Annie Etheridge, daughter of the regiment and battlefield
medic, 5th Michigan Infantry. 
From: Women's Work in the Civil War
by Linus P. Brockett and Mary Vaughan, 1867

Springing to the Call

a Documentary View of

Women in the American Civil War

edited by C. Kay Larson

Links to Contents

* * *

Editor’s Introduction

Sketches: Our [U.S.] Army Nurses

 Dr. Mary E. Walker, Medal of Honor awardee; Annie Etheridge, 5th
Michigan Infantry, Kearney Cross recipient; Harriet Tubman, Lead Union
Scout; Belle Boyd, Confederate spy; Nancy Hart, Gen. Thomas "Stonewall"
Jackson's guide

Selected Memoranda:
Official Records of the Union and
Confederate Armies and Navies

Selected Articles/Memoirs

A Call to My Countrywomen
by Mary Abigail Dodge

Memoir Chapters:
from, A Signal Success, by Martha J. Coston

Related links


EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION:  Following the publication of my two Bonny Yank and Ginny Reb' articles on women in nontraditional roles in the Civil War (MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, Spring1990/Summer 1992), I continued my research, hoping to publish a book. However, since then other scholars have been plowing this fertile field and several well researched works have been published: Richard Hall's two works, Women on the Civil War Battlefront and Patriots in Disguise; They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers of the Civil War by Deanne Blanton and Lauren Cook; All the Daring of a Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies by Elizabeth D. Leonard. Early on, Cook had also edited the only published set of letters of a woman soldier: An Uncommon Soldier. The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864, through the Minerva Press. Dr. Linda Grant De Pauw of Minerva also came out with a wide ranging survey that included Civil War women: Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present. Then in 2004, after twelve years work, I published: Great Necessities: The Life, Times, and Writings of Anna Ella Carroll, 1815-1894, on Lincoln's political/legal advisor who was also a military secret agent. This was followed in 2007 by South Under a Prairie Sky: The Journal of Nell Churchill, US Army Nurse & Scout, a very fact-based work of fiction, based on my mother's family in Warren County, Illinois on the home front and set largely in Tennessee on the war front. ?Nell? is a composite character whose exploits are sourced from many of the women on this site. She begins her nursing work after the battle of Shiloh as the protégé of the legendary Sanitary Commission Agent Mary Ann ?Mother? Bickerdyke of Galesburg, Illinois. Her scout work is based on that of Pauline Cushman, Pinkerton Detective Hattie Lawton, and official records of female scout reports and missions.

Thus, I determined to reprint the most significant documents on the NYMAS website, as always through the superb technical hand of Bob Rowen. I have tried to duplicate the formatting to the extent possible. However, these are my editorial caveats: 1) I largely kept the original spellings so there are variations in spellings of names, vessels, etc., British versions, and so on; 2) except when very important I have not filled out names or made other editorial additions since, right now, I am the sole harvester of this fruitful field; readers can quickly, I’m sure, identify names and events via a browser. Readers should also try to obtain the biographies of Pauline Cushman, scout; Sarah Emma Edmonds, 2nd Michigan Infantry; and Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a.k.a., Lt. Harry T. Buford, CSA, the latter two having been reprinted. Also recommended is the best one volume work, Mary Elizabeth Massey’s, Women in the Civil War, first published as Bonnet Brigades.

Most importantly, this is a work in progress. More material will be added later. But to start, I have tried to give readers an idea of the range of duties the women carried out: nurse, dietitian, scout, spy, guide, soldier, vivandiere, detective, blockade runner, guerrilla, inventor. Even after reading this limited material, one sees that the stereotype of the Victorian weeping and wailing woman, closeted in a lady-like domestic setting, suffering from "the vapors" is in good part a myth, largely because every family did not have the luxury of a gentile abode. Just because elites set social standards does not necessarily mean women adhered to them, particularly those in the West who could not afford to conform to social niceties when survival demanded other behaviors, as the harvester women testified to Mary Livermore. If all women had conformed to what were really aristocratic mores, the West would never have been settled in three generations.

So, dear reader, read on, and enjoy!

C. Kay Larson
April, 2005


























« « « «

Our Army Nurses

Interesting Sketches, Addresses, and Photographs
of the Noble Women who Served in the Hospitals
and on Battlefields during


by Mary A. Gardner Holland




Julia S. Tompkins, Iowa

"From the time the first call for volunteer nurses was issued, my heart burned with patriotic longings to do something for our country and the old flag, and why not? My ancestors on both sides were descendants of the Puritan and Revolutionary stock."

After her husband was wounded Tompkins was finally appointed to Benton Barracks in St. Louis and served till until she requested to return home to take care of her son.



Mrs. Ruth Helena Sinnotte, Illinois

Sinnotte served initially on hospital transports and then as the matron with the 113th Illinois Regiment under Colonel Hoge. She served at Camp Peabody outside Memphis and Holly Springs. She accompanied the regiment on the Tullahoma Raid. General Wright ordered her to join the Union fleet at Vicksburg.

"While with the Vicksburg fleet, one day I noticed the boat I was on was dragging her hawser from the tree where she had been fastened. I reported to the captain. He said, ‘I know it.’ There was no steam on, and we were drifting down the river. The captain said we were going to Vicksburg, and were only a half mile from the line between the two armies. Among the sick was a captain of one of our of the companies of the 113th Illinois Regiment. I immediately went to him and reported the treachery on board of the boat. He could do nothing, as he was too ill to raise his head. He swore  me, and gave me the necessary [Coston] signal. I went on the hurricane deck; no one was there, no one in the pilot house. I gave the signal as he told me. In a moment I saw it answered. Immediately the "Von Pool" came down and towed the boat to the upper end of the fleet, and put a stop to our going to Vicksburg. All of the crew from the captain to the chamber maid were so very angry they would have killed me had they known I was responsible for the change of programme."

On board "Imperial" Sinnotte procured brandy and red pepper for one soldier who was ill with typhoid fever and for whom the doctors said nothing could be done. She applied cloths dipped in the mixture to his feet, palms, and chest and administered water, brandy and broth. He soon began to revive. She retired at midnight and the next morning the doctor asked her what she had done. She replied, "I attended to him as though he were my own, and in our own home." (124-31)


Lucy Fenman Barron, Pennsylvania

Barrow was appointed a regimental nurse in March 1861 and served in regimental and general hospitals in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Washington until March 1863.

"While in West Virginia the rebels took me for a target, but, praise God, they missed their mark and the bullet whistled above my head. Once they surrounded us, and we could get no supplies for nearly three weeks. At the last we had nothing to eat but hard-tack, and not much of that. At this extremity our men fought their way out; the commander of the place surrendered, and was shot for it, as a traitor. I had a severe time among those rebels while I had the typhoid fever, receiving care only from the good Union doctor. We dared not say we were Union, or we might have been killed. When able to travel I returned to the Regimental Hospital in West Virginia where I remained until I returned to my home."


Modenia R. McColl Weston, Iowa

Weston entered service on September 1, 1861. She was called the mother of the 3rd Iowa, nursing the soldiers in various camps and accompanied the unit to Shiloh.

"I was with the regiment the first day at the battle of Shiloh, and we did up wounds until eleven o’clock. Then went to River Landing and aboard the steamer, on which were four hundred wounded. Here, too, I was the only woman. They had no food, so I first sent for coffee, sugar and hardtack. Tuesday, the boat was ordered to Savannah, where we occupied an unfinished building. After we had been there a few days we received some supplies; then we did very well."

Weston remained nursing Shiloh patients until September when she and other nurses were sent to Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis; and Washington, D. C. where she was officially sworn in on April 20, 1863. In January 1864, she was assigned to the small-pox hospital at Memphis from where she was discharged in October 1866. (162-65)


Estelle Johnson, Vermont

When her town’s regiment, the 4th Vermont, was formed her husband and brother-in-law enlisted. She and her sister wanted to accompany the regiment. The colonel said nurses had not been called, but wanted them to join. She was sworn in personally by the colonel and the governor of Vermont. In September they reached Federal Hill in Washington and joined other regiments. The 9th Wisconsin had seven ladies and at Camp Advance the 2nd Vermont had five women with the regiment. While at Camp Griffith, they were shelled. The captain wanted she and her sister to fall back, but, "I told him if he thought we would run at the first fire he was greatly mistaken."

They set up a hospital in a house where she and her whole family succumbed to typhoid fever. Her sister died. She went to Washington three times for supplies, at one point leaving with Amanda Farnham. They took a wagon to Germantown then proceeded on foot to a bakery. "When the German woman who had charge saw our uniforms, she invited us into her kitchen to have some dinner, and would not accept any pay." Her husband was discharged disabled and subsequently she left the service in 1862.


Martha Baker, Indiana

Baker’s husband became the chief wound dresser of the 40th Indiana then at Nashville and sent for her. She arrived bringing her child with her. He appointed her to be in charge of a special diet kitchen where she prepared meals for 500 men every day.

While there, "I met two soldier women who donned the blue..One, Frances Hook, alias Harry Miller, served two years and nine months; the other was called Anna She was put under our charge until the military authorities could send her North." .

Baker left the service in February 1865. (228-31)


Jane E. Dunbar, Sparta, Wisconsin

Dunbar served in a hospital on an island in New York, having been sent for by her husband who had taken sick. She arrived in August 1864 and eventually took over the diet kitchen for the extremely ill patients. The hospital cared for 800 men, and she said, "I think I never worked so hard in my life."

"While I was in the hospital a band of ladies came every week to bring delicacies for me to distribute to the sick ones. At the time the Southerners undertook to burn some of the buildings in the city of New York; two women came to examine our hospital, but thought they could not burn it very readily. Two of the soldiers who heard them talking followed them to the city and had them arrested."

Dunbar returned home in 1865. (238-40)


Mary Stenebaugh-Bradford, Galion, Ohio

Stenebaugh was a student at Oberlin College when the war broke out. It had already come close to home as one professor and two students had been taken at Harper’s Ferry and many students had friends and family who had lived through the "Bleeding Kansas" conflict. Her brother enlisted and died from wounds received at Shiloh. About a year later, she received an invitation to go South from her local minister. Her father objected but she countered, "You have given your boys to die for their country, now you can give your girls to nurse them." Between her mother and aunt, they sent six children to war.

She became the matron of the hospital at Milliken’s Bend above Vicksburg.

"Many of the men had chronic diseases, that seemed to baffle the skill of the most competent doctors; yet the soldiers were hopeful now that Union women had come to care for them."

The hospital was under threat by guerrillas who did attack one day. She crossed the river and took refuge in the canebrake for three days. On their first attempt to cross back their boat got caught in the current and was swept back to shore. "Another lady and I jumped overboard and waded to land; the others followed." They safely crossed after dark. Soon after they learned that help was needed at Natchez where they went. "So the labor was divided. Some were to look after Union women and children whose husbands and fathers had gone into or army, been robbed of their all, and left to die; others were to teach the freedmen, others to care for the sick. A confiscated mansion was turned over to us, with the injunction to be no "respecter of persons, but to welcome all who come, ‘In the name of the God of the universe.’"

"In the spring of 1864, Rev. Mr. Brown and lady, he seventy years old and she sixty-five, established a branch of the Christian Commission within the fort. As I did not always have the company of a lady, I thought it wise to call and take Mother Brown with me. She was a mother not only to me, but also to the boys in blue. Her presence made my work much easier. One Sabbath morning in the spring of 1864 everything was quiet. Soldiers and citizens were attending church. The gunboat had dropped down the river a mile, the fort was a mile above the landing, and Camp 70, U. S., colored, still a mile beyond.

Suddenly we heard firing, and the answer. The church was soon emptied, and all was excitement. The Southerners ran to their houses, or places of safety, the Northern people to the bluff overlooking the river. We could see the Confederates on the edge of the timber. About a mile away. They were commanded by a dashing German General, who rode a white horse, and wore a large white plume. They had attempted to cross the river and take our commissary stores in Natchez, under the hill men were gone but some new recruits, and they were ex-slaves. Would they fight, or would they cower at the sight of their old masters? See! See! How they rush forward, hardly waiting for orders! They do better than the guns that fire on the enemy from the boat. In two hours they are driven from the field, leaving their dead and wounded. Three rebel officers were brought to our hospital to be cared for. In a few weeks they were able to be in the sitting-room. . . ."

Soon Stenebaugh’s planned furlough was interrupted by the arrival of two boatloads of wounded at the Marine Hospital. One load was put in a crude building on the bluff of the Mississippi and soon lacked food and clothing.

"I procured a basket full of needed articles, and on my way saw an old colored woman coming out of her shanty. She asked if I was going to see the Union soldiers, and said: "I’s gwine, too. My ole man says they’s starvin’, and I’s takin’ ‘em, some dinner." Then she lifted the snowy cloth, and I saw beefsteak, butter, warm bread, and vegetables. I feared the doctor’s frowns, but many of the men relished just such a dinner. As we walked toward home I said: "Aunty, how can you afford this? Butter is fifty cents a pound, and beefsteak but little less." "Yo’ see, honey, I does washens, and ’de ole man gets jobs, an’d we be free."

Stenebaugh returned home in 1865. (243-53)


Mary A. Ellis, Missouri

Ellis assisted her husband in raising the 1st Missouri Volunteer Cavalry that encamped at St. Louis in August 1861. As the colonel’s wife she accompanied him in her carriage with two servants and her own tent. She nursed at the Battle of Pea Ridge, and helped with surgical operations.

"In camps, on the march, or in the hospital, there was not part of the work of a nurse that I did not do, even to assisting in surgical operations, particularly at the Battle of Pea Ridge, where I stood at the surgeon’s table, not one or two, but many hours, with hot blood steaming into my face, until nature rebelled against such horrible sights and I fainted but as soon as possible I returned. Our regiment was in the cavalry charge at Sugar Creek and many of our men were killed and wounded. I was there with my carriage on the field, and bringing in the first wounded to the house that was made to do duty for a hospital, and continued to care for the needy until April, 1862.

Once in October 1861, one of our officers was left with the rebels and was very sick. It was at the close of a hard day’s march, and his captain came to me to know what could be done. I went on horseback alone, with the determination to find him, and care for him, if possible, and had the pleasure of being the means of saving his life."

The same month, "it was my privilege to carry an important dispatch from General Hunter to General Price. The guerrillas and bushwhackers were so plentiful that the cars on the Northern Missouri Railroad could not run. The telegraph lines were all cut off, and any Union soldier or stranger unlucky enough to be caught beyond the camp was shot immediately. I received the dispatch from General Hunter at 9 a.m., and placed it in the hands of General Price, at Jefferson City, at 5 p.m., the same day, having ridden forty miles."

At the request of the chief of the detective force, she acted as a detective. At last she was taken sick. It was two months before she could stand and was unable to return to service. During her time in camp she received no pay, but spent thousands of dollars on the regiment and for the sick. Her only son returned from the war maimed and died an early death ". . . oh! I want to go to him,---and as I am quite old, it must be soon. I am a physician, but my work is done; I am not able to leave my room." (276-79)


Lois H. Dennett Dunbar, Michigan City, Indiana

Dunbar and Harriet Colfax, later a famous lighthouse keeper at Michigan City, both enrolled at St. Louis in November 1861. After the battle of Fort Donelson, 300 men came under their care. At the request of Gov. Morton of Indiana, she transferred to Hospital No. 2 in Evansville, where she eventually "commanded" five others. Colfax served on transports on the Mississippi. Dunbar made trips too. "Twice I went down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers after the sick, and at Sartartia, on the Yazoo, was under fire from the rebels, but our gunboats soon disabled them. We had a small battle, and took a church, which we fitted up for a hospital. We took some on the boat, gathering up three hundred on the return."

She was taught surgery under Dr. Jameson who had served in the Crimea and she studied from his manual. She assisted in many amputations. After the war, she married one of the first patients she saved after five doctors had given up on him. She resigned the service in September 1864.

"I have had men die clutching my dress till it was almost impossible to loosen their hold. I have often taken young boys in my arms when they were so tired they could not rest in their beds, and held them as I would my own little boys. I never went to the ward with a sad face, but always had a smile and a cheery word for all. The doctor used to say he knew when I was ahead of him, for the patients had such pleasant countenances." (294-96)


Nancy Gross, Bucksport, Maine

Gross enrolled with the 2nd and 6th Maine regiments. Her pension petition reads: "Mrs. Nancy M. Atwood-Gross went out with the Sixth Maine Regiment Volunteers as a nurse, and served in that capacity in the field and hospital, caring for our sick and wounded with untiring zeal, and participating in our long and weary marches by day and night, through the dark days of the Rebellion, often standing by the side of some dying comrade who gave his life for the country. . . .Believing that this good woman’s health was impaired by this arduous duty, and untiring energy and zeal to render assistance to her country in the days of bloodshed and hardship, we ask that the Government, now in the zenith of its prosperity, render her a compensation for her services from 1861 to 1863, believing her most deserving. Respectfully, Louis P. Abbott, Late Co. E, 6th Maine Volunteers."



Susan Cox, Knox County, Illinois

Cox was attached to her husband’s regiment, the 83rd Illinois. She was active at Forts Henry and Donelson and at Clarksville from October 1862 to June 1864. While at Donelson the fort was attacked.

"The Northern women were ordered on board a boat that was to drop down the river. While on the way to the landing the shot and shell were flying all around us. . . . "


Nurse and hospital workers at Gettysburg 
From: Francis T. Miller, The Photographic History of the Civil War, 1911


Margaret Hamilton, Rochester, New York

Hamilton had been educated by the Sisters of Charity and after her mother’s death in 1857 decided to enter the Order. When the war broke out she was teaching at the Orphan’s Asylum in Albany. In 1862, she and three other Sisters proceeded to the Satterlee United States Military Hospital in Philadelphia that accommodated 5,000 patients. The first wounded they received were from the Chickahominy Swamps. "Dozens of them were already dead when taken from the ambulances, and many others were just breathing out their brave lives." All through the next three years battles, "our hospital was constantly filled."

Following Gettysburg, "The weather was extremely warm, and the vast number of the wounded made careful attention to their wounds impossible; and upon their arrival at the hospital many wounds were full of vermin, and in many cases gangrene had set in, and the odor was almost unbearable. The demand on our time and labor was so increased that the number of nurses seemed utterly inadequate and the hospital presented a pure picture of the horrors of war."

"We received a large number of wounded after the battle of the Wilderness, among them a young woman not more than 20 years of age. She ranked as lieutenant. She was wounded in the shoulder, and her sex was not discovered until she came to our hospital. It appeared that she had followed her lover to the battle and the boys who brought her in said that no one in the company showed more bravery than she did. She was discharged soon after entering the ward."

Hamilton married a Maine soldier and they raised eight children. "I have taken great pleasure in instructing them in the great principles of patriotism, and it is a standing joke among them that they have "Civil War for breakfast, dinner, and supper." (336-42)


Margaret Edgar, Lockport, Illinois

At the outbreak of the war, Miss Edgar and her sister made their way to Jefferson Barracks Hospital near St. Louis where they nursed until the call for help following the Battle for Fort Donelson and she reported to Hospital No. 1 in 1863. A year later Confederate forces attacked the hospital, shot Union soldiers inside and sharpshooters took possession of the building.

"As I was leaving the hospital I met a rebel solider, who brought his gun down with authority, saying, "Halt," and then ordered me to fall into line. On going a little farther, Miss McLeary was ordered to fall in and he marched us into the open field between the rebels and our fort; but the balls flew harmlessly above our heads. Meantime our guns were under the necessity of shelling the hospital in order to rout the rebels, who were killing the men in the fort.

While we were in the field a rebel officer rode up and asked, "Ladies how come you here?" We told him it was the order of one of his men; whereupon he told us to get down on the ground, or we would be killed. We met a rebel soldier and Miss McLeary said, "I thought my time had come." He replied, "You should always be prepared to die." We were so frightened that we could tell nothing about time. Near by us a cow was grazing. A ball struck her; she jumped high in the air, and with a loud bellow retreated in good order. We momently expected the same fate, but in spite of our fears we laughed at our strange condition. This was my first experience in raid or battle. Soon we saw the rebels retreating, loaded with plunder; but they also carried many dead and dying men, among them the lifeless body of General Thompson, covered with blood.

As we were moving off the field a rebel, carrying a flag, said, "Have you many Yankees?" "Yes, sir!" I replied. ‘Reinforcements are coming down the river." This was repeated, and passed along the line, ‘Reinforcements are coming!"

