The Secret Soldiers Of The Civil War

“Women are more powerful than they think.” —Louise Burfitt-Dons

In A Nutshell

Despite the fact that women were not allowed to serve in either the Union or Confederate forces as soldiers, many women were involved in actual combat and secretly served alongside their male counterparts. Many of these women conducted themselves with great bravery and only were sent home when an injury in battle gave them away. It is hard to be sure of the exact number as the military never officially acknowledged it at the time, and many hid their secrets successfully throughout their entire army careers.

The Whole Bushel

The American Civil War is one of the most tragic events in United States history. The country practically tore itself apart, and the death toll on both sides was catastrophic. Perhaps then it shouldn’t be too surprising that the women of the time had reasons for wanting to fight in the war just as much as any of the men did. And according to historians, many women did just that and took up arms to fight in the war, both for the Union and the Confederacy. Now, it was very much illegal for a woman to serve in the army by both the rules of both groups, and it would seem with physical examinations that it would be pretty hard to sneak through. However, the circumstances of the time uniquely allowed women to blend right in.

The reason for this was that at the time so many people were dying in the war so quickly that both sides were desperate to increase their size of their respective armies. What this meant for the women who wanted to fight in open combat was that rigorous physical examinations weren’t taking place. This also meant that while the warring factions were usually against taking children, they ended up taking whoever could operate a weapon and run into battle. Many teenagers signed up for war and with all the kids whose voices hadn’t fully changed, it wasn’t particularly hard for a woman to sneak in. The female soldiers would simply cut their hair, hide their breasts, and dress in male clothes.

These brave soldiers didn’t always avoid getting caught though. While historical records show that one woman was able to keep her identity secret all through the war and even earn a military pension, others have not been so lucky. One firsthand account describes a secret female soldier, who for a time was guarding another female soldier who was in jail for sneaking into the army. Also, a teenage girl named Lizzie Compton was determined to fight in the war and, despite being kicked out for being a woman after being wounded in battle, she never gave up. In all the hectic bustle of the Civil War, people weren’t exactly paying close attention, so she just kept joining up with different groups and getting kicked out again. Many women also served as nurses or in other dangerous positions quite openly, but the actual number of female soldiers is hard to quantify. Some historians say the number may be as high as 250, or possibly much higher. Due to the secrecy that was naturally involved, there is obviously no definitive record on the issue.

To make matters even more muddled, the Army spent several decades after the war refusing to even admit that women had served among their ranks. The official line was that there was no record of such events ever taking place, even though it was obvious to the people who had known them that women fought bravely alongside men during the American Civil War.

Show Me The Proof

Smithsonian: The Women Who Fought in the Civil War
Prologue Magazine: Women Soldiers of the Civil War
Washington Post: Women soldiers fought, bled and died in the Civil War, then were forgotten

  • ArtieDoescher

    which type of secret soldier use in the Civil war?

  • Hillyard

    Women have served bravely from the revolution to today. I’m not surprised that the military did not want to acknowledge their service as the general public would have been horrified. Today they serve openly in combat zones and as of April 2013 143 brave women deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan were killed in action.

    • Chester

      yup and today its stupid….No women should be allowed to serve in a Combat area plain and simple from the simple fact 90% of them are not physically fit enough to carry a 200lb injured man to the fact that their capture and death is a huge public relations nightmare..Couple that with the fact that on a combat base if you even look at a women the wrong way you can be thrown out of the military, and that combat doesn’t work like a tea party and off the collar jokes between soldiers are often made into huge deals by female troops and officers (perfectly ok to blow someones head off but if i say Corporal Janes got a big ass im the bad guy)…If women want to be in the military they should have to comply and follow the same physical and mental standards a man does, no special treatment and if you cant hack it the military shouldn’t be dumbed down to make you “equal”.

