed as aberrations, and yet it is speculated that hundreds served in the war this way.