Forrest sent in a flag of truce for a surrender of the fort; meanwhile we escaped as best we could, and made our way to the Ohio River, and crossed into Illinois. We were not allowed to return until the next day; then it was to learn that the hospital, with all its contents, had been burned."

Miss Edgar stayed on at a Paducah hospital until 1864 when she returned home. But three months later in October 1864, she was ordered to report to Jefferson City, Indiana hospital where she met her husband. She was honorably discharged in 1865. (345-49)


Elizabeth O. Gibson, Cincinnati, Ohio

In October 1861, Gibson received orders from Washington to report to the Fifth Street Military Hospital at St. Louis; she later was transferred to Jefferson Barracks hospital about twelve miles away. She was discharged while on duty at the Harvey General Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. Like others she complimented the surgeons she worked with, told of the pitiless sights and endless night watches, and of having to harden oneself. She was proud that in four years of service she "fainted only once", but suffered long-term ill health. Her main adventure seemed to have been:

"I was allowed to go to the battlefield of Shiloh because I could dress wounds; also to Vicksburg during the siege. From Shiloh, our boat took four hundred and thirty-nine men. From Vicksburg, the boat carried less than from Shiloh, but on the return trip we had the experience of being fired upon by the rebels. The gunboat that was guarding us soon scattered them, however, and we were not molested again." (386-89)


Elizabeth A. Hyatt, Chilton, Wisconsin

Hyatt accompanied her husband’s regiment, the 4th Wisconsin, after he enlisted in Racine, at the request of their colonel. She mostly nursed at the Patterson Park Hospital in Baltimore, although she went with the regiment for a time until they were sent to Ship Island. While returning to Washington, she came to Fairfax Court-House, Virginia, and rode on to the battlefield at Centreville (presumably the Peninsula campaign).

"Here I found Colonel Andrews with ambulances, but many of the drivers had left the teams to go on the field. I tried to carry water to the wounded, but I felt so sick that I was almost about to leave the place, when Colonel Andrews asked me if I could drive a team. When I assured him that I could, he asked me to drive an ambulance to Fairfax Court-House. There were four wounded men, and before I started, another, slightly wounded on the head, begged to go too. So I had him strapped on the seat. The road was smooth, and I told the men if they cold bear it to let me trot the horses forty minutes, I could pass the long train, avoid the dust, and could have them unloaded before the others arrived and took the most comfortable places. They told me to drive on.

I turned out and cracked the whip. The horses started on a good round trot. Every ambulance I passed, the driver would call to me to stop trotting and drive slowly, or I would kill the men. I paid no attention until one called me a "Secesh." Then I told the man who was strapped on the seat to call them something. He did, and shaking his fist, told them to keep still or they would smell powder.

When I had left the train a mile behind I halted and gave the men a drink. I cheered them what I could, telling them I would go to Washington and try to get them furloughs to go home, then drove on. When the men were comfortably settled and fed, I started on the return, and soon met the train. The drivers called to know how I got through, so for fun I told them I hadn’t a live man left. How they did swear, and call me a rebel. I made no reply, for I was in a hurry to get another load. They apologized when they found I was the 4th Wisconsin woman. They said they had talked with the men, who enjoyed the ride, and were very glad I was plucky enough to keep on."

Hyatt returned to Patterson Park hospital where her "boys" were very glad to see her and asked her not to leave again. (446-51)


Adelaide E. Spurgeon, New York, New York

"Almost before the echoes of the gun which marked the commencement of hostilities between the North and the South had died away, Hon. Henry J. Raymond, of the New York Times, with that keen foresight which marked his career as a newspaperman, had formed the idea of organizing a band of ladies to proceed to Washington in the capacity of nurses, should they be needed. Several meetngs were held at the Cooper Institute or the Woman’s Library, under the auspices of Miss Elizabeth Powell who was selected for this purpose by Mr. Raymond.

At the first meeting, many of those who were confidently expected to go, declined their enthusiasms, which had worked itself to fever heat at the commencement, having died out, and they decided to remain with the "home guard." Six nurses were called as they had been selected, and when my name, Adelaide E. Thompson, was pronounced and I arose (I being very slightly built at that time), a gentleman in the hall inquired what she expected to do with that little creature; to which Miss Powell responded, "That ‘little creature’ is one of the reliables."

The group went by steamer to Baltimore, leaving May 3, 1861, and enduring a severe storm overnight. Since the rails had been torn up during the previous month’s insurrection to prevent federal troops from relieving Washington, from the city they chartered an omnibus to Washington, finally arriving there on their fourth day of travel. They found that the only hospital open at the time was a smallpox one (the First Battle of Bull Run had not yet occurred), and that a nurse was badly needed.

"One pretty little woman, the youngest of the party, whose husband was here in one of the regiments, declared she could not think of such a thing, for if she took the disease and got her face all marked up, her husband would never forgive her. It is but justice to say that she proved herself very efficient in another place. The oldest lady said she could not think of such a thing for she had not felt well since she left New York and she only felt able to read the Bible, and the poor fellows must be so sick that reading would only weary them. The others being of the opinion that "silence is golden," remained silent. To me, anything was better than inaction, and I volunteered my services. . . .after a mournful dinner with my comrades I took my little bundle of clothing, and, accompanied by one of the ladies departed for the hospital. My friend bade me good-bye on the opposite side of the street, and with some trepidation I crossed over and entered the building. I was met by the physician, Dr. Robert I. Thomas, from Iowa. I handed him the letter from the surgeon-general appointing me a nurse in the small-pox hospital; and thus as the first nurse in the District of Columbia, on the 16th day of May, I entered upon my duties."

Spurgeon described deplorable conditions that she mainly bore alone. The doctor would leave after only a few hours work each day, the steward soon followed returning drunk each night, the laundress "pretended to wash" and the cook’s concoctions mainly consisted of making broth out of fat bacon and hot water. So Spurgeon took up the cooking along with her other duties.

"We had plenty of flour, and I proceeded to make up a large batch of bread which was greatly relished by the boys; but as to the meat,---here words fail me. Never before, or since, have I seen such meat. It would have required the power of a Hercules to masticate it. The sugar was of the consistency of mud, and, about the same color, and tasted more like salt than sugar. Butter was not to be thought of, and vegetables of any kind were out of the question."

Spurgeon made a trip to Ne w York to raise supplies from friends and returned with many to find that the hospital had many added patients. "As the doctor did not come, I placed a cot in a corner of his office, where I could obtain two or three hours sleep during the night. I have passed many nights entirely alone in the building, except for the sick men; sometimes three or four bodies lay in the adjoining room, waiting for the morning light to bring the undertaker. The first man died from blood-poisoning, caused by impure vaccine put in his arm before he left Michigan. The weather was warm, and before his comrades arrived to bury him, the body burst. We were obliged to remove all the sick men to a tent in the adjoining lot, while the house was flooded with water."

After the battle of Bull Run wounded flooded in and they established a second hospital. Spurgoen wrote, "It is impossible to describe the horrors of that long, hot summer." There was often no water. They could bury no bodies for a period of time. The laundress died "at her post" from over work. Spurgeon, herself, contracted blood poisoning from which she never fully recovered and had to resign the service. Yet she found a new vocation in which she ultimately served two years:

"I then entered the secret service at the provost marshal’s headquarters. I was sent for one day by the judge advocate, who wished me to interview two parties who had been taken out of the ranks as a regiment was marching up the avenue. I went into a back room, where I saw two boyish-looking persons in uniform.

After a short conversation they owned up to being of the gentler sex; but the deception was perfect. One was the wife of one of the men, and the other was engaged to one. They had traveled hundreds of miles with the regiment, and would probably have gone to the front but for the rascally behavior of one of the lieutenants, who was in the secret. He offered some insult to the young wife, which she resented, and in a spirit of revenge he signaled the provost guard, and had them taken out of the ranks. They both wept bitterly, not only at the disgrace, but at being obliged to return to their homes, leaving their loved ones, perhaps never to meet them again.

With some difficulty clothing was procured, and they were sent home very much wiser women than when they left." (454-65)


Delia Bartlett Fay, New York

Fay served with the 118th NY--her husband being in Company C--and the Christian Commission. Her regiment was on guard duty in Washington until 1863 when sent to the siege in Suffolk.

"Many a poor victim of shot and shell breathed his last under the tender care of this noble, self-sacrificing woman, sometimes just where they had fallen. She knew no fear of the rebel fire when her services were needed to hold up the fainting, battle-scarred hero. . . .During all the marches Mrs. Fay showed the lot of the soldier, marching the same number of miles, carrying her load at all times, and sometimes the load of some sick boy, who would have been compelled to drop out by the wayside, but for friendly aid; and as soon as camp was struck she would go about the preparation of sick diets to tempt the appetite of the sick and wounded. . . . She was on one occasion detailed to go on a scouting expedition to locate the rebel forces. She was very successful, and reported her information to the satisfaction of her captain." (478)

Mrs. Fay served three years and returned home with her husband. (476-80)


M. V. Harkin, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Harkin and her mother were attached to the 17th Wisconsin. ". . . we were all very eager to go to the front." They first traveled to the capital at Madison, then to St. Louis ". . . .at every station, women and children vied with each other in seeing who could do the most for the soldier ladies. In Chicago they treated the boys to cake, coffee, and fruit while we nurses were almost smothered with flowers." From Benton Barracks, they went to the field at Shiloh where they set up a hospital.

"There was a great lack of hospital stores, and we were all on short rations. On account of the masked batteries we found it hard to get supplies, and for one week all we nurses had to eat was hard-tack. Not one of us would touch the small store that we had for the sick and we were nearly starved at the end of that time, when a large steamer brought in an abundance of provisions, sent by Wisconsin for her soldiers. Then followed long, weary days and night watches with poor suffering men. There was almost every form of sickness and we had to do all the cooking, and we had to keep the soldiers clean and the hospital in order."

Like other women, Harkin found the Southern backwoods a dangerous place. One day she requested permission to go for a horseback ride, and although warned of danger, she soon found herself and her orderly on a "pleasant road, shaded with beautiful trees." "My horse was fresh and eager to go, and we dashed on. At last we saw soldiers; but they were our own men, and of course I was not afraid of them. As I flew past, as fast as my horse could go, I thought I heard voices calling but paid no attention and rode on for as much as two hours; when I came to a large ravine, that cut the road in two. I stopped, looked down into the dark gully, then raised my eyes to the opposite hill, where I saw a rude farm-house, and a white cow grazing in the field. I thought I would cross the gully and see if I could buy a drink of milk. I had gone about half way down the hill, when at the bottom I saw five men in the well-known "butternut" uniform. My breath almost left my body as the foremost said, "Halt! You are my prisoner." He walked toward me, and in another minute would have had my horse by the bridle. "I will die first," was my thought as I jerked the rein, and my dear old horse turned with a jump. "Shoot the spy!" they shouted. I was in truth flying for dear life. They fired three shots after me, but I must have gone like the wind, for I heard no more from them. When I reached the picket lines the little orderly was almost sure I was "gobbled," as they called being taken prisoner. The officer gave me a scolding, and told me how three of our men were killed there a short time before. I found my father and mother very anxious about me, and I myself was almost sick with fright."

Harkin finally took ill and resigned the service. Her mother remained serving in Corinth and Memphis hospitals. (486-494)


Mary Bickerdyke, Galesburg, Illinois

"I served in our great Civil War from June 9, 1861 to March 2, 1865. I did the work of one, and tried to do it well. I was in nineteen hard-fought battles, in the department of the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland armies. Fort Donelson, February 15th and 16th was the first battle to which I was eye-witness; Pittsburg Landing, April 6th and 7th, the second; Iuka, September 20th, the third; and Corinth, October 3d and 4th, the fourth.

In January, 1863, we went from Corinth to Memphis, and from January to October, 1853, passed 63,800 men through our hospitals.

During the siege of Vicksburg I made several trips from that city with wounded soldiers to the Memphis hospitals.

On the 27th of October I received orders to report at Chattanooga, and arrived I in time to see the battle of Lookout Mountain, that famous "battle above the clouds." I watched the dreadful combat until the clouds hid all from view. In fancy I can hear General Hooker’s artillery now.

Our next fearful struggle was Missionary Ridge. This point was strongly fortified, the rifle-pits were closely arranged, and with the artillery belching fourth fire and death, it seemed impossible for our men to take it. The night before the battle was bright moonlight, and all night long the troops marched to their positions. In the morning they presented a solid wall of blue. Never were men more hopeful and yet it looked so terrible, so appalling--that dangerous route up the rough and jagged mountain side. I was in the second story of the hotel. My duty was to receive the gifts from the soldiers to their friends if, to use their own expression, he "bit the dust." These gifts consisted of farewell letters, watches, money, and any little things the wanted sent "home" if they never returned.

The order to march was given between eleven and twelve o’clock. Amid the din and roar of shot and shell, and the commands of the officers, it was almost impossible to distinguish any particular sound; yet General Osterhaus’s thrilling commands could be heard with startling distinctions. It was his artillery that sent the first shell through General Bragg’s headquarters.

The men marched up that stony precipice so rapidly that even the officers were amazed. General Grant asked, "Who gave that command?" General Thomas replied, "They gave it themselves." In one short hour that desperate battle was fought and won; General Bragg was in full retreat and his army closely pursued. Was not the "God of Battle" there?

The Stars and Stripes floated from one end of Missionary Ridge to the other. Seventeen hundred men were killed and wounded in the 13th Army Corps alone. Some wounded were kept at the foot of Missionary Ridge five weeks and then they were removed to Chattanooga in time for the sudden storm on record; but none of our patients froze to death.

The first of March found us in Huntsville, Alabama, getting read for the spring campaign. Resaca, early in May was our first battle,--and a bloody and hard-fought one it was, too. Now comes a constant roar of artillery for one hundred days until Atlanta was taken, and many were the battles in the campaign. Kennisaw Mountain was where we dislodged Gen. Joseph Johnston. Then came Mt. Hope, Big Shantee, and on, and on, until the fall of Atlanta. Here we had the worst hospitals of the war. Kingston, then Altoona Pass, then on to Marietta, where, while the shouting of both blue and gray went on in Sherman’s army we had at one time twenty thousand wounded soldiers. The exhaustion and suffering of that Georgia campaign can never be told!

Here is where I saw General Kilpatrick and his seven thousand cavalrymen swinging around Atlanta, burning and destroying everything they could lay hands on, swimming the Black Warrior with the enemy close behind them. This stream takes its name from the Creek Indians, who, closely pursued, preferred death to surrender; and plunging into the turbulent waters were drowned; hence the name, "Black Warrior." But General Kilpatrick’s work was not in vain. Atlanta surrendered, and we, army nurses, treated the general and his worn-out troops to bread and butter and coffee.

The surrender of Atlanta marked the close of my work in the Georgia campaign.



Ed.: The work of Mother Bickerdyke is so widely and well known, that the above article from her pen cannot fail to be greatly appreciated, but realizing that one by one our comrades are crossing the river, and that to the rising generation the Civil War is already like a half-forgotten story, aside from the lessons of patriotism it teaches, we have gathered a few of the details of this most remarkable woman’s work, and re-tell them, hoping that a measure of her spirit of whole souled devotion to country and to suffering humanity may find lodgement in the heart of every reader.

After the surrender of Sumter her heart, which had been burdened with a mother’s solicitude for the boys she had seen march away, could no longer endure the dreadful suspense, and the still more dreadful confirmation of her fears that daily met her eyes as she glanced over the crowded columns of the papers. Her clear judgment did not admit of her failing for she realized the horrible sights and the hardships she would have to undergo at the front; but by the force of her indomitable will, the lesser evil would be lost in the greater, and she would unfalteringly tread the path of duty, outwardly unmoved by environments that must have unnerved a less-determined person.

Many stories have been told of the half-frenzied search for friends and relatives missing the slain, when tortured love lent an almost superhuman fearlessness that enabled the seekers to endure the strain of their ghastly surroundings; but perhaps no single incident in the life of Mrs. Bickerdyke portrays her large-heartedness, in fact the motherly care that she felt for the wounded soldiers, than the following: The victory had been gained at Fort Donelson, and the glad news carried with it great rejoicing; meanwhile the soldiers who had won that victory were suffering more than tongue can related. Their clothes often froze to their bodies, and as there were no accommodations for so many, hundreds perished wholly without care. Mrs. Bickerdyke had witnessed her first battle with a courage equal to every demand. That fearful day was at last ended, and darkness settled over the deserted field, where the dead still lay awaiting burial.

The night grew darker and darker. The strange, weird silence, after such a day, proclaimed an indescribable feeling of awe. At midnight an officer noticed a light moving up and down among the dead, and dispatched someone to see what it meant. The man soon returned and told him that it was Mrs. Bickerdyke, who, with her lantern, was examining the bodies to make sure that no living man should be left alone amid such surroundings. She did not seem to realize that she was doing anything remarkable, and turning from the messenger, continued her search over that awful field, actuated simply by her love for humanity.

Many wounded of the rebel army, who had been deserted, were the recipients of her care. As a mangled arm was being dressed of one, he felt instinctively the deep sympathy for his suffering and said, "That arm would not have done such service, if I had known what sort of people I was fighting."

This work was varied, now on the field of battle; now on board a boat, caring for a load of soldiers in transit; now in the hospital; and now engaged in more general sanitary duties. Thus many phases of a soldier’s life came under her observation.

Often young boys found their way into the ranks, and it as infinitely pathetic to realize their position, and picture in imagination how they had been loved and cherished at home. Ah, how may of them today fill heroes’ graves! One mentioned by Mrs. Bickerdyke was a boy about nineteen years of age, but large and manly for his years. During his infancy his mother died, leaving him to the almost idolizing care of father, brothers, and sisters. He entered the army a happy, half-willful boy, looking upon his position in the hopeful, confident manner of youth. Slowly, but surely, he was transformed into the grave patriot, ready to give his life wherever it should be needed most; no longer looking forward to battle, but anticipating his first active service with an every-increasing self-surrender. He was at Pittsburgh Landing, in General Prentice’s division, and when they were surprised, about sunrise, he was among the first ones ready to repulse the attack. Soon he was wounded, and while being carried from the field another ball struck him; but he had time to say, "Tell my friends that I died on the field."

While the battle was raging, Mrs. Bickerdyke was attending an officer who had been wounded at Donelson, and could live only a short time. Ah, how it thrilled her heart and awakened her deepest admiration to see how he longed to be with his regiment, when he had already given so much! And when it seemed that our men must be defeated, he cried, "It can’t be! Those brave troops will never surrender! They will fight to the last, and conquer! Oh, that I were with them! He was with many of them soon, beyond the tumult of war.

Mrs. Bickerdyke did not see all of the horrors of that field, as her heart and hands were full in caring for the wounded. But in connection with this battle, she said: "The saddest thing in my experience was receiving their last messages, and little treasures to be sent home to their families when death came to relieve them from pain. Such cries as "Who will become of my children?’ were hardest of all to bear." Yet few realized how deeply she felt for those around her, for she was habitually strong and cheerful, inspiring others with the same feeling.

One night she was making her usual round of the ward. The lights were turned down, and many of the soldiers were sleeping, while here and there a restless sufferer counted the lagging seconds, and longed for the morning. Passing along, she ministered to each as occasion demanded, until one asked "Are you not tired, Mother Bickderdyke?" Not for a moment did she think of claiming sympathy, but replied in her usual brisk way; "What if I am? That is nothing. I am well and strong, and all I want is to see you so, too".

In a few moments more she was at her place by the table, to assist the surgeon in an amputation then received the patient into her own care; and as she gave him a restorative he whispered, "Take a message from me to my poor family; I shall surely die." How her heart ached for him in his weakness and suffering. But there was no change in her calm cheerful manner as she replied, "Now do not talk. You are going to take all your messages to them yourself, for I know you have a splendid chance to get well."

Her only purpose during those trying seasons was beautifully expressed in her own simple words, "I keep doing something all the time to make the men better, and help them to get well," and her name was spoken with gratitude by numberless soldiers.

