The Civil War Ended
The Civil War ended up being a turning point for many women. Women were required to remain at home to cook, clean and take care of their families, while their spouses went to the front line. Even though, women were prohibited from battling in the war, regardless they had critical roles to satisfy. Various women went up against the roles of medical caretakers, spies, promoters of ladies’ suffrage, a supporter of social equality, and so forth. But a few women were brave enough to disguise as men and progressed toward becoming soldiers to battle in the Civil War.
During the Civil War, women were focused on things going on outside their homes, especially the war. Tremendous amounts of American women from the Northern and Southern states came together to help troops and work as nurses. It was the first time in American history that women played a significant role in a war effort (History.com). When the Civil War begin on April 12, 1861, women created aid societies that helped Union and Confederate troops as well. They planted gardens; canned food, cooked; sewed uniforms, blankets, and socks; and did laundry for the troops (Rowen).
That was not enough for some women, because they wanted to have a more active role that would allow them to be on the battle field. In June 1861, the Sanitary Commission was created, which was a preventive hygienic and sanitary service for the benefit of the army (History.com). The Sanitary Commission’s goal was to prevent infections and diseases in army hospitals and camps and to give help to the wounded and sick soldiers. Clara Barton was one of the famous nurses in the Civil War. She was a clerk in the U.S. patent office that would attend local battle fields and provide medical supplies to the soldiers in need. Barton became known as The Angel of the Battlefield (Allen).
Hundreds of women took the role of spies in the Civil War.
Women spies would collect information about the opposing side, troop sizes, supplies and barricades on little pieces of paper. They even fabric and sewed them into their clothing or sometimes, put the paper in their hair. Women were perfect as spies because they could be trusted easily. Soldiers would let their guard down, due to the women’s beauty. Men didn’t think women would be involved in a dangerous job. Harriet Tubman, who was a union spymaster, set a big spy ring in the south. Tubman would send African- American men to pose as servants in order to gather intelligence for the Union army” (Brooks).
Some women still felt that working as nurses or spies wasn’t enough. So, they took it a step further and disguised as men. More than 400 women disguised themselves as men and fought in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War (History.com). It really wasn’t that hard for women to disguise as men because they were surrounded by teenage boys. To enlist in the Union army the age requirement was 18, in which younger boys would lie about their age. For the Confederate army, there wasn’t a minimum age requirement. Women would bound their breasts, layered on clothes, wore loose clothing, cut their hair short, rubbed dirt on their faces, and spoke less (Righthand). If some women got injured or sick, then they would leave because they were terrified of being caught.
Sarah Rosetta Wakemen enlisted as Private Lyons Wakemen and served as a private in the 153rd New York Infantry Regiment (Rowen). In 1854, she went to battle in Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. Unfortunately, after the battle, she became extremely ill and passed away at the Marine General Hospital in New Orleans. Her true gender was not known at the time of her death. So, her headstone still says Lyons Wakeman.
Sarah Emma Edmonds, originally from Canada and her alias Franklin Thompson, enlisted in the Second Michigan Infantry in May 1861. Her regiment participated in the Peninsula Campaign and the battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Antietam (MacLean). She deserted in April 1863 because she got malaria and was scared that if she was hospitalized, she would be discovered. Years later, Edmonds became a mother and wife, was cleared of her desertion and received a pension.
When the war ended on April 9, 1865, most American women’s lives would not be the same. Sadly, most of the women’s husbands didn’t return home to their families. Many families lost their homes and property and struggled to make ends meet, especially in the South (Women in the Civil War). Some women had to start finding work from outside of their homes. Believe it or not, a few women found enjoyment in their war experiences because it gave them freedom and independence. Also, a lot of women were against of going back to the roles they portrayed before the war.
The Civil War put a lot of stress on women. For those women who decided to stay home and help their families, they worried nonstop about their loved one’s safety. Women would even gather at train stations to hear names of the soldiers who had died. That’s when some women would try to be busy to help them not feel anxious. In the north, women would take industrial positions that were open to them. Other northern women would work in the office as civil service workers, also known as government girls (Women in the Civil War).
Not surprisingly, the Civil War was harder on southern women, since most of the battles were fought in the south. Southern women had to constantly worry about the safety of their homes and providing enough food for their children. Most Southern women returned, finding their homes destroyed and their crops burned. Most of the northern troops conquered major southern cities such as New Orleans, Nashville, Atlanta and Richmond. Since some of the cities were captured at the end of the war, numerous women had to leave their homes and now were refugees.
During the Civil War, many women’s rights activists supported the abolition of slavery, so they protested to ensure that the war would end slavery. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony established the Women’s National Loyal League (MacLean). The goal for the group was to immediately end slavery and for freed black slaves to have full citizenship rights. At the May 1863 gathering of the Lady’s National Loyal League, Lucy Stone informed the members that women did not have the privilege to cast a ballot yet, but rather the “U.S. Constitution ensures all citizens have the privilege to appeal to the government” (MacLean).
Stanton and Anthony published an “Appeal to the Women of the Republic” (MacLean) in the New York Tribune to an anti-slavery newspaper. They protested the Appeal as a tract that included the call for a convention. Anthony opened the convention and chose Lucy Stone as the president of the assembly. The convention had many well-known figures such as Martha Wright, Amy Post, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Angelina Grimke and Ernestine Rose.
In February 1864, the League’s first 100,000 signatures (MacLean) were sent to Senator Charles Sumner. He accepted the petitions with his speech The Prayer of 100,000 (MacLean). During the next two years, they got help from numerous other leading feminists. Due to the success for its work, the League collected at least 400,000 signatures. Before the war ended with the help of their signatures, combined with other voices and pressure from Lincoln, persuaded the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to pass the Thirteenth Amendment for abolishing slavery (MacLean). In December 1865, 13th amendment became a law because it got enough state votes.
Overall, the Civil War turned out to impact women for the better, even though many lives were lost. For a long time, men have always been looked at as a hero or warrior. This wasn’t the first-time women tried to be independent for themselves, but also show that they were capable of doing the duties men could do. Women were scared to stand up for a long time, but when they did stand up and had support behind them, people couldn’t ignore them anymore because they were too powerful. That’s why today, women are fulfilling these big roles and can be in the army and fight for their country.