      • Hillyard

        In somewhere like Iraq or Afghanistan there is no rear area. With today’s weapons attacks happen more than just on the front line. In addition insurgents don’t stick to the front lines they hide out among the civilians. The women don’t need to go to the combat zones, the combat comes to them. And to say just don’t send them over there is ridiculous, they do so many jobs now that there would be a shortage of combat support personnel without them. A lot of them want, and have earned the right to fight along side their brothers-in-arms. And I seriously doubt any female soldier is going to complain about sexual harassment during a fire fight.

        • Chester

          Its not during a fire fight its the 95% of the time when your not actually firing a weapon and i have friends who will attest to the fact that alot of good male soldiers where thrown off tour because a women complained about their swearing, off collar and colorful jokes and them just being guys. A perfect example my friend told me was a time a Male corporal called a female PFC an easy lay if she didn’t have such jungle bush and was promptly kicked off tour and charged with sexual harassment (the charges were dropped )… Women should 100% not be in a forward area,should not be allowed to do any combat patrols and in all honesty shouldn’t even be in a position where they need to hold a weapon…Title 9 shouldn’t apply to Military, Fire or Police and i personally would not feel safe or comfortable with a 120lb girl watching my flank.

          • Will

            “a Male corporal called a female PFC an easy lay if she didn’t have such jungle bush…” If you can’t see what’s wrong with that comment, I feel sorry for you. There’s a difference between joking with a friend and sexually inappropriate comments. Being in the army doesn’t give you the right to be an ass.

          • Chester

            Blow a guys head off…OK,…..Bayonet a man to death then spit on his corpse….OK…Drop a 2000lb bomb on a house…OK…Make a comment on a Pfc’s Bush….Thats where you draw the line…..Ever been in a locker room, thats kinda how guys are everywhere, Army has a real locker room mentality and if you get your panties in a knot about an off the collar joke about your bush than whats gonna happen when some taliban terrorists hops the fucking wire and comes at you with his AK-47?? “mr taliban your comments are rude, mr taliban your being aggressive”. When your job is literally Killing people an inappropriate comment shouldn’t be a big deal.

          • Lisa 39

            Hi chester, i have a question, did your friend ever make jokes about the other guys like that? If he makes jokes about everyones bush then she may have over reacted but if he singled her out then she had every right to be offended.

          • Chester

            Yes, hed call other guys in his squad marry s, or theyd tease each other about being homosexual or liking a particular sports team or living in a particular place…”your from Alabama you must fuck your cousin” shit like that.

          • Lisa 39

            Ok, i get guy humor, i participate in it lol but does he specifically make jokes about other guys bush’s? And if he knew she was a crybaby doing a captain then he should’ve left her out of the fun, on the other side of the coin, a woman in combat should expect locker room humor and not be dropping her pants for authority figures, that makes her look like a sleep your way to the top floozy, look chester, our coin has a third side, that captain should’ve kept it in his pants and not taken her butthurt to that extreme, bottom line, i can see where they were all at fault but i don’t think the punishment fit the crime, chester, don’t lump all military women into that one stereotype, for every one woman like her there are 100 good soldiers that we don’t hear about 🙂

          • Chester

            He knew she was a crybaby the point is the Army is supposed to be Team..Not You and if she doesnt understand that she shouldnt be there….alot of women sleep around with officers and NCO’s its kinda a known thing no one really talks about.

          • Lisa 39

            You’re definitely right about being a team, that whole situation sucked, i’m sorry that it happened like that and it makes me understand why you’re against women being there, maybe someday the world will be a better place and people won’t suck so bad, til then we can hang out at lv and bitch about the idiots XD

          • ScepticSid

            How about if it was someone like Lyudmila Pavlichenko watching your flank.


          • Chester

            She was a sniper not a combat patrol soldier, big difference…Also id be cool with it shes a burley one, she could probably carry me out of a combat zone lol. I did say that if you couldnt meet the same mental and physical requirements a man has to than you shouldn’t be allowed..If a woman is completely capable than i have 0 problem, what my problem is that when their not capable and still provided the same opportunity as someone who is then its wrong. I doubt very highly that 99% of women in the military today would ever have been able to hold up to the way the military was in the 40’s-70’s…Full Metal Jacket is a pretty accurate representation of Boot Camp, Boot Camp today mine as well be Called Day Care.