In September a battle was fought at Iuka. Here Mother Bickerdyke again walked over a blood-stained field to save many a life fast ebbing away for want of immediate aid. She deftly stopped the flow of blood from wounds that must otherwise have proved fatal. The number of wounded swelled to nearly fifteen thousand. The accommodations were crowded, and the wounded were sent to Corinth as fast as their condition would permit. Mrs. Bickerdyke not only went with them, to alleviate suffering on the painful journey, but did much to prevent waste. Owing to limited time and means of transportation, solid clothing, and things that were especially needed to fit the place to which they were going were to be left behind. But prudent Mother Bickerdyke had all articles packed closely and when she saw that they were to be left exclaimed in surprise, "Do not suppose that we are going to throw away those things that the daughters and wives of our soldiers have worked so hard to give us? I will prove that they can be saved, and the clothes washed. Just take them along; and her order was obeyed."

A mother kneeling by the cot of her son, who was scarcely seventeen years old, said: "It is no wonder that you are called ‘Mother’ her, for you treat all these men with such kindness and patience. I owe to you the preservation of my darling’s life. Oh, it would have broken my heart had I found him dead!" With that thought she burst into a passion of sobs, and buried her face in the pillow. He smoothed her silver hair with one hand (he had lost the other), and tried to comfort her. Such scenes aroused feelings in the heart of Mrs. Bickerdyke for which she could find no expression save in work.

The large hospitals in Memphis had not been prepared in vain, and she was often seen among the patients in the different wards, besides performing her duties as matron of the Gayoso [Hospital].

She was always planning for more and better food for her sick boys. Fresh milk and eggs were supplied in scant quantities, and were very poor at that. She declared that it was a nuisance to pay forty cents a quart for chalk and water. She wanted something nourishing. Her plan was at first deemed impracticable, but after consideration it was conceded that her judgment was not at fault. The sanction of her plan was gained from proper authorities, and just as Spring was preparing to welcome Summer, she started upon her famous "cow and hen mission." Her object was to obtain one hundred cows and one thousand hens, to be cared for on an island in the Mississippi, near Memphis. The beginning of this mission was distinguished by more than one hundred crippled soldiers accompanying her as far as St. Louis. There was not one of the poor maimed fellows who did not bless her when she saw them all safely in a hospital there.

As soon as she made her plans known in Jacksonville, Ill., a wealthy farmer, aided by a few of his neighbors, gave her the hundred cows; and as she proceeded, chickens were cackling all about her. She procured the desired one thousand, and her arrival at Milwaukee was heralded by the lowing of cows and the sprightly song of hens.

She visited Chicago, where she was entertained by Mary A. Livermore, of the Christian Commission. It was a Sabbath afternoon, and the family were preparing to attend the marriage of a friend; and although Mrs. Bickerdyke had taken no rest since her arrival, she preferred to join them rather than to retire. The ceremony was a quiet one, performed in the bride’s home. A young officer in his bright uniform was the bridegroom; and when he introduced the white-robed girl as his wife to Mrs. Bickerdyke, she was surprised by his telling her they had previously met at Fort Donelson. Then he reminded her of an officer there who had been wounded by a minnie-ball, appealing in vain to a surgeon to save his leg. She induced the surgeon to wait until morning, when it as found that he could recover without losing the limb. "I never can express my gratitude to you" he concluded. "You have been to me a mother indeed."

She had accompanied the soldiers to Farmington, whence they removed to Corinth, to secure better accommodations. Here she established a Diet Kitchen and a laundry. The great bundles of soiled and blood-stained clothing were sent to the woods, where colored men washed them, superintended by Mrs. Bickerdyke. She rode a white horse, the distance being nearly two miles from camp.

One of her best-known acts is an "interference" that gained for her the title of "General." It was at the time when the Confederates attempted to re-capture Corinth, and attacked the defense Oct. 3, 1862. The hospital work was so well organized that it could be done very quickly, and Mrs. Bickerdyke found some time to study the progress of the battle. The whole action was rapid and concerted. The Board of Trade Regiment, twelve hundred strong had marched twenty-four miles to enter the conflict, and only four hundred returned. The steady roar of artillery drowned all other sounds. Toward evening she saw a brigade hurrying forward, and learned that they had been marching sine noon, and were about to join in the struggle. The officer in command was requested to let them rest a few moments, but refused. The men were passing the hospital when a strong voice cried, "Halt!" Instinctively they obeyed, and attendants began to distribute soup and coffee; meanwhile their canteens were filled, and each received a loaf of bread. "Forward, march!" came the order in a very few minutes, that the time lost being more than compensated by the renewed courage of the men, who had no other chance to rest until midnight. Mrs. Bickerdyke had given the order to halt herself, when she found that no one else would do it, and her "interference" was deeply appreciated; for in spite of her efforts, many died from hunger and thirst during that battle.

She experienced some difficulty in getting transportation for her stores to Resaca, but finally arrived while the hospital tents were being pitched. All round lay the wounded who, one by one, were being carried to the operating tables, by the sides of which were heaped those ghastly piles of human flesh. Turning from such fearful sights she began to work among the men, binding up a wound here, straightening a limb there, and again, bending to bathe a quivering, agonized face.

Thus day after day the fearful work went on, and day after day, Mother Bickerdyke passed in and out among the soldiers, ministering to needs of both mind and body, as only a strong, loving woman could do. She had given herself unreservedly to the work, and to such a nature as hers retreat would be impossible. Sickness, sorrow and danger of every kind must necessarily come, but she would meet them as the soldiers did;--as obstacles that must be overcome; for the path of duty lay clearly marked out before her and she could not turn aside. For herself she would accept nothing; if her boys could be comfortably cared for she was happy. She was a capital forager, and for the sake for the sick soldier she would brave any danger. She was once present at the Chamber of Commerce in Milwaukee, with the Ladies’s Aid Society of the Northwestern Sanitary Commission. The President of the Chamber, in his blandest tones, informed the ladies that the Chamber had considered their request, but that they had expended so much in fitting out a regiment that they must be excused from making further contributions. Mrs. Bickerdyke asked the privilege of saying a few words, and for a half hour she held them enchained. She described in plain, simple language the life of a soldier,--his privations and sufferings, the patriotism which animated him to suffer and to dare without murmuring. She contrasted this with the love of gain, and such an excuse for making no further donations. "You rich men are living at your ease here in Milwaukee, dressed in your broadcloth, knowing so little of the sufferings of these soldiers writhing in pain, cold, hungry, many of them finally meeting death,--and all that you and your little ones, your wealth and your homes, many be saved to a future republic. Shame on you, cowards! The Chamber of Commerce was not prepared to be thus rebuked. They reconsidered their action and made an appropriation.

Though Mrs. Bickerdyke was always neat and cleanly in her dress, she was indifferent to its attractions; and amid the flying sparks from open fires her calico dress would take fire, and was often full of little holes. Some one asked if she were not afraid of being burned. "Oh, she said, "my boys put me out!" With her clothing in this condition she visited Chicago late in the summer of 1863. The ladies replenished her wardrobe, and soon after sent her a box of nice clothing for her own use. Some of the articles were richly trimmed, among them two nightgowns. She traded off most of the articles with the rebel women of the place for eggs, butter, and other good things for her sick soldiers. She was soon to go to Cairo, and she thought the nightgowns would sell for more there; but on her way, in one of the towns on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, she found two soldiers wh had been discharged from the hospitals before their wounds were healed. The exertion of travel had opened them afresh. They were in an old shanty, bleeding, hungry, penniless. Mrs. Bickerdyke took them at once in hand, washed their wounds, stopped the flow of blood, tore off the bottoms of the nightgowns and used them for bandages. Then as the men had no shirts she dressed them in the fine nightgowns, ruffles, lace, and all. They demurred a little, but she told them if any one spoke about it, to say they had been in Seceshville.

Some soldiers in fresh uniforms waited upon her, one sunny morning, and tendered her a review. She smilingly consented, donned her sun-bonnet, and permitted herself to be stationed in a rude, elevated position. Then the fine old cows who had supplied them with milk filed past her. Each one had been smoothly curried, their horns had been polished, and their hoofs blackened. The favorites were decked out with little flags, and a lively march was played as the queer procession filed past. Many of these cows had marched a long distance with the army They were a treasure to Mrs. Bickerdyke, as she could make custards and other delicacies for her sick soldiers. This boyish prank, "The Cows Review" was a pleasant incident which she greatly enjoyed.

When the army was ordered to Washington for the grand review, and the soldiers realized that they were soon to meet the loved ones at home, they became as light-hearted as boys, and the march from Alexandria was a joyous one. Mrs. Bickerdyke accompanied them, riding her glossy horse. She wore a simple calico dress and a large sunbonnet. She crossed the Long Bridge in advance of the 15th Army Corps, and was met by Dorothy Dix and others, who came to welcome her to the capital. This was a triumph such as few women have ever achieved, and during the weeks following she was everywhere treated with great respect and consideration.

The calico dress and sunbonnet were sold for one hundred dollars and preserved as relics of the rebellion. This money she spent at once, for "the boys needed so many things."

At last the great war was over. Peace was declared, and the Nation awoke to the fact that it had on its hands a mighty army,--victorious, it is true, but with many of the men destitute, and bearing the marks of the four years’ struggle. In a short time that army disappeared in a manner that has been the wonder of every nation.

But where had they gone, and under what circumstances? Those soldiers could never be anything but "her boys" to Mother Bickerdyke, and she could not desert them now, when maimed, and broken in health and fortune, they must go back to the old homes, or wander about in search of new ones. From that time until the present day she had been constantly interested for their welfare. In the old New England homestead, in the sunny valleys of California or on Western prairies, wherever the soldiers have made their homes, the name of Mother Bickerdyke will be spoken with reverential love, until her boys are mustered out, and their tongues are silent in death.

She is now eighty-two years old, and very smart for one of that age. She keeps a secretary to conduct her large correspondence, coming from soldiers in all parts of the country.

Her son, Prof. J. B. Bickerdyke, lives in Russell, Kansas, and with him his honored mother finds a pleasant retreat in which to pass the sunset of her long and useful life.



FROM: American Women, by Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, 2 Vols., 1897

WALKER, Miss Mary E., physician, army surgeon, and dress-reformer, was born in Oswego, N. Y. She belongs to a family of marked mental traits, and was, as a child, distinguished for her strength of mind and her decision of character. She received a miscellaneous education and grew up an independent young woman. She attended medical college in Syracuse, N. Y., and New York City. She always had an inclination to be useful in the world. When the Civil War broke out, she left her practice, went to the front and served the Union army in a way that, in any other country, would have caused her to be recognized as a heroine of the nation. Of all the women who participated in the scenes of the war, Dr. Walker was certainly among the most conspicuous for bravery and for self-forgetfulness. She often spent her own money. She often went where shot and shell were flying to aid the wounded soldiers. While engaged on the battlefields of the South, she continued to wear the American reform costumes, as she had done many years previous to the war, but eventually dressed in full male attire, discarding all the uncomfortable articles of female apparel. Her bravery and services in the field were rewarded by a medal of honor, and she draws a pension from the government of only $8.50 a month, a half of pension of her rank, in spite of the fact that she really deserves the higher recognition of the government and the public for her patriotic and self-sacrificing services in the army. Her career has been an eventful one, and she has been a pioneer woman in many fields. She is the only woman in the world who was an assistant army surgeon. She was the first woman officer ever exchanged as a prisoner of war for a man of her rank. She is the only woman who has received the Medal of Honor from Congress and a testimonial from the President of the United States. She has been prominent and active in the woman suffrage and other reform movements. She was among the first women who attempted to vote and did vote, who went to Congress in behalf of woman suffrage, and who made franchise speeches in Washington, D. C. She is the author of a constitutional argument on the rights of women to vote. In Washington, D. C. when the patent office was converted into a hospital, she served as assistant surgeon and worked without pay. In 1864 she was in the service as a regimental A. A. surgeon. Many stories are told by generals, other officers and soldiers of her bravery under fire. In 1866 and 1867 she was in Europe, and directed and influenced ten thousand women to vote in the fall of 1869. Because of her determination to wear male attire, Dr. Walker has been made the subject of abuse and ridicule by persons of narrow minds. The fact that she persists in wearing the attire blinds the thoughtless to her great achievements and to her right to justice from our government. No whisper against her character as a woman and a professional has ever been heard. During the past three years, she has suffered severely from an injury caused by slipping and falling which has left her lame for the remainder of her life. She is now living on the old homestead in Oswego county, N. Y.

Ed. Note: As described by Charles Snyder, Walker’s biographer, while serving as assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment in Tennessee, Walker repeatedly left Union lines on horseback alone, to go into the countryside to treat local citizens. In contrast other Union doctors refused to leave U.S. camps for fear of being captured, even though residents would come and beg them to treat their families. On April 10, 1864, while on one of these missions, Walker was captured by Confederates and taken to Richmond where she was imprisoned in Castle Thunder for five months. As noted above, she was exchanged for a Union officer who held the rank of major. For her "patriotic zeal" Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor, on November 11, 1865, to date the only woman to receive it. Walker stated that she received the award because she risked capture each time she left Union lines. In 1915, an army board convened to review the qualification of medal holders rescinded Walker’s; however she refused to return it. In 1977, after another review conducted at the urging of descendants, Walker’s medal was reinstated at the order of Secty. of the Army Clifford Alexander. See: Charles McCool Snyder, Dr. Mary Walker: The Little Lady in Pants (New York: Vantage Press, 1962); C. Kay Larson, "Bonny Yank and Ginny Reb," MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, Vol. VIII, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 33-48]















49th Congress} SENATE { REPORT

1st Session No. 1599






MR. SAWYER, from the Committee on Pensions, submitted the following


[To accompany bill S. 2884.]

The Committee on Pensions, to whom was referred the bill (S. 2884) granting a pension to Mrs. Anna Ethridge Hooks, have examined the same and report:

The petitioner, whom it is proposed to pension in the accompanying bill, has distinguished herself in connection with the military service in a way that, in the opinion of the committee, entitles her to the consideration that she asks at the hands of Congress. During the entire war she was attached to and remained with the Second, Third, and Fifth Regiments of Michigan Volunteer Infantry, returning home with the Fifth Michigan Veterans, which was the Third and Fifth consolidated, in July, 1863. During all her protracted service she performed the duty of field and hospital nurse.

She was presented with an official list of the battles at which she was present in her humane capacity, from June 1861, to October, 1864, numbering twenty-eight in all, and including Bull Run, Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, before Richmond, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, before Petersburg, Spottsylvania, and others. She was present on horseback and on foot, in the day-time and in the night-time. She was once wounded, and her clothing was often torn with bullets. Her value consisted in her devotion, in her endurance, in her skill in dressing wounds, in her kind care of suffering soldiers, which she did not withhold even from those who fought on the "other" side.

All this is attested to by hundreds of soldiers belonging to the regiments to which she was attached, whose names accompany the petitions to Congress, earnestly asking the passage of a special act for her relief; by numerous commissioned officers and surgeons, by distinguished commanders.

In his General Order No. 18, after congratulating the division on its recent successes, General Birney announced the name of this lady as one selected as a recipient of the "Kearney Cross", the division decoration; and it was presented in the presence of the whole division.

In a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury General Hancock said:

I can only say, knowing the nature of her services to the soldiers during the war, that I consider her entitled to consideration.

The young lady’s services were on the field of battle, generally; a marked distinction, as the volunteer nurses usually confined their labors to the hospitals, not in the field.

Another letter from General Hancock, written in 1867, says:

I knew Mrs. Anna Ethridge when in or with the Army; she was with a regiment in my corps and came occasionally under my eye, and more frequently under my notice. Although I thought she had better have been at home, yet it was universally acknowledged that her services were valuable and disinterested; especially valuable, because it was well understood that she was respected by both officers and men, from the highest in rank to the lowest. She is entitled to all renumeration which precedents may have established as suitable in similar circumstances

Major-General, U. S. A.

The committee have in possession a large supply of similar testimony, but it is believed her claim is sufficiently established by what is here produced. The committee will only add that she is a lady of irreproachable reputation, that she has received no pecuniary compensation for the services described, and that she is in present need.

The bill is herewith reported to the Senate with a recommendation that it do pass.

HARRIET TUBMAN is, perhaps, the most written about American woman.
She is most famous as an intrepid "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a trail of routes and safehouses through which fugitive slaves escaped north and to Canada.

After the Civil War broke out, in response to a call for Northern aid organizations, Tubman left her home in Auburn, New York in 1862, to go to South Carolina where Union forces occupied coastal areas.  There under Col. James Montgomery, she commanded nine scouts and river pilots who gathered information on Confederate force strength and positions and led river incursions. Tubman ventured out on these expeditions with her haversack, musket, and canteen, sometimes clad in "bloomers." At the end of the war, she worked in hospitals in Virginia. [Sources: C. Kay Larson, "Bonny Yank and Ginny Reb," MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, Vol. VIII, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 33-48; Earl Conrad, Harriet Tubman (Washington, D. C.: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1943); for books for youth, see website of the Women's History Project in California]

Photo: Harriet Tubman, NARA #559120



The ardent daughter of Virginia ran many hazards in her zeal to aid the Confederate cause. Back and forth she went from her home in Martinsburg, in the [Shenandoah] Valley, through the Federal lines, while Banks, Fremont, and Shields were trying in vain to crush "Stonewall" Jackson and relieve Washington from the bugbear of attack. Early in 1862, she was sent as a prisoner to Baltimore. However, General Dix, for lack of evidence, decided to send her home. This first adventure did not dampen her ardor or stop her activities. Since she was now well known to the Federals, her every movement was watched. In May she started to visit relatives in Richmond, but at Winchester happened to overhear some plans of General Shields. With this knowledge she rushed to General Ashley with information that assisted Jackson in planning his brilliant charge on Front Royal. On May 21st she was arrested at the Federal picket-line. A search showed that she had been entrusted with important letters to the Confederate army. About the 1st of August Miss Boyd was taken to Washington by order of the Secretary of War, incarcerated in the Old Capitol Prison and was afterward sent South.

From: Francis T. Miller, The Photographic History of the Civil War, 1911, Vol. 7





The women of the mountain districts of Virginia were as ready to do scout and spy work for the Confederate leaders as were their men-folk. Famous among these fearless girls who knew every inch of the regions in which they lived was Nancy Hart. So valuable was her work as a guide, so cleverly and often had she led Jackson’s cavalry upon the Federal outposts in West Virginia, that the Northern Government offered a large reward for her capture. Lieutenant-Colonel Starr of the Ninth West Virginia finally caught her at Summerville in July, 1862. While in a temporary prison, she faced the camera for the first time in her life, displaying more alarm in front of the innocent contrivance than if it had been a body of Federal soldiery. She posed for an itinerant photographer, and her captors placed the hat decorated with a military feather upon her head. Nancy managed to get hold of her guard’s musket, shot him dead, and escaped on Colonel Starr’s horse to the nearest Confederate detachment. A few days later, July 25th, she led two hundred troopers under Major Bailey to Summerville. The reached the town at four in the morning, completely surprising two companies of the Ninth west Virginia. The fired three houses, captured Colonel Starr, Lieutenant Stivers and other officers, and a large number of the men, and disappeared immediately over the Sutton road. The Federals made no resistance.

From: Francis T. Miller, The Photographic History of the Civil War, 1911, Vol. 7



Selected Memoranda

The War of Rebellion

A Compilation of the Official Records

of the Union and Confederate Armies

U. S. War Department

Washington, D. C., 1880-1901


Series I

Vol. 22, pt. 1

Report of Lieut. Col. Babel F. Lazear, First Missouri State Militia [having been in pursuit of the guerrillas leader Quantrell who had about 250 men]

LEXINGTON, MO., August 27, 1863

[August] 25, divided the command (except Colonel Neill’s force, who left the 24th) into small parties, and scoured the country from the head of Texas Prairie north of Bul, and some 10 miles south of the prairie, sending Captain Jackson as far south as Kingsville, when I learned the party passed the day before. I have not heard from him yet, although he was to report to me at Hopewell. We had a number of skirmishes this day, killing 3 (no doubt wounding several) and capturing a number of horses, and some prisoners, who were unarmed, and a female, by the name of Miss Hutchins, of this place, who was standing picket while 2 bushwhackers were eating their dinner, and since their capture by giving them timely notice of the approach of troops. Our casualties to-day were 1 killed and 1 wounded, viz.: Killed, Robert C. Key, private Company K, and wounded, Joshua Stevens, Company I. . . . . (587-88)


Vol. 30, pt. 3

Near Bailey’s Cross-Roads, September 14, 1863-
8 p.m.

