This past Monday, July 1st, was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The carnage dragged on for three bloody days and was fought in sweltering heat. Gettysburg was the Civil War’s deadliest skirmish. The number of dead, wounded, and missing soldiers totaled 46,286. Among the slain were two women disguised as men. Hold-up, what?
Yeah, apparently these women weren’t anomalous; during the Civil War it’s guesstimated roughly 400 women disguised themselves as men and served the Union and Confederate armies. They signed-up for the same reasons as men-love of country, upholding a cause, searching for adventure, or looking to earn money. Because women weren’t permitted to enlist, they had to pose as men; luckily, the physical exam pretty much consisted of, “Can you hold a musket? Good.” After joining they kept to themselves, and many female soldiers’ gender was never exposed.
But, let’s get back to Gettysburg. Though several women actually fought, many others participated, too. They nursed the wounded and dug graves for the deceased. Actually, the Gettysburg Women's Memorial depicts Elizabeth Thorn who, at six-months pregnant, buried 91 dead bodies. Stop; go back and re-read that last sentence to make sure it sank in. Ninety-one! And though she didn’t take part during the confrontation, Mary Virginia “Ginnie” Wade, age 20, was the only civilian death during the Battle of Gettysburg.
So, I encourage you, as we commemorate the 150-year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, remember the ladies. Not just those who disguised themselves as men, but the innumerable other women that contributed, too.
For more information about female soldiers during the Civil War, check-out:
The Women Who Fought in the Civil War
“I Would Have Followed Them Into Battle”
The History Bitch
Podcaster, tea aficionado, Anglophile, 'Game of Thrones' enthusiast.