          • Hillyard

            So your friend makes one remark to her, which sounds as if it were not only sexist, but racist to boot, one time and he gets booted and faces charges. She is allegedly screwing the CO (a charge I’ve heard leveled at a number of good female soldiers) or some other officer. Why does this sound like BS. If it was a one time thing, no commander worth his collar is going to send someone that is needed out of a combat zone. Summary Article 15 w/extra duty and an ass chewing. A pattern of behavior like this could cause the CO to boot the person in question. While some level of locker room talk and bs should be expected ‘you’d be an easy lay if you didn’t have such a jungle bush’ is a bit above and beyond that. Just as guys call each other fags, asshole, make comments about ‘yo mama’ etc female soldiers should not complain about a bit of the same – this includes hearing the word bitch thrown at them once in a while. Trust me female soldiers throw that at each other like a frisbee. There is crossing the line, a counseling statement at first, a summary A15 if that doesn’t work and perhaps stronger measures when necessary. These women are standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts, what hurts their morale, hurts the unit.
            And finally I am well aware of the fact a small percentage of female soldier get promoted on their backs. Eventually that runs out or backfires on them.

          • lbatfish

            It did sound a bit off to me, but not knowing both side of the story — and never having never been in the service — I wasn’t really in a very good position to comment.

            On the same sort of topic, I wonder how a male serviceman would feel about a group of women servicemen (including his superior) calling him things like “fag” or “pindick”? I would think it would feel a bit worse than if a group of males had done it (and when something like that does happen, I’d like to see the female-offenders called onto the carpet for it, too). As you said, what hurts morale hurts the unit.

          • Chester

            Women are given.preferential treatment.

          • Chester

            There had been 3 alleged sexual assaults on that base by bulgarian n 1 us troop and they kicked people off for having a fucking beer….was 0 tolerance , tgey want troops to be saints and soldiers n it doesnt work. gambling was frowned upon…

      • Jimmy

        I partly agree with you. The standards shouldn’t be lowered just for equality and it is a fact that more men than women would meet the requirements. However, even if 99% of women can’t cope, shouldn’t the 1% who can be allowed to serve?

        • Chester

          Yes but not in combat roles for 3 reasons. If captured she would more than likely be raped and that threat makes her extremely susceptible to interrogation. If killed creates a major PR nightmare and makes the army ability to get the job done effectively without distractions far more difficult. Finally it could create inner company conflict (say she starts sleeping with 1 soldier and dumps him) thats just not good for a front line military unit…granted conflicts do occur but one of such a private and sexual nature is far more damaging..

          • Jimmy

            Solution 1) Train them in anti-interrogation techniques. The threat of rape is just a variation on the other threats captives are subjected to and if we assume that male soldiers can be trained to resist the threat of death and injury, then women soldiers should be capable of resisting the threat of rape.

            Solution 2) Forget PR. A soldiers duty puts them at risk of getting killed. They accept that and so should the public. Besides the British women soldiers killed in Afghanistan didn’t create any fuss beyond the regular reactions to the death of any soldier.

            Solution 3) Make all female units. Then it would be no different from the ones with all male soldiers.

          • Chester

            1. Forget PR…did you learn nothing from vietnam.

            2. All female units wouldnt work because you dont have all female bases.

            3.threat of rape is far mor serious and effective than physicsl todture.imagine a captured woman being raped on film and having that put on the internet how is that going to look.

          • Jimmy

            1. The problem in Vietnam was because people felt it was an unjust war and a waste of life. My comment stands because I said it would make no difference if it was the death of a woman or a man but you argued that people would get more upset over a woman’s death. They haven’t so far and won’t in the future.

            2. And you don’t have all female units. Make all female bases for the all female units.

            3. The film of rape isn’t going to get information out the captive. It would cause trouble at home but it would not work as an interrogative weapon. Besides would it be any worse than a film of a soldier getting tortured normally? No, it wouldn’t but you are happy to risk that footage ending up on the internet.

            Problems remain solved.