Lieut. Col. GEORGE E. FLYNT,
      Chief of Staff, 14th Army Corps

COLONEL: I have the honor to report the following information. The wife of Mr. Roberts passed over the mountain to the point where the rebel signal station is located. She saw a considerable force of the enemy in the neighborhood of Dug Gap. Could make no estimate of their numbers. Saw several small trains passing to and from La Fayette. She made a second visit later in the day, and observed quite a cloud of dust between Catlett’s Gap and La Fayette, as though a long train or column of troops were moving on that road. Was not confident in which direction. A great deal of smoke issued from the woods below her in the vicinity of Dug Gap.

To-day, a few moments before the arrival of Colonel Harrison’s cavalry, 4 well-armed rebels were at the house of Mrs. Roberts, and came from the direction of Blue Bird. My scout, Starr, reports having seen a Negro girl near Lee’s Mill, who came last night from La Fayette. She says she "seen heaps of rebels between the gap and La Fayette;" that there was a very large army there. My scout, Warren, has just returned from the mountain. He reports small scouting parties of the enemy on the mountains near by. Also a considerable smoke, as though from an encampment near Dug Gap; also a number of men moving about.

I have the honor to remain, yours, very truly,



Harrison’s Landing, Tenn., September 26, 1863-
4 p.m.

       General Crook’s Division:

CAPTAIN: Mrs. Puckett, a loyal lady of Harrison, has just come down to the river bank, and reports a strong force of the enemy moving north on the other side of the river. The rebel soldiers said there were 40,000 of them going to Eldridge’s Ford, 12 miles above here, to cross.


       Colonel, Ninety-Second Illinois Volunteers


September 26, 1863-
6 p.m.

Colonel ATKINS,
      Commanding, Ninety-Second Illinois Volunteers

COLONEL: Your dispatch received. I have gone into camp on Soddy, 3 miles from the ford (Edridge’s), and ready to re-enforce the force at the ford should it be attacked. In case no enemy appears to-night or in the morning, I will move on and leave instructions for the officer at the ford, with two companies and two pieces of artillery, to intrench himself.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

      Brigadier-General, Commanding



Vol. 33, pt. 1

[Enclosure of Gen. B. Butler to Secty. of War. Edwin Stanton, referring to Elizabeth Van Lew and other U.S. spies in Richmond. Van Lew was one of the most important and well-known Union spies. Her papers reside in the New York Public Library.]

February 4, 1864,

GENERAL: Well, my boy, where did you get that letter from?

Miss Van Lew gave it to me. I stayed for a week with Miss Van Lew before I came away. Miss Lizzie said she wanted to send you a letter, and I said I would bring it. Miss Lizzie said you would take care of me. I left there last Saturday night. Miss Lizzie told me what to tell you.

GENERAL: Well, what did she tell you to say? You need have no fear here.

She told me to tell you of the situation of the army. Mr. Palmer got all the information he could for you. Lee has got about 25,000 men; there are about 15,000 men at Petersburg. The City Battalion and two companies (Maryland companies) are at Richmond, and about 1,800 or 2,000 at Chaffin’s and Drewry’s Bluffs. Mr. Palmer said there were two brigades gone to North Carolina about a week before I left. He found out, though just before I came away, that one of them had stopped at Petersburg. The two brigades that went were Hoke’s and Kempers.’ He thought that what available force could be got into Richmond in four or five days was from 25,000 to 30,000 men. He said to say to you that Richmond could be taken easier now than at any other time since the war began. He thought that it would take about 1,000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry.

GENERAL: Miss Van Lew says something in her letter about Quaker.

There is a man there goes by the name of Quaker. That is not his name, but he says he does not wish any one to know his name as he does not wish to be known by any other name. They are sending off the Federal prisoners to Georgia. Mr. Palmer said he had under stood that Lee was there in Richmond to secret session there; but he said that was not reliable. Lee has about 25,000 available men. Miss Van Lew said not to undervalue Lee’s force. Quaker said his plan to take Richmond would be to make a feint on Petersburg; let Meade engage Lee on the Rappahannock; send 20 or 30 men and land them at the White House on the other side of Richmond, so as to attract attention; then have 10,000 cavalry to go up in the evening, and then rush into Richmond the next morning.

GENERAL: How did you get through?

Mr. Holmes got a man to bring me to guide me. He paid him $1,000 in Confederate money, and he brought me to the Chickahominy and left me there. He fooled me. I came across the river. I got a boat. I don’t think there are any men on the Chickahominy, or only a few cavalry. There are none nearer than Lee’s army. At Chaffin’s farm there is about a regiment. He told me to tell you that Drewry’s Bluff is the strongest point; he said you must come around Richmond on the other side. Morgan is applying for 1,000 men. The papers say he is going to make a raid into Kentucky. I didn’t believe that, though, for if he was the papers would not say so. Miss Van Lew said that all the women ought to be kept from passing from Baltimore to Richmond. She said they did a great deal of harm. She also said that there as a Mrs. Graves who carried a mail through to Portsmouth. She hoped you would catch her. The last time she brought a mail into Portsmouth she came in a wagon selling corn. (519-21)


Harper’s Ferry, Va., March 18, 1864

Captain T. MELVIN,
      Assistant Adjutant-General:

CAPTAIN: The following has been received from Martinsburg, Va., and respectfully forwarded for the information of the general commanding the department:


Martinsburg, Va., March 17, 1864

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report the arrival to-day of 3 refugees from Staunton. They report that Rosser has gone to Gordonsville to join Lee; that Early is no longer in that region; that there is nothing in Staunton but a provost guard; that Imboden only is in the valley, and, with Gilmor and Mosby, has not more than 1,000 men. They say that Staunton is regarded as second in importance only to Richmond, the supply for Lee’s army coming in a great measure from the valley, and that if the commissary stores there were seized, the bridge burnt, and railroad torn up, so to sever communication, it would be fatal. They report a raid contemplated some days since to throw the train containing Kilpatrick’s horses off the track; they report great scarcity of provisions. Rebel meat rations are 1 pound to 8 men; forage mostly gone; cattle, what there are, in very bad condition--meat fairly blue after being killed; that the scarcity is so great that Lee’s army must break into our lines or starve; that there is much discontent among the soldiers and desire to desert at the first opportunity; that there are very many loyal men in the valley who pray for the Union army to come in; that the force which went up the valley is greatly strengthened the Union sentiment by their good treatment of the inhabitants. They obtained a pass to Strasburg and thence came through without difficulty. They heard Gilmor was wounded, but saw him last night in Winchester on horseback. A supper was given him there last night. He came into Winchester immediately after our forces left. Citizens say Gilmor got no booty this last raid and lost 15 men. It is reported that Imboden has been ordered to report to Lee. Their names are Gabriel Hirsch, Mrs. Lizzie Hirsch, and Lizzie Haggaden. They are very fearful lest their names shall be mentioned, as Mrs. Hirsch leaves three children behind.

      Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General

I, remain, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
      (697-98) Brigadier-General, Commanding


Vol. 34, pt. 1


JUNE 9-14, 1864--Scout from Cassville, Mo., to Cross Hollow, Ark.

Report of Maj. Jeremiah Hackett, Second Arkansas Cavalry (Union)
CASSVILLE, ARK., June 15, 1864,

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report:

Leaving Cassville on the 9th instant, I proceeded secretly in the section of Cross Hollow. . . . June 12 returned as far as Sugar Creek, where the wire was destroyed for more than one-quarter mile, poles dug up and insulators broken up. I encamped here. June 13, I made with the cavalry of my command a scout to the east of the road as far as Packet’s Mills, on Prairie Creek. Saw 4 men, well mounted and armed, who on sight of my command scattered and escaped. Crops are looking fine in this vicinity. I returned and intersected the Wire road at Pea Ridge; overtook the infantry at the head of Little Sugar Creek, where I encamped, catching 2 women, Mrs. and Miss Gibson, engaged in an attempt to break the telegraph wire near the fork of the Bentonville road. I brought the women with me, prisoners. I received no reliable information except what has already been communicated. (993)


MARCH 27-31, 1864--Scout from Little Rock to Benton, Ark.

Report of Capt. E. H. Vance, Fourth Arkansas Cavalry

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., 18 March 1864,

SIR: I have the honor to report that, in obedience to your orders, I left Little Rock at 3 o’clock on Sunday morning. . . . .

On my way down I learned from William B. Young and William Sterinan that there was a set of rebel guerrillas stealing cotton in the neighborhood, who were pressing wagons and hauling stolen cotton to Benton, and getting it hauled from there to Little Rock. . . .On the 20th two days after, Mrs. Olivia McAdo, Mrs. Sue Thompson, Mrs. Jane Elrod, and Miss Bethena Wiley came to Mrs. Miller’s and took two bales off; and Mrs. McAdo and Miss Bethena Wiley came to Little Rock with one bale of cotton; the balance was thrown in the woods or concealed. On Sunday last Mrs. McAdo, Mrs. Sue Thompson, Miss Bethena Wiley, Miss Fanny Lee, and Mrs. Thomas Glidewell came in with the remainder of the cotton. On learning that these ladies would probably be back on Tuesday night, and thinking that probably the guerrillas would be there to get the news, &c., I returned to Benton and arrested three of the ladies engaged in hauling the cotton, and I was not mistaken; the bushwhackers made a desperate rally to get the captured wagon and their fair friends, but they failed to get either. The goods are now in my possession, subject to your order. (858-59)

Vol., 39, pt. 3

In the Field, Atlanta., Ga., September 19, 1864

Lieut. Gen. U. S. GRANT, City Point Va.,

GENERAL: Your messenger has not yet arrived. Things remain status quo. . . .I have ordered one of my female scouts [Mrs. N. W. Meyer, under assumed name of Nora Winder] from New Orleans to Augusta and will send some out from here and give you prompt notice of any of Hood’s army going East. . . .I await the arrival of your messenger with impatience. All well, but large numbers of our men and officers are being discharged-time out--and we must have recruits.

     Major-General, Commanding


[Two other short quotes from memoranda in this volume also note the active use of women scouts in the field, as does the mention of Mrs. Roberts above and material on Pauline Cushman below. On October 3, 1864, Maj. B. H. Polk wrote to Maj. Gen. George Thomas, from Nashville: "General Starkweather telegraphs that Mary McNall, one of our scouts, who left Florence this morning, and other scouts just in from the Tennessee River report that stream has risen four feet, and is not now fordable." (58) Then from Whites Station on October 16, 1864, a telegram was copied to Brig. Gen. Grierson: "Katie Rhodes just left here for Memphis. She says this place is to be attacked at 3 o’clock tomorrow morning by Chalmers." (322)]


Vol. 48, pt. 1

Report of Maj. Edmund C. Burt, Third Rhode Island Cavalry,

Plaquemine, La. 22 February 1865

LIEUTENANT: I have the honor to report that, pursuant to verbal instructions from Maj. R. G. Shaw, I left Plaquemine later in the afternoon of the 17th instant with fifty-seven men and one officer of my own detachment, and a company of Independent Scouts numbering two officers and thirty-four men. . . . On the 18th my pickets at The Park stopped a small flatboat which came down Grand River, and took from it Felix Bellocq, wife and child and Mrs. P. Thrahan, owner of the boat, with three negro men. They had a large amount of baggage, and on the person of Felix Bellocq was found considerable mail matter, while on the person of Mrs. Monier was found a number of private papers, including several very important ones belonging to Mr. Bellocq. . . . (120)


Series II, Vol. 7

Fortress Monroe, June 24, 1863

Commissary-General of Prisoners:

COLONEL: An infamous outrage unknown to you was committed by sending on the last flag-of-truce boat, under the charge of Major Mulford, Third Regiment, N.Y. Volunteers, a woman, who was placed on board by Detective Baker or Superintendent Wood, or both, to be sent to Richmond and who was a detective in their employ.

I have called for a report in this case, and when made by Major Mulford, I will forward it to the Secretary of War and will furnish you with a copy. . . .

The name of the woman as given on the roll is Ann Waters, Warrenton, Fauquier County, rebel mail carrier and contrabandist. . . .

(40) Lieut. Colonel and Agent for Exchange of Prisoners


Vol. 8,

Examination of Mary Ann Pitman [a.k.a., Lieutenant Rawley, agent Mary Hays, CSA] by Col. J. P. Sanderson, provost marshal Department of the Missouri

SAINT LOUIS, June 2, 1864

I resided near Chestnut Bluff, Tenn., and went into the Confederate service on the breaking out of the rebellion. Myself and Lieutenant Craig went around and got together enough volunteers to make up a company, which we took into Freeman’s regiment. I was second lieutenant in the infantry. After the battle of Shiloh I commanded the company. I took my command then and joined Forrest’s command, as first lieutenant and acted as such under the name of Lieutenant Rawley. While with Forrest’s command I was, a large portion of the time, occupied on special service, much of which was of a secret character and in the performance of which I passed in the character of a female. Whilst also employed I was detailed to procure ordnance and ammunition, and came to Saint Louis as Mary Hays.

The first time I came here, which was during the winter of 1864, I stopped at the Everett House. I had been told that the house of Beauvais would supply ammunition for the Confederates. I went there and met John Beauvais. By means of secret signs, known those in the secret, I made myself known to him and he recognized me. I told him I desired to see him at the Everett House on business and he called. When he called I told him what my business was and what I wanted, which was caps. He said he would supply me with anything I wanted and brought me $80 worth, which I took down the river on a boat, the name of which I cannot remember. I landed at Randolph and passed through the Federal lines to Forrest. The second time I came up on the City of Alton to Columbus, and from Columbus to Saint Louis on the Von Phul. I went to the Everett House again, but it was crowded, and then I called at Beauvais’ office, after which I went to Barnum’s and John Beauvais came up to Barnum’s to see me. I again told him what the object of my visit was, and he brought about the same number of caps, two pair of Smith & Wesson pistols, and, I think, six boxes of cartridges. I believe that was all I got at that time. I went down to the Von Phul again to Randolph and passed through the lines to Forrest.

I came a third time; came up from Randolph on the Hillman, and again stopped at Barnum’s. I again sent for Beauvais, and when he came told him what I wanted, all of which he brought to me. He brought $80 worth of caps and pair or two of fine Colt pistols, officer’s belt and scabbard, arms and cartridges for--I have forgotten what pistol. There were three boxes. The second time I came I got a silver pencil and a gold pen, and I got a watch mended--that was the second time--I was thinking it was the last time. I got the last time $80 worth of caps and a pair of Colt revolvers, officer’s scabbard and belt, gun, cloak, and leggings.

At these different interviews I made known to Mr. Beauvais that these things were for Forrest’s command. The first time he said to me that they were talking of conscripting, and he told me that if they did he was going South; if they did not, he would not go, for he could be of more service to the Confederacy here than in the South; but if they conscripted he was going, for he never would fight for the Federal Government that he was a Southern man in principle and always had been. He told me he would do anything in the world for the South, and that his father was as good a Southern man as he was, and would do anything for the South. He asked me about how the times were at the South.

The second time I came up I told him about Forrest and Sherman having that fight, and he was glad to hear it, and rejoined that Forrest gave him a thrashing. He told me if I came there at any time and he was away on business all I had to do was just to make known to his father who I was, and what my business was, and he would let me have anything I wanted, and if he could not supply it himself he would get if for me. His father would do anything I asked in favor of the South. He also told me that his father belonged to this secret order. I never have seen him but twice. The last time I was at his store after he had been arrested.

On these trips which I made I had no interviews with the landlord of the Everett House, nor did I make known to him my business or character. I had an interview with Barnum and his head clerk, Mr. Morrison, and I think also the second time I made known my character to Barnum, that I was detailed by General Forrest. I knew him because he belonged to the same order as I did. The clerk I just told my business. I discovered in my interview with Barnum that he was in the same secrets as myself. His clerks were not, or, if they were, they would not receive any recognition or give any. Yet they said they were Southern men, and would do all they could for the South. The second clerk had been in the Confederate Army, when he was wounded and then discharged.

In going down the river these different trips, I made the porter on the Von Phul acquainted with the secret and he hid some things for me. So did the porter on the Hillman and the clerk on the Hillman. Neither of these men belonged to the same secret order. The clerks on the Hillman and Von Phul do though, but the latter did not conceal anything from me because the porter did what I wanted, and I did not have to call upon him. He told me I could go up and down on the boat whenever I wanted to, and it would not cost me a cent.

After my capture, I had an interview with John Beauvais at his store. When I went in he was in the private office back of the store. I went back and spoke to him, and he got up and went back to the back part of the store. His father was selling some jewelry to a lady. He spoke to me and asked me how I came on, and about how times were in the South, and asked me if I was up on the same business, and I said I was. He said, I am sorry, Mollie, that I cannot supply you this time, for, he said, they know just what I have got and my father and I and the clerks are under bonds, and I am not allowed to touch or sell anything in that line, but, he said, if you will go on to Cincinnati you can get what you want there, and as soon as this thing is over you shall have anything you want. I had his picture with me when I was captured. I denied to him that I was at Fort Pillow and that I burned his picture. I did not want to let him know I was captured. The picture I actually burned.

I went to this store the last time under the advice of a Memphis detective with a view to see if he would continue the sale for he was arrested. I landed, on the last trip, at Randolph. When I got there I was not going to Forrest; I was going to send him those things, which I did, by one of his officers, Captain Wright, and was not going. I was going back to Saint Louis. I had sent him a letter stating that I had procured a large quantity of caps, powder, ammunition, &c.; that I had employed Mr. Williams to bring them down. I was waiting for an order from Forrest to say where he wanted them sent to. There was a large quantity, quite a wagonload. I was not going to Forrest myself at all, but when I got there, the next day after I had sent them as many as Captain Wright and his brother and a negro boy, which he owned, could carry, I sent word to Forrest I intended to go right back to Saint Louis as soon as I could arrange the business there. I received a dispatch from Forrest ordering me to report at his headquarters about ten miles from Fort Pillow. He wanted me to take my position in the field, as he said he would rather detail ten of his best officers for this business than lose my services at that time. So I started on a mule and was captured. Somebody told on me. They had something in the papers about my being captured--taking an officers’ horse away and threatening to shoot him--which was all false. I was taken from the place where I was captured to Fort Pillow. I was captured about five or six miles from Fort Pillow at the house of Mr. Green, A Southern man. I was there, I think three days; two or three, I am not certain which.

While I was at Fort Pillow I was standing one day some distance from headquarters, and there was a gentleman came up behind me, slapping me on the shoulder and asked if he had the honor of meeting Lieutenant Rawley. I said yes. He said that Forrest was coming here with 4,000 men to take the place and he was going to take it if took every man he had, and he would learn them how to arrest women--he would teach them a lesson. I did not know the man, though his face looked familiar. He turned right away and I went right into the office at headquarters; a short time afterward he came in. He wanted a pass to go out, and a Tennessee soldier who came with him into the office vouched for his loyalty. As Colonel Booth was making out a pass for him, I slapped him on the shoulder, when he turned around and said: "Must I grant this Pass, Mollie, or must I not?" I said "Use your own judgement, colonel; you know your own business best." He issued the pass and the man went out. After the man was gone I told Colonel Booth what I had heard; that Forrest was coming in a few days with 4,000 men, and he would undoubtedly take the place if he made the attempt. My advice was to evacuate the fort or re-enforce it at once, for if Forrest did get possession the Federal forces, and especially the officers, would be badly used. He told me, "Mollie, now make your preparation to go to Memphis this evening, for I’ll be damned if he shall have you." He then told the captain of Gun-boat No. 7 to stop the first boat that came down, or sink her. I went to Memphis and the fort was taken the next day or day after--I think the day after.

Before my capture my mind and feelings had undergone a very material change from what they were when I started out in the war as to the character of the Northern people and soldiers and the merits of the controversy involved. I started out with the most intense feelings of prejudice against the Northern people. I regarded all I had heard as to their views, character, and purposes to be true, but my intercourse with such as came into our possession during my service in the Confederate Army, and especially my trip to Saint Louis, convinced me of my error in this respect. I found the Union officers and soldiers not to be the desperadoes which I had been taught to believe them to be. At Saint Louis I found business flourishing, people thriving, and everything so entirely different from the condition of things in the South and from what I had supposed to be that my observations could not help but make an impression upon my mind. While it had not for a moment the effect of inducing even a thought in me to desert the Confederate service, and thus be guilty of a dishonorable act, it had, nevertheless, the effect, as I have already stated, of materially changing my views and feelings. This was the condition of my mind when I was captured, and I accordingly immediately resolved to perform an honorable part and do nothing to discredit or disgrace my name. While satisfied I had been performing services which placed my life at the mercy and disposal of the Federal Government, I felt it to be my duty to tell the truth and do what I could to atone for the past, and resolved to throw myself upon the government. I resolved, be the result with me personally what it might, never to return to the Confederate service and continue my former career. I accordingly, immediately on my arrival at Fort Pillow, gave such information as I could to vindicate my personal integrity and show the authorities my determination to act in good faith.

