Women in the Military – Female Soldiers in the Civil War – Confederate and Union Women

Women in the Military – Female Soldiers in the Civil War – Confederate and Union Women

In the American Civil War, which raged from 1861 to 1865, both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. But it is a mistake to think that there were no female soldiers in action.

For many years after the Civil War, the US Army flatly denied that women had played any part in the conflict, making it difficult to know for certain just how many women had served on each side.

The best estimate indicates that the number was at least 750. It’s hard for people today to imagine that women could have passed themselves off as men and served undetected, but life in the military was very different back then. Army recruiters for both the North and South never asked for proof of identity, and they conducted only farcical physical examination. Because there were so many underage boys in the ranks, it was possible for a woman to adopt a male name, cut her hair short, bind her breasts, and pass as a young man.

Most of the male soldiers who served in the war were farmer civilians who had never fired a gun before. Therefore, they were just as ignorant of army life as a similarly oriented woman. Soldiers always slept in their clothes, and many refused to use the massive communal latrines, so many of the women soldiers were detected only by accident.

Loreta Velazquez joined the Confederate Army in order to be close to her fiance. She served under the name Harry T. Buford, wore a false mustache, smoked cigars, and padded her uniform to make herself look more masculine. It wasn’t until she was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and an army doctor examined her that her gender was finally revealed. She was discharged from the military and then wrote a book about her experiences titled “The Woman in Battle.” In it, Velazquez also claims to have worked as a double agent for the Confederacy, usually dressed as a woman.

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