          • Chester

            Your comment doesnt stand because everytime a female soldier was killed or captured in iraq it was a pr distraction.

            You cannot just make female bases you dont understand how the military works.

            Degredation an humiliation such as rape and having it put on the internet makes it an effective technique for interogation nd creates a huge PR nightmare as i said in #1.

          • Jimmy

            You keep saying it would be a PR distraction but I have never seen anything like it. Perhaps you could provide some examples.

            You could just make female bases. It’s just an administrative decision; at least it is in the UK. I wasn’t aware that the US military was an unresponsive bureaucratic mess, but it might be, I don’t know. Besides I don’t think segregated bases are necessary. I was just solving the issues you thought might occur.

            Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough for you. I accept that degradation and humiliation are effective interrogation techniques but as I said, we accept that our male soldiers are sufficiently well trained to resist such techniques so we should be able to accept that women could resist the same techniques if trained to do so.

          • Chester

            1.How the fuck are you gonna get all female bases…its not administrative it makes no sense! You have to be qualified in certain things to be on a base (ammo tech, officers, cooks etc)..You cant just go ooh yup female base no problem lets do that..Not only that if you did youd have female officers there with next to no experience commanding a front line base, if i was a terrorist id be licking my chops.

            2. Jessica Lynch, Shoshana Johnson enough said.

            3. Some Links about Women An PTSD and Suicide being far higher then their male counterparts meaning that they arnt as mentally capable..



          • Jimmy

            1. It is administrative. The military decides it wants all female bases so it gathers together the necessary personnel and if necessary trains them. That takes time. No one is suggesting it would happen over night. It could happen if people wanted it to but it wont because you are the only person who thinks it is necessary.

            2. The stories of those two would have been no different if they were men. Besides which they were not even close to the PR disasters you were claiming and would not in any way have hindered the army’s ability to conduct warfare effectively.

            3. If you read the articles you would have seen that it says women aren’t more likely to commit suicide than men.
            “Despite the findings, the survey shows that the suicide risk is still higher for men serving in Afghanistan or Iraq than it is for women soldiers”-taken from the Daily Mail article.

            The other article is a prime example of the media manipulating the truth. The study was conducted on people who already had PTSD and were then in essence trained to be afraid. It in no way shows that women are more likely to suffer from PTSD.

            You’re clutching at straws here. You haven’t put forward a decent argument for your last three comments and I’m beginning to doubt you actually have any expertise, instead of merely being a sexist.

          • Chester

            Name the 4 other soldiers captured in Iraq…oh wait you cant because they were male and wernt mentioned again after the initial circumstance… Its higher in men because there’s disproportionately more men serving per capita female suicide is way way higher.

          • Jimmy

            I couldn’t even name those two women; I had to look them up. Gender made no difference.

            As for the claim that female suicide is higher than men per capita then you are shooting your own arguments down. For starters, it’s higher for men per capita (21 in 100,000 opposed to 15 in 100,000 for women). Secondly, for female suicide to be higher then would need to be more women soldiers than men but you said “there’s disproportionately more men serving, which completely contradicts your argument.

            If you want to continue this discussion, you need to improve your arguments. They are contradictory, full of malapropisms and quite frankly it’s getting depressing.

          • Chester

            I failed to mention the biggest reason….we are engaged in a conflict in muslim countries and said people dont like women in authority and dont like them unvieled not wearing religious garments…pissing an entire peoples off just having women present not exactly a good idea to loose a countrys hearts and minds.

          • Jimmy

            That is a good reason. When you’re fighting with the ANA you don’t want to be annoying them with female soldiers.
            But that doesn’t mean women can’t be in the military. We are not going to be in a perpetual conflict in Islamic states and soon we may be fighting against people with no problem sending women into the war zones. Would we be able to afford to leave part of society unutilised in a future war? Probably not if you look at our potential adversaries.

            In addition,part of the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan is to install rights for women so to just accept what they want and keep women out seems completely pointless.

  • Matthew Messerly

    Some were found dead on the battlefield or had their identity discovered in field hospitals after being wounded, so they most definitely fought.