[At this point, Pitman offers to assist federal officers in capturing Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest who she was supposed to meet that night, but fearing a trap they demurred. From this point on in her interview that goes on for another six pages, the provost marshal asks questions about the existence and operations of a secret Confederate organization with membership North and South and of disloyalty in the U.S. Army and in Washington. She most likely is referring to the Knights of the Golden Circle whose members at that point in the war may have linked with the Confederate Secret Service.]


A Compilation of the Official Records
 of the Union and Confederate Navies of the War of Rebellion

U. S. Department of the Navy

Washington, D. C., 1894-1922


Vol. 5

Off Alexandria [Va.], January 2, 1864

SIR: I have the honor to report to you that I send to day to the provost-martial at Washington nine prisoners, viz: Thomas Mack, Richard Norton, Isaac Quall (colored), captured December 29 at Plowden’s Wharf, Wicomico River, they having crossed the night before and being on their way to Baltimore. They were arrested for a violation of the blockade.

The other six were captured by the steamer Yankee on the night of the 27th at Nomini, Va., while attempting to cross to Maryland; William Winfield in charge; W. H. Thomas, boy, engaged in working boat; S. B. Burrows, first lieutenant rebel Army, Prince George’s, Md.; William A. Coalie, of Prince George’s, Md., formerly of the rebel Army; Mrs. Mary Davidson, whose husband [is] in the rebel Navy; Mrs. Caroline Mara and child, whose husband is South.

I also sent the provost marshal the following documents, money, etc., belonging to the prisoners:

W. Winfield, $55, Confederate money; Mrs. Caroline Mara, bills of exchange on London, legal documents; S. B. Burrows, papers, W. A. Coalie, papers.

A boat landing failed to discover the whereabouts of any goods at Nomini or that region.

There is a sufficient force between Nomini and Berton’s Bay to intercept anything that may attempt to cross.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Commander, Commanding Potomac Flotillas.

Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.




Selected Articles/Memoirs




Lafayette C. Baker, History of the United States Secret Service, 1867

Washington, March 17, 1863

Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:--

Sir--I have the honor to submit the following report relative to the arrest of Miss [Antonia] F[ord], on the charge that, while holding a commission n the Confederate Army, and performing active service under such commission as an aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General J. E. B. Stuart, now commanding a brigade in said army, the said Miss F. came within the Union lines as a spy, for the purpose of obtaining and communicating to officers in the Confederate army information of the movements, localities, and purposes of the Union forces, and that the said Miss F. did secretly and perfidiously obtain such information and treasonably communicate the same to officers and others to the Confederate service.

In order more clearly to indicate the character and purposes of the said Miss F., and the positive commission by her of the treasonable acts with which she is charged, I am compelled to refer to certain military events of recent occurrence at and in the vicinity of Fairfax Courthouse, Va. On the night of the 10th instant, the pickets and outposts of the United States forces stationed at Fairfax Court-House were disgracefully surprised and captured by an attacking party of Confederate cavalry, under command of Captain Moseby; following up this success, the rebel force penetrated our lines, surprised and captured the commanding officer, Colonel Stoughton, in his quarters, and succeeded in carrying away with them a large amount of valuable Government property, including over one hundred horses. The time, circumstance, and mode of this attack and surprise, the positive and accurate knowledge in possession of the rebel leader, of the members and position of our forces, of the exact localities of officers’ quarters, and depots of Government property, all pointed unmistakably to the existence of traitors and spies within our lines, and their recent communication with Confederate officers.

Acting upon this conclusion, I ordered a female detective belonging to this office, in whose discretion and abilities I had great confidence, to proceed at once to Fairfax Court-House, and, under color of attachment to the secession cause, place herself in contact with and obtain the confidence of the person suspected.

In compliance with such order, the detective mentioned visited Fairfax Court-House, and in the assumed character of a friend and agent of the Government, asking advice and assistance in efforts to reach Warrenton, and find a refuge within the Confederate lines, met with a warm reception, and was rewarded for her pretended devotion to secession by confidential disclosures not less valuable than interesting.

The person visited by my detective, and to whom suspicion had already pointed to as an active and unscrupulous Confederate agent, was Miss F. In the exercise of a credulous simplicity and sympathy scarcely to be expected from a staff officer of the rebel army, Miss F. displayed to the anxious gaze of the detective a military commission, of which the following is a copy:--


Know Ye: That reposing special confidence in the patriotism, fidelity, and ability of Miss F., I, James E. B. Stuart, by virtue of the power vested in me, as brigadier-general in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States of America, do hereby appoint and commission her my honorary aid-de-camp, to rank as such from this date.

She will be obeyed, respected, and admired by all the lovers of a noble nature.

Given under my hand and seal, at the headquarters of Cavalry Brigade, at Camp Beverly, the seventh day of October, A.D., 1861, and the first year of our independence.


J.E.B. Stuart, [seal]

By the General: L. TISMAN, Assistant Adjutant-General

This document, undoubtedly authentic, and bearing the genuine signature and private seal of General J. E. B. Stuart, is in my possession, and is of itself strong evidence of the appreciation in which Miss F.’s treasonable service as a spy and informer, were held by her rebel employers. The proof of Miss F.’s employment in the rebel service may be considered indisputably that of her more recent services, and especially in connection with the attack upon our outpost at Fairfax Court-House, is not less conclusive, the proof consists in the voluntary acknowledgment and declaration by Miss F. That she made herself acquainted, while a resident within our lines at Fairfax Court-House, of all the particulars relating to the number o four forces their and in the neighborhood, the precise points where our pickets were stationed, the strength of the outposts, the names of officers in command, the nature of general orders, and all other information valuable to the rebel leaders; that such information had been communicated by her to Captain Moseby of the Confederate army, immediately before the attack on our outposts before mentioned; and that it was in consequence of the precision and correctness of such information that Captain Moseby had been able successful to attack and surprise the pickets and outposts of our foes, to find without delay or difficulty the quarters of Colonel Stoughton and other United States officers, to capture that officer and a large number of Government property and effect a safe return within the Confederate lines.

Miss F. also stated to m informant that Captain Moseby had, but a short time before the rebel raid at Fairfax, visited and been a guest at her (Miss F.’s) house at that place; that he had remained there three days and three nights disguised in citizen’s dress, and that during such visit she had given to him (Moseby) all the information and details which afterward enable him successfully to attack our force.

Miss F. also stated that on occasion while she was taking a ride on horseback, accompanied by a member of Colonel Stoughton’s staff, they were met by Captain Moseby, but in citizen’s dress, and that she (Miss F.) and Captain Mosey recognized and saluted each other.

The suspicions which had heretofore attached to Miss F. Being fully confirmed by her voluntary statements, she was forthwith arrested by Officer Odell of my force and conveyed to this city. Upon the person and in the possession of Miss F. were found a number of private letters by officers and others in the rebel service, eighty-seven dollars in Southern bank-bills and Confederate notes, and Miss F.’s commission as aid-de-camp to General Stuart. Office Odell also discovered and seized at the same time, at the residence of Miss F. at Fairfax Court-House, a large quantity of Southern and Confederate money and evidence of debt, amounting in the whole to the sum of five thousand seven hundred and sixty-five dollars. The property so seized I hold in my possession, subject to the order of the Secretary of War.

I have ordered Miss F. to be placed in confinement in the Old Capitol prison.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

Provost-Marshal War Department (171-73)


Fannie Beers, Memories: A Record of Personal Experiences and Adventures during Four Years of War, 1889

"My whole heart and soul went out toward the sick soldiers. My days were mostly spent in visiting the hospitals.

At first the larger ones attracted me because there seemed to be so many sufferers and more need of nurses. My timid advances (never amounting to a direct application as a nurse) were condescendingly smiled down by the surgeons in charge. My youthful appearance was against me. Besides, there really was no need for other nursing in many of the State hospitals, notably that of Louisiana, than the angelic ministrations of the Sisters of Charity, whose tireless vigils knew no end, whose skill and efficiency, as well as their constant devotion, environed the patients committed to their care. Occasionally I was allowed the blessed privilege of fanning a sick hero or of moistening parched lips or bathing fevered brows. But somebody always came whose business it was to do these things, and I was set aside. One day, however, by a happy chance, I found in a ward of one of the hospitals a poor fellow who seemed to have been left to die. So forlorn, so feeble, so near death did he seem, that my heart yearned over him, for he was only a boy, and I knew he was some mother’s darling. He had, like many other soldiers, been unwilling to go to a hospital, and remaining in camp while broken out with measles, took cold and provoked an attack of pneumonia. In addition to this, terrible abscesses had formed under each ear, and his eyes were swollen and suppurating. His surgeon said there was little hope of his recovery; none at all unless he could be removed to some more quiet place, and receive unremitting care and watchfulness as well as excellent nursing. "Can he be removed if I promise to fulfill all these conditions?" said I. "It is a risk, but his only chance," replied D. ___. "Then I will go at once and prepare a place." As I spoke the suffering boy grasped my had with all his feeble strength, as if afraid to let me leave him. Reassuring him as well as I could, I rushed off to the "Soldiers’ Rest," where I knew I should find friends ready and willing to help me. My tale was soon told to the ladies in charge, who at once and with all their hearts entered into my plans. One vacant cot temptingly clean and white was moved into a secluded corner and assigned to me for the use of my "sick boy." The loan of an ambulance, readily obtained, facilitated his removal. That same evening I had the satisfaction of seeing him laid carefully upon the comfortable bed so kindly prepared by the ladies of the Soldiers’ Rest, exhausted, but evidently not worse for the change.

Right here began my career as a nurse of Confederate soldiers. This was my first patients,--my very own,--to have and to hold until the issues of life and death should be decided. All facilities were acceded me by the ladies. Dr. Little gave his most careful attention and his greatest skill, but the nursing, the responsibility, was mine.

I may as well state that I came off with flying colors, earning the precious privilege, so ardently desired, for being enrolled among those ready for duty and to be trusted. My patient recovered, and returned to his command, the --- Mississippi Regiment. His name was D. Babers, and twenty years after the war I met him once more, ---a stalwart, bearded man, as unlike as possible the pale young soldier who had lived in my memory. His delight and gratitude and that of his family seemed unbounded, and so I found the bread once cast upon the waters very sweet when returned to me "after many days."

Finding that my desultory wanderings among the large hospitals were likely to result in little real usefulness, and that the ladies attached to the Solders Rest would be glad of my help, I became a regular attendant there. This delightful place of refuge for the sick and wounded was situated high up on Clay Street, not very far from one of the camps and parade-grounds. A rough little school-house it had been transformed into a bower of beauty and comfort by loving hands. The walls, freshly whitewashed, were adorned with attractive pictures. The windows were draped with snowy curtains tastefully looped back to admit the summer breeze or carefully drawn to shade the patient, as circumstances required. The beds were miracles of whiteness, and clean linen sheets in almost every case, draped and covered them. Softest pillows in slips of odorous linen supported the restless heads of the sick. By the side of each cot stood a small table (one or two old-fashioned stands of solid mahogany among them). Upon these were spread fine napkins. Fruit, drinks, etc., were set upon them, not in coarse, common crockery but in delicate china and glass. Nothing was too good for the soldiers. . . . .

I do not believe that a squad of sick soldiers arrived in Richmond, at least during the first year of the war, who were not discovered and bountifully fed shortly after their arrival. In this case waiter after waiter of food was sent in, first from the house of Mr. Yarborough and afterwards by all the neighborhood. Hospital supplies having been ordered as soon as it was known the sick men were expected, all necessaries were soon at hand, while the boxes referred to supplied many luxuries. The large room into which all these were huddled presented for days a scene of "confusion worse confounded." The contents of two of the largest boxes were dumped upon the floor, the boxes themselves serving one as a table for the drugs, the other as a sort of counter where the druggist quickly compounded prescriptions, which the surgeon as hastily seized and personally administered. Carpenters were set at work; but of course, all shelves, etc., could not be magically produced, so we placed boards across barrels, arranging in piles the contents of the boxes for each use.

Mrs. Hopkins, sitting upon a box, directed these matters, while I had my hands full attending to the poor fellows in the wards where they had been placed.

Four of our sick died that night. I had never in my life witnessed a death scene before, and had to fight hard to keep down the emotion which would have greatly impaired my usefulness. . . .

Mrs. Hopkins and I thought exactly alike regarding the disposition of the delicacies continuously sent from all points in Alabama for the sick and wounded. None but the sick should have them. Nothing but the simple though plentiful rations were ever served at the meals, which the resident surgeons and druggists shared with me. Yet, by the never-ceasing kindness of friends outside, I was well supplied with luxuries enough for myself, and to share with my messmates each day.

Having the care and responsibility of so many sick, my time was fully occupied. I seldom went out. I could not stop to talk to visitors, but often led kind ladies to the bedsides of those whom I knew would enjoy and be benefited by their bright presence and kindly words, as well as by their offerings of flowers, fruit or dainties.

Amid disease and suffering, battling always with death (too often, alas! the conqueror), I was yet happy and content. The surgeons were skillful and devoted; the means at hand to supply the wants, even the caprices of my patients, as soon as expressed. (39-46)


Alfred J. Bloor, Asst. Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, 18 April 1866, letter to Sen. Charles Sumner in response to remarks on the floor of the Senate regarding women’s weaknesses, pertaining to suffrage legislation.

". . . . the chief work in the practice of the Sanitary Commission. . .viz., that of providing the means for ministering to the physical needs of the soldiers. . . was exceedingly well done by women, and comparatively ill done by men. Dux foe mina facti may be truly said of every Aid Society* that co-operated with the Sanitary Commission; and of such not far short of ten thousand were in active operation at one time or other, during the war."

* By Aid Society, I mean all organizations of women in affiliation with Central--from small towns to cities.


Rose Greenhow, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, 1863

[Ed. Note: Greenhow is the most famous and important of the women Confederate spies. Below she describes her role in turning the battle of the first Bull Run, by providing critical information to Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard. Although both green armies fought comparatively well, Union forces were routed, and driven all the way back to a shocked federal capital.]

"On the morning of the 16th of July [1861], the Government papers at Washington announced that the grand army was in motion, and I learned from a reliable source (having received a copy of the order to McDowell) that the order for a forward movement had gone forth. If earth did not tremble, surely there was great commotion amongst that class of the genus homo yclept military men. Officers and orderlies were flying from place to place; the tramp of armed men was heard on every side--martial music filled the air; in short, a mighty host was marshaling war! On to Richmond! was the war cry. The heroes girded on their armour with the enthusiasm of the Crusades of old, and vowed to flesh their maiden swords in the blood of Beauregard or Lee. And many a knight, inspired by beauty’s smiles swore to lay at the feet of her he loved best the head of Jeff Davis at least.

Nothing, nothing was wanting to render the gorgeous pageant imposing. So with drums beating and flying colors, and amidst the shower of flowers thrown by the hands of young maidens, the grand army moved to the land of Washington, of Jefferson, of Madison, and Monroe; whilst the heart stricken Southerners who remained, did not tear their hair and rend their garments, but prayed on their knees that the God of Battles would award the victory to the just cause.

In fear and trembling they awaited their result hoping, yet fearing to hope. Time seemed to move on leaden wings; and imagination sounded in the ears to booming cannon, and many a time their hearts died within them at the sickening delay. Few had the hope which fled my own soul, or shared in the exultant certainty of the result. At twelve o’clock on the morning of the 16th of July, I despatched a messenger to Manassas, who arrived there at eight o’clock that night. The answer received by me at mid-day on the 17th will tell the purport of my communication. ‘Yrs was received at eight o’clock at night. Let them come, we are ready for them. We rely upon you for precise information. Be particular as to description and destination of forces, quantity of artillery, etc.’ (Signed) Thos. Jordan, Adjt. Gen. On the 17th I despatched another messenger to Manassas, for I had learned of the intention of the enemy to cut the Winchester railroad, so as to intercept Jackson, and prevent his reinforcement of Beauregard who had comparatively but a small force under his command at Manassas.

On the night of the 18th news of a government victory by the Federal troops at Bull Run reached Washington. Throughout the length and breadth of the city it was cried. I heard it in New York on Saturday, 20th, where I had gone for the purpose of embarking a member of my family for California, on the steamer on the 22nd. The accounts were received with frantic rejoicing, and bets were freely taken in support of Mr. Seward’s wise saws,---that the rebellion would be crushed out in thirty days. My heart told me that the triumph was premature. Yet, o my God! How miserable I was for the fate of my beloved country, which hung trembling in the balance!

My presentiments were more than justified by the result. On Sunday (21st) the great battle of Manassas was fought. . . which ended in the total defeat and rout of the Grand Army. . . . The news of the disastrous rout of the Yankee army was cried through the streets of New York on the 22nd. The whole city seemed paralyzed with fear, and I verily believed that one thousand men could have been marched from the Central Park to the Battery without resistance, for their depression now was commensurate with the wild exultation of a few days before. (14-18)


Catherine Hopley, Life in the South from the Commencement of the War, being a Social History of Those Who Took Part, 1863

In 1859, Hopley decided to go South as a teacher. At the beginning of the war churches were popular sites of local Confederate flag-raising ceremonies. She attended one and wrote there were people inside and out on the grounds. On the shady side of the building about a dozen young women had gathered with a group of men. Soon she heard gunshot reports.

"With a firm hand and steady eye, vowing to shoot the first ‘Yankees’ who came within sight of their homes did these quiet and delicate-looking creatures (for such they appeared) continue their practice as fast as their "beaus" could load for them, some despising assistance, and even loading for themselves." (285)


Ethel Hurn, Wisconsin Women in the War between the States, 1911

In January 1862, a fellow soldier described Eliza Wilson, daughter of the 5th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment::

"We have not seen a woman for a fortnight with the exception of the Daughter of the Regiment, who is with us in storm and sunshine. It would do you good to see her trudging along. . . Never pouting or pessimistic, with a kind word for every one, and every one a kind word for her. She came with one of the companies and remains with the regiment. Were it not for her, when a woman would appear, we would be running after her as children do after an organ and a monkey." (101)



Mrs. E. C. Kent, Four Years in Secessia, 1865.

A Ohio resident, at the beginning of secession, Mrs. Kent was a teacher in Mississippi.

She reported she, "knew ladies who attended ‘shooting schools’ for the avowed purpose of being able to kill the Yankees.’" (12-13)



Sanitary Commission Officers and Nurses at Fredericksburg in 1864

Mary A. Livermore, My Story of the War: A Woman’s Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience of the Sanitary Service of the Rebellion, 1888


[Livermore was one of the few paid women agents of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the precursor of today’s American Red Cross. Influenced by the work of Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, the male leadership, American women doctors and activists organized more than 10,000 aid societies that raised and contributed goods and money; recruited qualified nurses; made health inspections of army camps; deployed hospital ships and train cars and mobile soup kitchens; established Soldiers’ Homes; set up a Hospital Directory that maintained patient inventories, and pension, bounty claim, and back pay agencies; and more. Livermore began her work with the Commission in the Chicago office. After the war, she became a leader in the suffrage movement, as did a number of other Civil War leaders.]


"During the war I was called into the country on frequent errands. Sometimes it was to organize aid societies--sometimes to attend mass conventions, called for inspiration and instruction in the work to be done. The attendance was increased by a natural desire for social enjoyment, which the necessities of the times greatly abridge. Sometimes a meeting would be called in a large town for the double purpose of stimulating hospital supplies and enlistments--sometimes I went in charge of soldiers, too ill or enfeebled from wounds to be sent alone. On these trips I noticed a great increase of women engaged in outdoor work and especially during the times of planting, cultivating, and harvesting.

In the early summer of 1863, frequent calls of business took me through the extensive farming districts of Wisconsin, and Eastern Iowa, where the farmers were the busiest, gathering the wheat harvest. As we dashed along the railway, let our course lead in whatever it might, it took us through what seemed a continuous wheat-field. The yellow grain was waving everywhere and two-horse reapers were cutting it down in a wholesale fashion that would have astonished Eastern farmers. Hundreds of reapers could be counted in a tide of half a dozen hours. The crops were generally good, and in some instances heavy, and every man and boy was pressed into service to secure the abundant harvest while the weather was fine.

Women were in the field everywhere, driving the reapers, binding and shocking, and loading grain, until then an unusual sight. At first, it displeased me, and I turned away in aversion. By and by, I observed how skillfully they drove the horses round and round the wheatfields, diminishing more and more its periphery at every circuit, the glittering blades of the reaper cutting wide swaths with a rapid, clicking sound, that was pleasant to hear. Then I saw that when they followed the reapers binding and shocking although they did not keep up with the men, their work was done with more precision and nicety, and the sheaves had an artistic finish that those lacked made by the men. So I said to myself, "They are worthy women, and deserve praise; their husbands are probably too poor to hire help, and, like the ‘helpmeets’ God designed them to be, they have girt themselves to this work--and they are doing it superbly. Good wives! Good women!"

One day my route took me off the railway, some twenty miles across the country. But we drove through the same golden fields of gain, and between great stretches of green waving corn. Now a river shimmered like silver through the gold of the wheat and oats, and now a growth of young timber made a dark green background for the harvest fields. Here, as everywhere, women were busy at the harvesting.

"I’ve got to hold up a spell, and rig up this ‘ere harness," said my driver; "something’s got out o’ kilter." And the carriage halted opposite a field where half a dozen women and two men were harvesting. Not a little curious to know what these women reapers were like, I walked over and accosted them.

"And so you are helping gather the harvest!" I said to a woman of forty-five or fifty, who sat on the reaper to drive, as she stopped her horses for a brief breathing spell. Her faces was pleasant and comely, although sunburned, with honest, straightforward eyes, a broad brow, and a mouth that indicated firmness and tenderness. Her dress, a strong calico, was worn without hoops, then thought essential on all occasions, and she was shod with stout boots, and wore a shaker bonnet.

"Yes, ma’am," she said; "the men have all gone to the war, so that my man can't hire help at any price, and I told my girls we must turn to and give him a lift with the harvesting’."

"You are not German? You are surely one of my own countrywomen--American?"

"Yes, ma’am; we moved here from Cattaraugus county, New York state, and we’ve done very well since we came."

"Have you sons in the army?"

"Yes," and a shadow fell over the motherly face, and the honest eyes looked out mournfully into vacancy. "All three of ‘em ‘listed, and Neddy, the youngest, was killed at the battle of Stone River, the last day of last year. My man, he went down to get his body, but he came back without it. There were nine thousand of our men left dead on the field there, and our Neddy’s body couldn’t be found among so many. It came very hard on us to let the boys go, but we felt we’d no right to binder ‘em. The country needed ‘em more’n we. We’ve money enough to hire help if it could be had; and my man don’t like to have me and the girls a-workin’ out-doors; but there don’t seem no help for it now."

I stepped over where the girls were binding the fallen grain. They were fine, well-built lasses, with the honest eyes and firm mouth of the mother, brown like her, and clad in the same sensible costume.

"Well, you are like your mother, not afraid to lend a hand at the harvesting, it seems!" was my opening remark.

"No, we’re willing to help outdoors in these times. Harvesting isn’t any harder, if it’s as hard as cooking, washing, and ironing, over a red-hot stove in July and August--only we have to do both now. My three brothers went into the army, all my cousins, most of the young men about here, and the men we used to hire. So there’s no help to be got but women, and the crops must be got in all the same you know."

"One of our German women," said another of the girls, "tells us we don’t know anything about war yet. For during the last war in Germany men were so scarce that she had to work three years in a blacksmith’s shop. You wouldn’t think it, though, if you should see her. That would be rather tough, but I tell Annie we can do anything to help along while the country’s in such trouble."

"I tell mother," said the Annie referred to, standing very erect, with flashing eyes, "that as long as the country can’t get along without grain, nor the army fight without food, we’re serving the country just as much here in the harvest-field as our boys are on the battle-field--and that sort o’ takes the edge off from this business of doing men’s work, you know." And a hearty laugh followed this statement.

Another one of the women was the wife of one of the soldier sons, with a three-year-old boy toddling beside her, tumbling among the sheaves, and getting into mischief every five minutes. His mother declared that he was "more plague than profit." From her came the same hearty assent to the work which the distress of the country had imposed on her. And she added, with a kind of homely pride, that she was considered, "as good a binder as a man, and could keep up with the best of ‘em."

Further conversation disclosed the fact that amid their double labor in the house and field, these women found time for the manufacture of hospital supplies, and had helped to fill box after box with shirts and drawers, dried apples and pickles, currant wine and blackberry jam, to be forwarded to the poor fellows languishing in far-off Southern hospitals. My eyes were unsealed. The women in the harvest-field were invested with a new and heroic interest, and each hard-handed, brown, toiling woman was a heroine. When the drive called to me that he had mended the broken harness, I bade the noble harvesters "goodbye," assuring them that they were the "peers of the women of the Revolution." (145-49)


New York Times, May 28, 1864, p. 9


Miss Major Pauline Cushman, the Federal Scout and Spy

From the Detroit Tribune, May 24

Among the women of America who have made themselves famous since the opening of the rebellion, few have suffered more or rendered more service to the Federal cause than Miss Maj. Pauline Cushman, the female scout and spy. At the commencement of hostilities she reside in Cleveland, Ohio, and was quite well known as a clever actress.

From Cleveland she went to Louisville, where she had an engagement in Wood’s Theatre. Here, by her intimacy with certain rebel officers, she incurred the suspicion of being a rebel, and was arrested by the Federal authorities. She indignantly denied that she was a rebel, although born at the South and having a brother in a rebel Mississippi regiment.

In order to test the love for the old flag, she was asked if she would enter the secret service of the Government. She readily consented, and was at once employed to carry letters between Louisville and Nashville. She was subsequently employed by Gen. Rosecrans, and was for many months with the Army of the Cumberland. She visited the rebel lines time after time, and was thoroughly acquainted with all the country and roads in Tennessee, Northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, in which sections she rendered our armies invaluable service. She was twice suspected of being a spy, and taken prisoner, but managed to escape.

At last, however, she was not so fortunate. After our forces had captured Nashville, Maj. Cushman made a scout toward Shelbyville to obtain information of the strength and position of the enemy, and, while returning to Nashville, was captured on the Hardin pike, eleven miles from the latter city. She was placed on a horse, and, in charge of two scouts, was being taken to Spring Hill, the headquarters of Forrest.

While on the way to this place, she feigned sickness, and said she could not travel any further without falling from her horse. Her captors stopped at a house on the roadside, when it was ascertained that a Federal scouting party had passed the place an hour before. Knowing that her guards had important papers for Gen. Bragg, the quick-witted spy seized the fact and schemed to use it to her advantage.

Seeing an old negro, who appeared to commiserate her unfortunate plight, she watched her opportunity and placed $10 in Tennessee money in his hand, saying "run up the road, Uncle, and came back in a few minutes telling us that four hundred Federals are coming down the street." The faithful negro obeyed the order literally, and soon came back in the greatest excitement, telling the story. The two "rebs" told him he lied. The old colored man got down on his knees saying "Massa, dey’s cumin, sure nuf; de Lord help us, dey is cumin."

The scouts at this believed his story, mounted their horses, and "skedaddled" for the woods. Miss Cushman, seizing a pistol belonging to a wounded soldier in the house, also mounted her horse and fled toward Franklin. She traveled through the rain, and, after nightfall, lost her way. Soon came the challenged of a picket, "Who comes there?" Thinking she had reached the rebel line, she said "A friend of Jeff Davis." "All right," was the reply, "advance and give the countersign."

She presented the countersign in the shape of a canteen of whisky. She passed five pickets in this way, but the sixth and last was obdurate. She pleaded that she was going to see a sick uncle at Franklin, but the sentry couldn’t see it. Sick and disheartened, she turned back. Seeing a light at a farmhouse, she sought shelter. An old man received her kindly, showed her to a room, and said he would awake her at an early hour in the morning, and show her the road to Franklin.

A loud knock awoke her in the morning from her Lothean slumbers, and upon arousing she found her horse saddled and the two guards from whom she had escaped the previous afternoon. She was taken to the headquarters of Forrest and he sent her, after a critical examination to Gen. Bragg. Nothing could be found against her until a secesh woman stole her gaiters, under the inner sole of which were found important documents which clearly proved her to be a spy.

She was tried and condemned to be executed as a spy, but being sick her execution was postponed. She finally, after being in prison three months, sent for Gen. Bragg, and asked him if he had no mercy, that he should make an example of her, and that he should hang her as soon as she got well enough to be hung decently.

While in this state of suspense, the grand army of Rosecrans commenced its forward movements and one fine day the rebel town where she was imprisoned was surprised and captured, and the heroine of this tale was, to her great joy, released. She is now in this city visiting friends, having arrived at the Biddle House one day last week.---Detroit Tribune, Tuesday.

New York Times, June 3, 1864, p. 8

Miss Major Cushman

This noted female scout and spy, whose services in the Department of the Cumberland have won for her the notice of authorities and the loyal masses of the country, is still a great attraction at the Astor House, where she was yesterday, visited by many citizens of prominence. In the morning an officer, recently returned from Virginia, called to show her a number of trophies taken from the rebels, consisting of battle-flags, signals, regimental standards, &c.. A handsome carbine captured from a rebel officer at Antietam, was presented to Miss Cushman by her visitor. In the afternoon, she rode through Central Park in dashing style, surrounded by a group of military friends, attracting general attention and exhibiting her graceful horsemanship.

During the day she received an offer from Mr. Leonard Grover, proprietor of the Washington Theatre, promising her a salary of one thousand dollars per week, if she will consent to appear for him in a drama illustrating the adventures on the Southwestern border as a successful Union spy and scout.



Notes and Queries VII, Series IV, December 17, 1889

"Female Sailor," paragraph from the September 6, Standard

"The remains of a woman who had had a remarkable career were yesterday interred at a village near Warrington. Her name was Elizabeth Taylor, but locally she was known as Happy Ned. She had for years dressed in male attire. She served as a sailor during the War for Secession in America. She was afterwards employed in the docks at Liverpool, and still later earned her living as a navvy and a farm laborer. Deceased, who as fifty-six years old; had appeared in male attire before the magistrates several times for drunkenness." (486)

[Ed. note: Taylor most likely served on a Confederate blockade-runner or raider such as Alabama, as many of their crews were British and Confederate ships were built in England.]


Katharine P. Wormeley, The Other Side of War: with the Army of the Potomac from the Headquarters of the U. S. Sanitary Commission during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in 1862, 1898

[Wormeley was a young woman who served on Sanitary Commission hospital transports during the 1862 Peninsula campaign in Virginia. Following is one of the letters written to her mother.]

Wilson Small, June 22

DEAR MOTHER, --- Yesterday was a hard day, and not a very useful one. The result is that I am a little befogged this morning,--deaf, drowsy, and dull. Five hundred men came down last night,--the clearings-out of the regimental hospitals on the right. Our gentlemen were up all night. I was safe in my berth; but Georgy was in the tent till 3 a.m., though she had been up all the night before.

The Great Mogul, the Medical Inspector, Colonel Vollum, for whom Mr. Olmsted has been begging, has arrived. He is staying on board the "Small." He ranks every other medical officer; therefore on him our hopes depend. The run to Yorktown on "special business" was made to give the Chief and the Inspector a chance of quietly discussing the whole matter. Mr. Olmsted has just been, full of brightness, to tell me that everything is arranged satisfactorily, and to read me the signed agreement. The Commission is to take: 1. All badly wounded men, all amputations and compound fractures of the lower extremities, and all other cases which ought not to travel at first (say five hundred,--a large estimate), and keep them on board the "Knickerbocker" and the "St. Mark," in the river until they can be moved. It engages to spend a sum not exceeding ten thousand dollars on the means of carrying out this first item. 2. It agrees to receive at Fortress Monroe three thousand other bad cases able to bear transportation, whenever a battle occurs; twelve days of it, and transport them to New York, Washington, or elsewhere.

Thus, you see, the Commission gains the certainty that the worst cases and the greatest suffering shall be under its own eye and care. The rest--the slightly wounded, or those so wounded as to be able to help themselves---are the ones that are left to the Government. The country may feel assured that when the great battle occurs, provision is made for those who shall suffer most; and the Commission feels that the country will provide that it shall not fall short in its engagement. This enables us to contemplate a great battle with less of a nightmare feeling than we have had while there was nothing to expect but a repetition of past scenes. We feel that something is impending; the clearing out of the hospitals, the arrangements thus decisively made for the wounded, all seem to point to a coming emergency. Oh! Can we help dreading it!

General Van Vliet has just been here,--a jolly old gentleman, with his shock of yellow-white hair, and his nice, old-fashioned politesse for "the ladies." We fire a volley of questions at him. First, and before all else, "How is the General!?" (meaning, of course, General McClellan.) "Ho! He’s well; quite got over that fever of yours,--what do you call it, typhoid?" Then we try to get out of him some information bout the state of affairs. He said he dined at General Porter’s headquarters with several of the corps commanders yesterday, and it was universally agreed that General Porter’s position was not tenable any longer; that our line was far too long (I told you that our right was stretched out to touch McDowell). "Well," says the General, "Porter is in what you may call a deadlock,-- can’t get across the river; there’s a battery" (making a lunge at our best chair). "What they’ll do will be to try and turn our flank. Perhaps they’ll do it; perhaps not." "And we? We cried. "Oh, you!" he said, with his jolly laugh, "you’ll have to cut and run as best you can, and we’ll go into Richmond." "Shall we go up the James River?" "Has Burnside got Fort Darling?" Here the General became impenetrable, but looked so profoundly wise that if he did not tell his secret, he at least told that he had one.

Captain Sawtelle sent me a present of mint to-day (his orderly could not restrain a smile as he give it to me), and the Captain came just now with an eye, I fear, to that improper thing called a "mint-julep." You may think it very vulgar, but let me tell you it is very good; and you would think so too if you had been up all night, with the thermometer at 90 degrees. Georgy is flitting about, putting things to rights (or wrongs) with as much energy as if she had not been up two nights. She has hunted me into the smallest corner of the cabin, while she dusts and decorates the rest. Her activity is a never-ending marvel to me. I saw her to-day spring from the ground to the floor of a freight-car, with a can of beef-tea in one hand, her flask in the other, and a row of tin cups tied round her waist. Our precious flasks! They do us good service at every turn. We wear them slung over our shoulders by a bit of ribbon or an end of rope. If, in the "long hereafter of song," some poet should undertake to immortalize us, he’ll do it thus, if he’s an honest man and sticks to truth:--

A lady with a flask shall stand,
Beef-tea and punch in either hand,--
Heroic mass of mud
And dirt and stains and blood!

This matter of dirt and stains is becoming very serious. My dresses are in such a state that I loathe them, and myself in them. From chin to belt they are yellow with lemon-juice, sticky with sugar, greasy with beef-tea, and pasted with milk-porridge. Farther down, I dare not inquire into them. Somebody said, the other day (a propos of what, I forget), that he wished to kiss the hem of my garment. I thought of the condition of that article, and shuddered. This state of "things" has reached its climax. "Georgy," I said the other day, "what am I to do? I can’t put on that dress again, and the other is a great deal worse." " I know what I shall do, says Georgy, who is never at a loss, and suggests the wildest things in the calmest way: "Dr. Agnew has some flannel shirts he is going back to New York, and can’t want them. I shall get him to give me one." Accordingly Santa Georgeanna has appeared in an easy and graceful costume, looking especially feminine. I took the hint and have followed suit in a flannel shirt from the hospital supplies; and now, having tasted the sweets of that easy garment, we shall dread civilization if we have to part with what we call our "Agnews."

Just as I was writing the last words, Dr. Coolidge came on board. I was delighted to see him. He has a sad story from his place of action,--as sad as ours, as sad as all that come from honest hearts and capable heads wherever they are. But let us hope for better things to come,---especially to-day.

Good-bye! I have so many letters to write that sometimes I feel as if I could not write another word. I have twelve lying by me now, ready to go off, ---soldiers’ letters and answers to the friends of the dead. We receive such pathetic, noble letters from the parents and friends of those who have died in our care, and to whom it is a part of our duty to write. They will never cease to be a sad and tender memory to us. The mothers’ are the most noble and unselfish; the wives’ the most pathetic,--so painfully full of personal feeling. (160-66)



By Mary Abigail Dodge






¯ ¯ ¯ ¯


In the newspapers and magazines you shall see many poems--written by women who meekly term themselves weak, and modestly profess to represent only the weak among their sex--tunefully discussing the duties which the weak owe to their country in days like these. The invariable conclusion is, that, though they cannot fight, because they are not men,--or go down to nurse the sick and wounded, because they have children to take care of,--or write effectively, because they do not know how, --or do any great and heroic thing, because they have not the ability,--they can pray; and they generally do close with a melodious and beautiful prayer. Now, praying is a good thing. It is, in fact, the very best thing in the world to do, and there is no danger of our having too much of it; but if women, weak or strong, consider that praying is all they can or ought to do for their country, and so settle down contented with that, they make as great a mistake as if they did not pray at all. True, women cannot fight and there is no call for any great number of female nurses; notwithstanding this, I believe that today the issue of this war depends quite as much upon American women as upon American men,--and depends, too, not upon the few who write, but upon the many who do not. The women of the Revolution were not only Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Reed, and Mrs. Schuyler, but the wives of the farmers and shoemakers and blacksmiths everywhere. It is not Mrs. Stowe, or Mrs. Howe, or Miss Stevenson, or Miss Dix, alone, who is to save the country, but the thousands upon thousands who are at this moment darning stockings, tending babies, sweeping floors. It is to them I speak. It is they whom I wish to get hold of; for in their hands lies slumbering the future of this nation.

The women of today have not come up to the level of today. The do not stand abreast with its issues. They do not rise to the height of its great argument. I do not forget what you have done. I have beheld, O Dorcases, with admiration and gratitude, the coats and garments, the lint and bandages, which you have made. Tender hearts, if you could have finished the war with your needles, it would have been finished long ago; but stitching does not crush rebellion, does not annihilate treason, or hew traitors in pieces before he Lord. Excellent as far as it goes; it stops fearfully short of the goal. This ought ye to do, but there are other things which you ought not to leave undone. The war cannot be finished by sheets and pillow-cases. Sometimes I am tempted to believe that it cannot be finished till we have flung them all away. When I read of the Rebels fighting bareheaded, barefooted, haggard, and unshorn, in rags and filth,--fighting bravely, heroically, successfully,--I am ready to make a burnt-offering of our stacks of clothing. I feel and fear that we must come down, as they have done, to a recklessness of all incidentals, down to the rough and rugged fastnesses of life, down to the very gates of death itself, before we shall be ready and worthy to win victories. Yet it is not so, for the hardest fights the earth has ever known have been made by the delicate-handed and purple-robed. So, in the ultimate analysis, it is neither gold lace nor rags that overpower obstacles, but the fiery soul that consumes both in the intensity of its furnace-heat, bending impossibilities to the ends of its passionate purpose.

This soul of fire is what I wish to see kindled in our women,--burning white and strong and steady, through all weakness, timidity, vacillation, treachery in Church or State or press or parlor, scorching, blasting, annihilating whatsoever loveth and maketh a lie,--extinguished by no tempest of defeat, no drizzle of delay, but glowing on its steadfast path till it shall have cleared through the abomination of or desolation a highway for the Prince of Peace.

O my countrywomen, I long to see you stand under the time and bear it up in your strong hearts, and not need to be borne up through it. I wish you to stimulate, and not crave stimulants from others. I wish you to be the consolers, the encouragers, the sustainers, and not tremble in perpetual need of consolation and encouragement. When men’s brains are knotted and their brows corrugated with fearful looking for and hearing of financial crises, military disasters, and any and every form of national calamity consequent upon the war, come you out to meet them, serene and smiling and unafraid. And let your smile be no formal distortion of your lips, but a bright ray from the sunshine in your heart. Take not acquiescently, but joyfully, the spoiling of your goods. Not only look poverty in the face with high disdain, but embrace it with gladness and welcome. The loss is but for a moment; the gain is for all time. Go farther than this. Consecrate to a holy cause not only the incidentals of life, but life itself. Father, husband, child,--I do not say, Give them up to toll, exposure, suffering, death, without a murmur;--that implies reluctance. I rather say, Urge them to the offering; fill them with sacred fury; fire them with irresistible desire; strengthen them to heroic will. Look not on details, the present, the trivial, the fleeting aspects of our conflict, but fix your ardent gaze on its eternal side. Be not resigned, but rejoicing. Be spontaneous and exultant. Be large and lofty. Count it all joy that you are reckoned worthy to suffer in a grand and righteous cause.. Give thanks evermore that you were born in this time; and because it is dark, be you the light of the world.

And follow the soldier to the battle-field with your spirit. The great army of letters that marches southward with every morning sun is a powerful engine of war. Fill them with tears and sighs, lament separation and suffering, dwell on your loneliness and fears, mourn over the dishonesty of contractors and the incompetency of leaders, doubt if the South will ever be conquered, and foresee financial ruin, and you will damp the powder and dull the swords that ought to deal death upon the foe. Write as tenderly as you will. In camp the roughest man idealizes his far off home, and every word of love uplifts him to a lover. But let your tenderness unfold its sunny side, and keep the shadows for His pity who knows the end from the beginning, and whom no foreboding can dishearten..Glory in your tribulation. Show your soldier that his unflinching courage, his undying fortitude, are your crown of rejoicing. Incite him to enthusiasm by your inspiration. Make a mock of your discomforts. Be unwearying in details of the little interests of home. Fill your letters with kittens and canaries, with baby’s shoes, and Johnny’s sled, and the old cloak which you have turned into a handsome gown. Keep him posted in all the village gossip, the lectures, the courtings, the sleigh-rides, and the singing-schools. Bring out the good points of the world in strong relief. Tell every sweet and brave and pleasant and funny story you can think of. Show him that you clearly apprehend that all this warfare means peace, and that a dastardly peace would pave the way for speedy, incessant and more appalling warfare. Help him to bear his burdens by showing him how elastic you are under yours. Hearten him, enliven him, tone him up to the true hero pitch. Hush your plaintive Miserere, accept the nation’s pain for penance, and commission every Northern breeze to bear a Te Deum laudamus.

Under God, the only question, as to whether this war shall be conducted to a shameful or an honorable close, is not of men or money or material resource. In these our superiority is unquestioned. As Wellington phrased it, there is hard pounding; but we shall pound the longest, if only our hearts do not fail us. Women need not beat their pewter spoons into bullets, for there are plenty of bullets without them. It is not whether our soldiers shall fight a good fight; they have played the man on a hundred battle-fields. It is not whether officers are or are not competent; generals have blundered nations into victory since the world began. It is whether this people shall have virtue to endure to the end,--to endure, not starving, not cold, but the pangs of hope deferred, of disappointment and uncertainty, of commerce deranged and outward prosperity checked. Will our vigilance to detect treachery and our perseverance to punish it hold out? If we stand firm, we shall be saved, though so as by fire. If we do not, we shall fall, and shall richly deserve to fall; and may God sweep us off from the face of the earth, and plant in our stead a nation with the hearts of men, and not of chickens!

O women, stand here in the breach,--for here you may stand powerful, invincible, I had almost said omnipotent. Rise now to the heights of a sublime courage,--for the hour has need of you. When the first ball smote the rocky sides of Sumter, the rebound thrilled from shore to shore, and [illegible] the slumbering hero in every human soul. Then every eye flamed, every lip was touched with a live coal from the sacred altar, every form dilated to the stature of the Golden Age. Then we felt in our veins the pulse of immortal youth. Then all the chivalry of the ancient days, all the heroism, all the self-sacrifice that shaped itself into noble living, came back to us, poured over us, swept away the dross of selfishness and deception and petty scheming, and Patriotism rose from the swelling wave stately as a goddess. Patriotism that had been to us but a dingy and meaningless antiquity, took on a new form, a new mien, a countenance divinely fair and forever young, and received once more the homage of our hearts. Was that a childish outburst of excitement, or the glow of an aroused principle? Was it a puerile anger, or a manly indignation? Did we spring up startled pigmies, or girded giants? If the former, let us veil our faces, and march swiftly (and silently) to merciful forgetfulness. If the latter, shall we not lay aside ever weight, and this besetting sin of despondency, and run with patience the race set before us?

A true philosophy and a true religion make the way possible to us. The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will; and He never yet willed that a nation strong in means and battling for the right should be given over to a nation weak and battling for the wrong. Nations have their future--reward and penalty--in this world; and it is as certain as God lives that Providence and the heaviest battalions will prevail. We have had reverses, but no misfortune hath happened unto us but such as is common unto nations. Country has been sacrificed to partisanship. Early love has fallen away, and lukewarmness has taken its place. Unlimited enthusiasm has given place to limited stolidity. Disloyalty, overawed at first into quietude has lifted its head among us, and waxes wroth and ravening. There are dissensions at home worse than the guns of our foes. Some that did run well have faltered; some signal-lights have gone shamefully out, and some are lurid with a baleful glare. But unto this end were we born, and for this cause came we into the world. When shall greatness of soul stand forth, if not in evil times? When the skies are fair and the seas smooth, all ships sail festively. But the clouds lower, the winds shriek, the waves boil, and immediately each craft shows its quality. The deep is strewn with broken masts, parted keels, floating wrecks; but here and there a ship rides the raging sea, and flings defiance to the wind. She overlives the sea because she is seaworthy. Not our eighty years of peace alone, but our two years of war are the touchstone of our character. We have rolled Democracy as a sweet morsel under our tongue; we have glorified in the prosperity which it brought to the individual; but if the comforts of men minister to the degradation of man, if Democracy levels down and does not level up, if our era of peace and plenty leaves us so feeble and frivolous, so childish, so impatient, so deaf to all that calls to us from the past and entreats us in the future, that we faint and fail under the stress of our one short effort, then indeed is our Democracy our shame and our curse.

Let us show now what manner of people we are. Let us be clear-sighted and far-sighted to see how great is the issue that hangs upon the occasion. It is not a mere military reputation that is at stake, not the decay of a generation’s commerce, not the determination of this or that party to power. It is the question of the world that we have been set to answer. In the great conflict of ages, the long strife between right and wrong, between progress and sluggardy, through the providence of God we are placed in the vanguard. Three hundred years ago a world was unfolded for the battle-ground. Choice spirits came hither to level and intrench. Swords clashed and blood flowed, and the great reconnaissance was successfully made. Since then both sides have been gathering strength, marshalling forces, planting batteries, and to-day we are in the thick of the fray. Shall we fail? Men and women of America, will you fail? Shall the cause go by default? When a great Idea, that has been uplifted on the shoulders of generations, comes now to its Thermopylae, its glory-gate, and needs only stout hearts for its strong hands,--when the eyes of a great multitude are turned upon you, and the fates of dumb millions in the silent future rest with you,--when the suffering and sorrowful, the lowly, whose immortal hunger for justice gnaws at their hearts, who blindly see, but keenly feel, by their God-given instincts, that somehow you are working out their salvation, and the high-born, monarchs in the domain of the mind, who standing far off, see with prophetic eye the two courses that lie before you, one to the Uplands of vindicated Right, one to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, alike fasten upon you their hopes, their prayers, their tears,--will you, for a moment’s bodily comfort and rest and repose, grind all these expectations and hopes between the upper and nether millstone? Will you fail the world in this fateful hour by your faint-heartedness? Will you fail yourself, and put the knife to your own throat? For the peace which you so dearly buy shall bring to you neither ease nor rest. You will but have spread a bed of thorns. Failure will write disgrace upon the brow of this generation, and shame will outlast the age. It is not with us as with the South. She can surrender without dishonor. She is the weaker power, and her success will be against the nature of things. Her dishonor lay in her attempt, not in its relinquishment. But we shall fail, not because of mechanics and mathematics, but because or manhood and womanhood weighed in the balance are found wanting. There are few who will not share in the sin. There are none who will not share in the shame. Wives, would you hold back your husbands? Mothers, would you keep your sons? From what? For what? From the doing of the grandest duty that ever ennobled man, to the grief of the greatest infamy that ever crushed him down. You would hold him back from prizes before which Olympian laurels fade, for a fate before which a Helot slave might cower. His country in the agony of her death-struggle, calls to him for succor. All the blood in all the ages, poured out for liberty, poured out for him, cries unto him from the ground. All that life has of noble, of heroic, beckons him forward. Death itself wears for him a golden crown. Ever since the world swung free from God’s hand, men have died,--obeying the blind fiat of Nature; but only once in a generation comes the sacrificial year, the year of jubilee, when men march lovingly to meet their fate and die for a nation’s life. Holding back, we transmit to those that shall come after us a blackened waste. The little one that lies in his cradle will be accursed for our sakes. Every child will be base-born, springing from ignoble blood. We inherited a fair fame, and bays from a glorious battle; but for him is no background, no stand-point. His country will be a burden on his shoulders, a blush upon his cheek, a chain about his feet. There is no career for the future, but a weary effort, a long, a painful, a heavy-hearted struggle to lift the land out of its slough of degradation and set it once more upon a dry place.

Therefore let us have done at once and forever with paltry considerations, with talk of despondency and darkness. Let compromise, submission, and every form of dishonorable peace, be not so much as named among us. Tolerate no coward’s voice or pen or eye. Wherever the serpent’s head is raised, strike it down. Measure every man by the standard of manhood. Measure country’s price by country’s worth, and country’s worth by country’s integrity. Let a cold, clear breeze sweep down from the mountains of life, and drive out these miasmas that befog and beguile the unwary. Around every hearthstone let sunshine gleam. In every home let fatherland have its altar and its fortune. From every household let words of cheer and resolve and high-heartedness ring out, till the whole land is shining and resonant in the bloom of its awakening spring.


Mary Abigail Dodge (1833-1896) was born in Hamilton, Massachusetts. She taught at female academies until 1858 when she moved to Washington, D.C. to begin a writing career. She contributed to The National Era, an antislavery publication; The Independent; The Congregationalist; and The Atlantic Monthly, among others. Later in life she published books on women’s, religious, and political topics that included a biography of presidential candidate, James G. Blaine, her first cousin’s husband. Source: Notable American Women


Memoir Chapters

A Signal Success
by Martha J. Coston

[Ed.: B. Franklin Coston was a scientist from Boston, employed by the Dept. of the Navy prior to the Civil War. He died an untimely death at a young age, some believing his work on gaslighting to have had toxic effects. He left Martha, his young wife, and three young children nearly destitute. Although virtually unknown historically, Martha Coston performed one of the most crucial roles in the Civil War, developing a night signals communications system for the Navy. As one peruses navy records of the war, one finds references to signals being used prior to battles to give instructions and operational orders during them. After the war, the Coston Night Signal was heavily relied upon by the
U. S. Lifesaving Service and after its integration, the Coast Guard. It remained the main naval night signaling device utilized into the 1930s. The pyrotechnic formula developed is still the basis for flares used today.]



To be brief, through my own ignorance and the duplicity of others, trusting too much to an improvident relative who misplaced my money, I found myself at twenty-one a widow with three little children and penniless. I knew not how to dig, I was ashamed to beg; and long and intently I pondered upon the course I should pursue, and earnestly I wished that nature had bestowed on me a little of that brilliant genius so liberally given to my husband.

In thinking of him, my mind reverted to a box of papers which, in his last illness, he alluded to as being of considerable value, and the thought came to me like an inspiration that perhaps in that same box I should find the means of retrieving my fallen fortune.

It was on a dreary November afternoon; the rain was falling on the window-panes heavily, the boughs of the great birch in front of our cottage scraped the walls with a mournful sound; even the canaries in their cages were so depressed by the pervading gloom that they refused to sing, and the children bent seriously over their picture books.

All these trifles were impressed upon my mind I suppose because I felt the importance of the next step, which was to decide possibly our whole future. As I unlocked the wooden chest and raised the lid, it was with a prayer in my heart and tears in my eyes. There I beheld numerous packets sealed and labeled. One by one I lifted them out only to be told by the title of the contents of unfinished inventions, inventions too costly to be utilized, and successful experiments in chemistry to be used in different branches of pyrotechnics.

At last I came upon a large envelope containing papers and a skillfully drawn plan of signals to be used at sea, at night for the same purpose of communication that flags are used by day. This chart was colored and showed that to each signal was attached a number and letter explanatory of the particular colored fire used, so that in lighting the signal no mistakes should be made. I recognized this idea as one discussed in the days of our courtship and greatly encouraged by Admiral Stewart.

I also remembered my husband making a few of these signals at the Washington Navy-Yard and giving them into the care of a naval officer until such time as they could be tried. All at once rose before me like a vision a visit of this same officer to my husband on his deathbed, and his promise that if the invention proved a success he would interest himself in making it public for the benefit of his wife and children.

My course lay clear before me. I closed the box and at once sat down at my desk. I saw the immense value of the invention and wrote to Captain ------ asking what use he had made of the signals.

Days passed; no reply came. I called at the captain’s house; he refused to see me. Twice I met him on the street; he turned on his heel and went in another direction to avoid me.

Fortunately for me, just at this time he got into disgrace, and was put upon the retired list. Of course he brought every possible influence to bear to gain his restoration. I seized this opportunity, and wrote Captain ------ a peremptory letter, saying if he did not at once return to me the box of signals, I should report him to the Navy Department.

Next day the box of signals arrived, much damaged having been exposed to all kinds of weather, but unaccompanied by the written recipes for their manufacture; the captain declaring in a note that he had not received any recipes from Mr. Coston. This staggered me, but my anxiety for the time being was to place the box in a place of safety, for I had no means of knowing whether the signals were explosive, and would affect the insurance on the house.

In this dilemma, I conceived the idea of asking our old and stanch friend Admiral Charles Stewart to keep them for me in the Philadelphia Navy Yard until I could secure an order from the Secretary of the Navy for their trial. The admiral said if they belonged to the government he had the authority to store them; this I was willing to certify to, as they were made of government materials, and in the Washington Navy-Yard. Without further delay they were placed in store.

My old friends in Washington were greatly interested in my efforts to make known my husband’s invention, and insisted on entertaining me in their homes until further steps could be taken. The Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Isaac Toucey, listened with interest to my appeal, and replied that I certainly had a right to my husband’s brains, even when put into government materials, and that anything coming before the Navy Department with the prestige of Mr. Coston’s acknowledged and brilliant inventive genius would be favorably received. He readily consented to a trial for the signals, and asked me where I should like it to be made. I replied, "in the Home Squadron"

The order was given, and the Assistant Secretary suggested that I should write to the officers of the flagship "Wabash" and make myself known. I knew none of them, but thought the Secretary’s advice good, and wrote at once to the commanding officer. To my surprise I received an exceedingly kind letter by return mail from Commodore (afterwards Admiral) Paulding, to the effect that though I did not compliment by remembering him, he had once had the pleasure of escorting me and my little ones from Washington to Philadelphia, my friends having put me in his care.

I at once recollected the circumstances, and also the fact that under the impression that his name was Baldwin I had been unable to identify him afterwards, his delicacy deterring him for correcting my mistake at the time. I remembered his exceeding courtesy and kindness, and now accepted as providential his offer to do all in his power to serve me in promoting the trial of the signals. In making my acknowledgments I asked him to kindly save me a few signals should they prove good, for models, as I had no recipe to make others from.






Just at this time of suspense and anxiety my second child, a beautiful boy, strikingly like his father and named after him, was taken ill, and after a long and painful illness expired. I was roused from my grief by a letter that came from Admiral Paulding, telling me that the trail had taken place and that the signals proved utterly good for nothing!

This bitter blow was dealt in kinder language, but all the same the hard fact stared me in the face, and I hardly comprehended the close of the letter in which the admiral said he had told the Secretary of the Navy that the idea was an excellent one, and that I ought to be encouraged to carry it out; pleasantly concluding that he would not be the one to put my lights out.

Shortly after this the Secretary of the Navy wrote me himself, enclosing a copy of the adverse report, and warmly encouraging me to try and perfect my husband’s invention, for which purpose he offered to place the laboratory of the Washington Navy-Yard, and its talent, at my service. I need not say how deeply I felt this generous treatment.

The man whom Admiral Dahlgren had caused to be made the successor of Mr. Coston as master of the navy-yard laboratory the more to mortify him, was much alarmed when bidden to perfect the signal invention, and after six months of worry and work he produced something less effective than his model, and another adverse report was made.

I have reason to think that this man was afraid of succeeding, as his success would have incurred the displeasure of Admiral Dahlgren, who preferred that I should not be brought in contact with the men who were engaged in manufacturing the primer.

Shortly afterwards, the master of the laboratory died, and it was said that his fatal illness had been accelerated by worry over the signal experiments, his mortification at not being able to perfect the invention, ending in fear of his being considered incompetent to fill his position, and the dread that if he did succeed in doing so Admiral Dahlgren would secure his dismissal was more than he could endure.

Again the Secretary of the Navy wrote me most kindly, and bade me not despair, adding that if I could find some one to aid me in perfecting the signals, he would pay the expenses from the contingent fund, as he felt satisfied that the invention if properly carried out would be of incalculable service to the government.

It would consume too much space, and weary my readers, for me to go into all the particulars of my efforts to perfect my husband’s idea. The men I employed and dismissed, the experiments I made myself, the frauds that were practiced upon me, almost disheartened me; but despair I would not, and eagerly I treasured up each little step that was made in the right direction, the hints of naval officers, and the opinions of the different boards that gave the signals a trial.

I had finally succeeded in getting a pure white and a vivid red light, but a third color was essential in order to make the necessary transportation for the figures whereby to talk with the signals from the signal book, which contains questions and answers with numbers and letters attached.

Blue I had set my heart on, in order to use the national colors, but I could not obtain it of equal intensity and strength with the other colors, and, considering the long distances at which these signals needed to be seen, this was a primary consideration.

The honorable Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Isaac Toucey, again sent me a kind note with the last adverse report, and bade me to "try again" to work out the invention, and whenever I thought I had succeeded, he would grant me a board to give them a trial.

As the months rolled on I grew desperate. I had eked out my little means as well as I could and now I stood face to face with penury. My children, lovely and good, were growing fast, and had other needs than those of clothes and food, and my determination to succeed grew with the obstacles that arose.

At this time the whole country was in a ferment over the successful laying of the Atlantic cable, and tremendous was the excitement on the day when the first cable despatch flashed under the sea from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan.

Cyrus W. Field received a great ovation in New York City, and at night there was a grand display of fireworks, which took place from the City Hall. Fiery portraits of the Queen and the President, wreaths, rockets, Roman candles, banners, eagles, wheels, showers of colored stars, and finally ships of fire were represented paying out cables of highly-tinted lights.

This display suggested to me that among the New York pyrotechnists I might find some one capable of helping me. I opened communications with several of hem. Under a man’s name, fearing they would not give heed to a woman, asking for a strong, clear, blue or green light, but not saying for what purpose I wished to make use of it. One man in an intelligent reply said he had several years before invented a pure blue, but threw it on one side on account of its being too expensive for ordinary use. I replied urging him to recover the color if possible; if not, to try green.

In ten days, I received a package at my country house near Philadelphia, containing the desired colors, and I persuaded a friend to drive to a mountain some five miles distant, and burn them to show me the color. The trial was a success; the green fire brilliant and intense. I at once entered into negotiations with the pyrotechnist, and having received satisfactory references took him into my confidence, and engaged him to make further experiments.

It was necessary not only that each color should be powerful and clear, but of uniform goodness when manufactured in large quantities, and also that the colors should be made to change one from the other with the rapidity of lightning, each change being absolutely clean and distinct, there being, for convenience, two or three colors in one case.

After weeks of work and experimenting, which I spent at the house of the manufacturer, to whom I had made myself known, in order to give him the results of my own labors, his brother-in-law, a much more skillful chemist, came to assist us, and we at last succeeded in producing such satisfactory results that I at once wrote to the honorable Secretary of the Navy that if he would be as good as his word and order me a trial by board, I would be glad once more to present my signals.

The Secretary was as good as his word, and at once appointed a board, consisting of the then Commodore John Rodgers, Commodore McCauley, and Lieutenant Charles Henry Lewis. The board notified me of its readiness with such promptness that, to tell the truth, I was a little taken aback and obliged to ask for a few days’ delay, while I made my own preparations. At last all was in readiness; the board was supplied with signals, and I was politely invited to be present at the trial with a number of my personal friends.

I was still in deep mourning, and possibly my sombre apparel increased my pallor, for when the preparations were made to fire the first signal, my friends were looking a me with anxiety. The moment was indeed a momentous one for me, but all at once, clear, brilliant, and beautiful, burned against the dark sky the first Coston Night Signal. The exclamations of joy from those with me, and of pleasure from the officers on deck, assured me that I was not dreaming. Success at last! My heart was too full of emotion for me to speak.

I was then informed by the officers that a month’s trial was necessary before any official report would be made, as it was imperative that the signals should be tested in different states of the atmosphere and at different distances. During this month, which was one of trial to me as well as for the signals, I remained with my friends, anxious but hopeful as to the result, upon which the whole future of my boys and self depended.

Four weeks dragged their slow length away; at the close of the last, my friends took me to a fashionable concert one evening, and among the audience I recognized one of the officers of the board. During the first interim, this gentleman came up smiling, took my hand, and said, "Let me congratulate you." I was so nervous that I did not dare to ask him any questions, but remarked, as I fluttered my fan,---

"The prima donna has surpassed herself this evening."

"The prima donna is nothing to you; you are a success" replied the officer, gallantly, and then he told me, under seal of confidence, that that day a favorable report had been sent in to the Secretary of the Navy, and to-morrow I would receive a formal notice and invitation to meet the board.

"You will not betray me," my informer concluded; "but really I could not resist the temptation to tell you myself."

That evening my host insisted on celebrating my good fortune by a champagne supper, and I went to rest that night a very happy woman.

Early in the morning I received several notes from the different members of the board, and each told me entre nous of my success, which they desired me to hear of through them for the first time, and each writer in concluding begged I would not betray him to the other members of the board, as this mode of intimation was contrary to all official etiquette.

Later in the day I met the board formally, but not without a sense of the ludicrous, for each officer flattered himself on the innocent pleasure he had given me, and each feared I might inadvertently betray him, and was correspondingly pleased with the air of uncertainty I felt obliged to assume.

The president of the board, afterwards Admiral John Rodgers, saluted me with the remark, "Madam, your husband’s mantle has fallen upon your fair shoulders."

The report, most favorable to the signals, was then read.


February 1859

TO THE HON. ISAAC TOUCEY, Secretary of the Navy,

Sir: In obedience to our order of the 31st ultimo, the board of officers ordered t examined and est the Coston Signals have the honor to report---

1. That the Coston Signals are better than any others known to them.

2. That the board strongly recommend them for use in the navy.

3. In stating their reasons for the conclusions or recommendations to which they have arrived, it may not be out of place to say that signals being the means whereby orders are given or wants made know at sea, a good code of them, plainly intelligible to the persons addressed, is absolutely necessary for the efficient conduct of a fleet.

In the navy two signal-books are used: one called simply the "Signal-Book’ the other the ‘Telegraphic Dictionary.’ A peculiar flag designating when the Telegraphic Dictionary is be employed; without this flag, the meaning is to be sought in the signal-book.

The signal-book consists of all the sentences, arranged alphabetically, which would occur in ordinary service, numbered consecutively from 1 to about 1300. The Telegraphic Dictionary has an alphabet, and the words of the language numbered from 1 to the end of the book, whereby an unusual name can be spelled by the alphabet, or any ordinary word designated by its proper number in the dictionary. By means of the numerical values attached to the signal flags the ship makes the number attached to the sentences or words in the signal-books; and thus communications of any nature are mutually made between vessels.

But in practice at night it has been found so difficult to make clear and distinct combinations of lights that the books in use by day were thrown aside and a set of night signals were arranged in a separate code, of little extent and of uncertain determination.

The Coston Signals consist of a colored firework, or a combination of not more than three colors, contained in a small metal case, and they designate by the order of the colors burnt the number to be understood.

The application of the ‘Coston Night Signals’ to the navy day signal-books gives a perfect code of night signals. They offer precision, fulness, and plainness, at a less cost for fireworks than is thought we now pay for confusion and uncertainty.

Very respectfully, your obedient servants,

C. S. MCCAULEY, Captain and Senior Officer

JOHN RODGERS, Commander, U. S. N.

HENRY H. LEWIS, Lieutenant, U.S.N.

I received congratulations of the other gentlemen and then, what a light heart, took the admiral’s advice and went at once to the Navy Department. The Secretary of the Navy received me most cordially, saying, "Mrs. Coston, I knew I had not overrated you. Now, what is the next step, and what can I do for you? But first, what are those signals worth?"






It may seem strange to my readers, but so intently had my mind been concentrated on the one object of perfecting the signals, that I had never given their pecuniary value a thought, and for a moment, I was overcome by this prompt and practical recognition of their worth. I stammered out that I could not tell. Mr. Toucey replied, with a smile, "There you show the woman; but after this long period of labor you should begin to reap more reward. Consult with your friends, fix on a price, not forgetting you deserve a fair one, and call here to-morrow."

I went home. Never had the sky struck me as so blue, the sunshine so radiant, the little parks so green and smiling, and the songs of the birds so melodious. I rolled on air, and felt myself to be the most fortunate woman in the world, all the while blessing in my heart the good man, Mr. Isaac Toucey, who had been so real a friend, and whose goodness was now to be reflected in the happiness of my children.

I hastily consulted with my friends in regard to the price I should fix upon the signals, deciding on what second a fair rate, and then, not waiting to consult with my manufacturer, called on the Secretary with my decision.

Mr. Toucey at once sent for the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, a Captain Ingraham, told him briefly of the board’s report on the signals, and that as the patent could only be bought by Congress, and the adoption of the signals for the use of the navy was desirable, he wanted an estimate of the amount needed to supply all our fleets in different ports of the world with sufficient quantities for trials on long cruises and in different climates.

Without knowing why, I felt intuitively that I had in Captain Ingraham an opponent, and I was hardly surprised, though visibly disappointed, when, a few moments later, he handed in an estimate for a very small amount. Mr. Toucey looked at it in astonishment, and then, with a twinkle in his kindly eye, said, "Mrs. Coston, are there not two sizes of the signals?"

I took the hint and responded at once, "There are to be, sir; the large size being double the price of the ordinary one."

"Then, said the Secretary to Captain Ingraham, "just add to your estimate an equal amount for the large signals;" and, evidently much against his inclination, the captain had to do it.

The signals were ordered to be divided between the North and South Atlantic, the North and South Pacific, and the African fleets, with orders for the commanding officer on the vessels to report on their trial from time to time, and I at once prepared the following letter to accompany the signal:


To the officers authorized to test the Coston Night Signals at sea on a long cruise:

GENTLEMEN: The honorable Secretary of the United States Navy having ordered three thousand sets of Coston Telegraphic Signals for distribution to vessels of the United States Navy (after several very satisfactory trials at Washington, by boards of officers convened for this purpose), as officers of such vessels you should be acquainted with the merits and objects of the said signals. . . .

The importance of being able to communicate between distant points at night under almost any circumstances can hardly be estimated, and in the Coston Signal, I think, you will find all that can be desired. These signals have already been tested in various ways and under different states of atmosphere, and, as the annexed report to the Secretary of the Navy will show, were pronounced superior to any heretofore seen or used. A set of the Coston Signals consists of twelve pieces, and are marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, P, A, respectively. The P (or preparatory) signal is used to give notice to the point you wish to communicate with, and the A (answering) signal signifies that the preparatory was seen; the numerals are to be used as the day flag signals, with the exception that only one night signal can be burnt at a time, but an interval of only the time required to put another on the holder. It is highly important to keep the signals in a perfect state, and in a dry place on deck. They are not subject to spontaneous combustion, being decidedly more safe to use at sea than any other pyrotechnic fire. From the small number of signals necessarily at your disposal for trial, it will, of course, be impossible by any previously devised system to communicate full sentences of any considerable length; your attention ought, therefore, be directed to establish the fact whether the system is practical, and advisable to adopt in the place of what is now used by you for the same purpose. The small size signals can be well seen at a distance of from four to six miles and the large size from six to ten or fifteen miles, with perfect distinction.*

I am, gentlemen, most respectfully, your obedient servant,


Widow of B. Franklin Coston

WASHINGTON, D. C., June 1, 1859

The day after receiving the orders, I left for New York to consult with my manufacturer, having an order for six thousand dollars, the first fruits of my perseverance, in my possession. A copartnership was agreed upon between the manufacturer and myself, he looking well to his own interests, as seems to be the custom in the business world.

It was decided that he should pay for the patents, two being taken out; one for the original idea, that is, the application of numbers and letters to colored fires for signals; the other, under his own name, for the mode of manufacturing, and this notwithstanding that without my aid and experience he could not have perfected the invention. Half of my United States patent was made over to him, half of his to me, with the understanding that if Congress purchased the invention for use of the navy, he should receive one-quarter of the money, but for all mercantile or government orders he was to receive one half. . . .


* The most favorable reports were received, after a period of from one to two years, from all the United States squadrons in different parts of the world to which the above-named three hundred sets of Coston’s signals had been distributed, and upon which reports Congress based its action in purchasing the right to use the patent for the navy of the United States.






At this time the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment had been attacked in Baltimore, and the most bitter feeling existed there. No one went through the city, travelers going round by boat to Annapolis, where General B. F. Butler was in command. We had an unlooked for escort of honor in the Seventh Regiment of New York which was on its way to protect Washington. Many of the soldiers in this famous regiment had excellent voices, and as we steamed along they, standing on deck, indulged in a burst of patriotic song that must have been wafted to the shores of Maryland. The weather was beautiful, the water glittering and blue in the sun, and soldiers so gay, and the uniforms so bright and new, that it was hard for me to realize that we were in the cruel season of War, until I found that I was the only lady on board.

My arrival greatly surprised the Secretary of the Navy [Gideon Welles], who told me the ladies were all running in the other direction as fast as the could, and he had supposed as a matter of course I would send down my manufacturer to represent me.

"When my country called, ‘twas mine to obey,’" I replied; and smilingly adding, "my manufacturer is in command of a company raised by himself, now serving in the Second New Jersey Regiment with the army, and unless I can get him back to the factory, I don’t see how the signals are to be made and furnished to the navy." The Secretary at once sent for Admiral Paulding, who had been made Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, and on his arrival bade him escort me to the War Department to see General Scott.

We found the general gallant and gracious as ever, and Admiral Pauldng at once told him that we called to procure the release of a man from the United States army to serve the navy.

"Who is the man?" said the general, promptly; and no sooner had I given him the particulars than he wrote out the required order. We then found that the Second New Jersey Regiment was encamped on Meridian Hill, in the suburbs of Washington. The admiral called a carriage, and away we sped.

On arriving at the camp, we were told by the colonel of the regiment that the very company including the man we were in search of had been left on the Baltimore road to protect the route to Washington. All we could do then was to despatch him General Scott’s order to report to his factory in New Jersey, and inform him that he was released from army duty to serve the navy. We afterwards heard that the manufacture’s company became insubordinate on learning that he was about to return home, as they had enlisted through his persuasion and on the understanding that they were to serve under him. However, he pacified them and started for New Jersey, where I had preceded him, and found his young wife very sad and fearful lest the fortunes of war should prevent their reunion in this world again. I bade her be of good cheer, and prophesied she would see him shortly.

Sure enough, at ten o’clock at night the door-bell rang. "That is your husband!" I exclaimed. She looked at me half in dread. A moment later he entered the room, and I felt the joy of their meeting was a happy omen of the success of the signals.

"What brings you here?" I asked, gayly. Out came the order from General Scott. "Bless me! And who are you, that you should be honored by a special order from the commander-in-chief of the United States army?"

"Ah! Mrs. Coston, I see you in the magical order," he responded, and I had to confess my part of the transaction.

The factory was at once opened, and in a short time the six hundred vessels that the government had got together were furnished with the Coston Signals, to what effect will be shown later. As soon as the orders had been filled I returned to Washington, where the times were stirring indeed, and the Navy Department in a constant state of bustle and excitement, the Secretary and his officials frequently doing business all night by the aid of tallow candles and lamps, there being at that time no gas used in the Department.

I now prepared to make a determined effort to have a bill pass Congress for the purchase of my patent, and I was spurred on by the knowledge that other parties were forming companies to manufacture signals for army and navy use, with the bold purpose of infringing on my patent. Word came to me that a company recently formed for this purposed was about to hold a business meeting in a public office.

On the appointed day, accompanied by a prominent member of the Senate, I presented myself before them, and, apologizing for the intrusion, said, "I came to warn you that I am aware of your intention, and shall not interfere unless I find that you are infringing on my patent, which I shall defend to the utmost extent of the law, unless I receive full recompense for the use of it." I then read them a copy of the patent, which I had brought with me.

That visit broke up the company, and at the same time stimulated the Secretary of the Navy to recommend Congress to purchase my patent and allow the government to manufacture the signals for its own use. Acting on the advice of Admiral Paulding, Admiral Joseph Smith, and other officers of the navy, the Secretary also recommended that Congress should pay me the sum of forty thousand dollars for the patent.

President Lincoln, it will be remembered, called that year an extra session, known as the "War Congress," before which the widow of Senator Douglas and myself were the only ladies to appear; and to it my bill was presented. The discussion over it occupied an entire day; in the House of Representatives it was cut down to thirty thousand dollars, and passed with small difficulty, but when it was brought before the Senate by the Naval Committee, of which John P. Hale was Chairman, a desperate fight ensued. The most bitter opponent of the bill was Senator Sherman, who on general principle was opposed to the purchase of patents by the government, and denounced this bill as a "job," while Senator Grimes showed his animus by proposing an amendment cutting the bill down to twenty thousand dollars.

Senator Thompson of New Jersey, in the course of his remarks said he had been given to understand that rather than lose the bill Mrs. Coston had expressed her willingness to accept twenty thousand dollars, and to this effect the bill was amended. I had never made such a declaration, and sitting silent in the gallery, unable to speak for myself, and filled with a turmoil of hope and fear, resentment and gratitude, which none but those who have been in the same position can understand, I followed the progress of the debate.

A bitterness of feeling was shown that astonished me, and when Senator Fessenden, whose opinions on the subject I did not even know, arose from his seat, I feared another enemy of the bill was about to declare himself. Imagine, then, my surprise and delight when he made a most eloquent appeal for me, full of facts, and directly to the point.

A few minutes before the bill was presented, I had seen Senator McDougall, of California, and found that he knew nothing of its merits. Aware that Senator Sherman intended to oppose its passage, I felt the need of friends, and giving my papers to Mr. McDougall, begged him to inform himself from them, and if he felt justified, to let me have the benefit of his support. No sooner was the Senator from California seated than the bill came up, and the contest began. Late in the day, and after much hot feeling had been displayed and many speeches made, the bill was brought to a vote.

It stood twenty to twenty.

I held my breath, and a wild prayer rose in my heart. In an instant Senator McDougall called on Mr. [Vice President] Breckinridge to stand up in a hurry, and his vote passed the bill. Strangely enough, this was the last vote that Senator Breckinridge ever gave in the United States Senate, and little did he dream that his vote was cast in favor of such a powerful auxiliary to the army and navy which he was to fight under the "bonny blue flag."

I dare say the sum of twenty thousand dollars will seem to many of my readers a liberal one for the government to pay me for my patent, notwithstanding that a board of officers had recommended the payment of forty thousand dollars as just recompense, even before the war had proved its full value; but it must be borne in mind that out of this sum I was obliged to pay not only the enormous expense consequent to presenting my bill to Congress, but also eight thousand dollars in cash to my manufacturer, and had devoted years of work and much money to perfecting the invention. In consideration of this I hesitated for some time to accept the twenty thousand dollars, though urged to by my friends, and especially by my business partner. At last I consented to, and so notified the Navy Department. The Secretary at once referred me to the Assistant Secretary, Mr. Faxon, who told me I should have to draw up a bill of sale.

Knowing little of legal formalities, I went to Admiral Joseph Smith, and asked him what steps I ought to take. He replied, "You will not need a lawyer," and taking up a pen he dashed off a bill of sale, bade me make a copy of it there and then, and return to Mr. Faxon with it. The Assistant Secretary read it over, pronounced it all that was necessary, and immediately arranged for me to draw the money.

Much relieved at the brevity of the transaction, I went over to the Treasury Department. There happened to be several people there on business when the money was handed to me in five-hundred dollar packets, and it created quite a sensation, as one by one I received and placed them in my hand-satchel.




Dispatch and letter describing
value of Coston Night Signal:


From C. C. Fulton, reporter, Baltimore American, on fall of Fort Fisher, N. C.

Friday, January 13, 1865

‘At eight bells (four o’clock) this morning we were roused from slumber by a gun from the flag-ship, and the burning of Coston’s preparatory signals, red and green, as an indication to the fleet that it is time to be up and stirring, preparing breakfast, getting through with the morning routine of duty, so as to be in readiness at dawn to commence the serious work of the day. . . .

At five o’clock a second signal was given by the flag-ship, ‘Get under way,’ when the work of raising anchor commenced. At half-past five the signals of divisional commanders to move forward were given and responded to, causing a brilliant pyrotechnic display. The gunboat ‘Tacony’ having been sent ahead last night, to anchor off the Flag Pond battery, and the day not having yet dawned, her lights can be seen as the steering point of the fleet, in-shore, about three miles ahead of us.

The three frigates ‘Wabash,’ ‘Minnesota,’ and ‘Colorado’ moved off first, led by Admiral Porter’s flag-ship, followed by the ‘New Ironsides’ and the monitor fleet. The army transport signals also added to the scenic attractions.

At the first dawn of day the whole armada was in motion. The wind has changed due east during the night, and being off-shore tends to make the landing of the troops comparatively easy. At a quarter of seven o’clock the admiral signaled, "Form line of battle,’ when the ‘Brooklyn’ with her line of vessels, moved along close to the beach.’





March 10, 1886


In answer to your several questions regarding the use of and benefit of the Coston Signals, you know very well that I have always been a strenuous advocated for their use. Having had the benefit of them when I commanded on the Mississippi, and also at the attack and capture of Fort Fisher, I am able to speak understandingly.

My first experience with the value of the Coston Signals was on the Mississippi, where the numerous gunboats were passing up and down the river and using them to exchange signals with each other. When your husband invented the signals which bear his name, he conferred a benefit on the navy which you could hardly have been repaid.

The signals by night are very much more useful than the signals by day made with flags, for at night the signals can be so plainly read that mistakes are impossible, and a commander-in-chief can keep up a conversation with one of his vessels distant several miles, and say what is required almost as well as if he were talking to the captain in his cabin. This was the case in the Mississippi and also in the North Atlantic Squadron during the war, where we read hundreds of these signals (nay, thousands), which were frequently kept going all night long.

One can easily judge of the perfection of the Coston Signals when they were made from a hundred vessels with rarely a mistake.

I shall never forget the beautiful sight presented at ten o’clock at night when Fort Fisher fell. I was determined to be a little extravagant on that occasion, and telegraphed the signals to all creation that the great fort had fallen and the last entrance to the Southern coast was closed. The order was given to send up rockets without stint and to burn the Coston Signals at all the yard-arms, mast-heads, along the bulwarks, and wherever on shipboard a light could show. The sea and shore were illuminated with splendor seldom equaled, and no doubt the dazed inmates of Fort Fisher were for a moment under the impression that the heavens had opened with all their glory to honor the good work that the soldiers and sailors had accomplished.

What could there be more beautiful than the Coston Signals on that occasion, and what more could I say of them?

Yours truly and respectfully,

(99-100) Admiral, U. S. Navy

Related links:
(Search for books on Civil War women--comprehensive selection)
(New Orleans newspaper article on film being made on Loreta Janeta
Velazquez, a.k.a., Lt. Harry T. Buford, CSA)
(Maggie McLean's wonderful webpage that is chock full of biographical entries on dozens of Civil War women)
(A new book by Richard Hall, Women of the Civil War Battlefront (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2006) is now available and on his site, see "Known but to God": Female Soldiers in the Civil War")
(The Minerva Center, Inc., of Pasadena, Md., the only international center
dedicated to the study of women's military history, headed by Dr. Linda Grant De Pauw)
(Society for Women and the Civil War, see particularly their annual conference information, one of the best and most fun you'll ever attend)
(V. Betts listing of Civil War newspapers with articles on the women soldiers)
(Site for purchase of DVD ?The Unsexing of Emma Edmonds,? a documentary on S. Emma E. Edmonds, a.k.a, Pvt. Franklin Thompson, 2nd Michigan Infantry Regt.)
(Search by C. Kay Larson for Great Necessities:  The Life, Times, and
Writings of Anna Ella Carroll, 1815-1894
, Pres. Abraham Lincoln's female
political adviser;
South Under a Prairie Sky: The Journal of Nell Churchill, US Army Nurse & Scout, also see




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