Contribution of Women in the Civil War

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When it comes to the evaluation of the significance of the Civil War, many tend to put emphasis on the relationship between the races as well as the desire of one party, the Confederacy, to maintain the preferred social order, namely slavery. However, there is another kind of relations that is often overlooked when it comes to the analysis of this armed conflict gender relationships. While many believe that the war in question was fought by men against men, the contribution of women tends to be in the shadow and is perceived as less significant. This is a serious historical injustice since when all aspects of that time are taken into account, one will be able to notice that women contributed to the war effort from both sides significantly. During the Civil War women provided war relief, served as nurses, soldiers, and even spies which makes them an inseparable part of that armed conflict.

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Women Providing War Relief

To begin with, it is worth focusing on the place that women traditionally occupied in the society in the eighteenth century. Being deprived of a chance to get education, they usually worked as manual workers and were employed at jobs of varying difficulty[1]. It is obvious that wives of upper-class men did not work, but the important point to be mentioned here is that the division of labor was largely performed based on stereotypical gender characteristics[2]. As a result, during the Civil War women would often make a contribution that they did during the peaceful times, but on a larger scale: they would cook food, repair clothes, take care of the laundry and so on. No matter how insignificant one might see this, this kind of war effort was essential for keeping an army operational. That is why there is a lot ofinjustice in the fact that this contribution of women has been overlooked by many.

In addition to that, there were also activities that contributed to the war efforts and were not considered to be a stereotypical womens work. A good example is Sanitary Fair which was hosted in Chicago in 1863: this was an event that was designed to raise money for the army[3]. One should point out that at the time this was considered to be a significant step in letting women do some important social job as prior to that women also organized some fund-raising events, but they were not directly linked to any significant social issues. Therefore, the ability of women to find money for the army was greatly valued at the time because money was needed to ensure that the funding did not stop which contributed to the ultimate victory of the military forces.

Women Serving as Nurses

Now, it may be logical to turn to another aspect of the contribution of women to the war efforts serving as nurses. In spite of the fact that today female nurses on the battlefield are seen as something ordinary, it was quite a big novelty at the time. Florence Nightingale set an example during the Crimean War which inspired numerous women all over the world. Many women, for example, Dorothea Dix, would become full-time nurses during the war[4]. If one develops a broad perspective on this issue, one will be able to notice that it was indeed a serious step forward since it showed that women can do something more than just their domestic chores on a large scale. Once again, it is worth mentioning that seeing women as nurses were quite unusual at the time; so, the women who volunteered to be nurses were extremely brave.

However, it is not only administration of hospitals and taking care of the wounded that women did as nurses. There were numerous examples of nurses that would go the battlefield and help the soldiers under such extremely dangerous conditions. Clara Barton is one of such nurses: she took care of the soldiers not only in the hospital, but also during th? battles; that is why she received an honorary title Angel of the Battlefield[5]. The key point that needs to be emphasized here is that by allowing women on the battlefield, the military acknowledged that women were able to make a significant contribution that was highly valued. According to the laws of the time, women were banned from the military; therefore, their presence on the battlefield as nurses as close as they could get to make a direct contribution to the war effort without violating the applicable laws.

Women Serving as Soldiers

As it has already been mentioned, the laws of the time prohibited women from serving in the army. However, it is suggested that as many as over 400 women were able to find their way into the military by disguising themselves as men[6]. For modern day people, this might sound somewhat unbelievable; however, after all, aspects have been considered, one might find that this was quite possible. The example of Frances Clayton is quite interesting: she disguised herself as Frances Clalin and served as a soldier[7]. It is quite obvious that at the time the need for soldiers was high; so, the recruiters did not question a person who was willing to volunteer. The important point to note here is that such example as that of Clayton shows that women were dissatisfied with the place that they had in the society and were willing to make a contribution to the war effort as much as men did.

It may be rather difficult to estimate the actual number of women who served in the army during the Civil War for a number of reasons. First of all, they directly violated the applicable legislation which meant that neither them, nor the army would actually report that number since it was against the rules. In addition to that, the only war for women to be discovered was when they were examined by the doctors in the hospital after they were wounded. That is why it is quite possible that many women died on the battlefield and were not ever discovered. In addition to that, they might have refrained from going to the hospital because they knew that that would destroy their disguise. All this leads to the understanding that there is evidence that many women were willing to contribute to the war effort as much as men did.

Women Serving as Spies

Finally, there is one last aspect that needs to be mentioned when it comes to evaluating the contribution of women during the Civil War many of them served as spied. Given all the roles that were mentioned above, namely a war relief worker, a nurse, and a soldier, one might speculate that being a spy is the most extreme role that women were able to play during the war. From the letters of Sarah E. Thompson, we know that she did her best to serve the Union as much as she could. Though she may have simply talked to some soldiers and visited balls, she was actually collecting important information that was later needed by the army[8]. That is why it is possible that womens ability to affect men and maintain interesting conversation appeared to be quite helpful during the war.

The important point that needs to be mentioned specifically is that there were female spies on both sides. For example, Rose O’Neal served as a spy for the Confederacy and warned her friend in personal correspondence about the importance of sending correct information, which can be used so as to counteract the Yankee accounts[9]. This shows that O’Neal understood the basics of information warfare and tried to do her best to spread the truthful information about her friends so that they would get an objective view of the actions of the Confederate army. With this in mind, one might speculate that this woman was way ahead of her time because she understood the role that information played during the war. As a result, one might come to the understanding that women were able to play all kind of roles during the Civil War.

Conclusion

Having examined all the points that were mentioned in the paragraphs above, one is able to come to the following conclusion: during the Civil, War women assumed a wide variety of roles ranging from stereotypical to most extreme. Thus, women served as war relief workers and performed their domestic duties on a large scale. This was considered to be the most appropriate way for women to make their contribution to the war effort. Some women were brave enough to serve as nurses: they took care of the soldiers on and behind the battlefield. These women were greatly inspired by the example of Florence Nightingale. There also were women who disguised themselves as soldiers and fought with men. The only time their true identity was discovered was when they were wounded and required medical attention. Finally, the evidence shows that there were many women who served as spies.

Bibliography

  1. Beard, Rick. “From Civil War to Civil Rights: The Opportunities of the Civil War.” History News 66, no. 3 (2011): 12-18. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42654328.
  2. Devine, Shauna. “”To Make Something Out of the Dying in This War”: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science.” Journal of the Civil War Era 6, no. 2 (2016): 149-63. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26070401.
  3. Madway, Lorraine. “Purveying Patriotic Pageantry: The Civil War Sanitary Fairs in New York.” New York History 93, no. 4 (2012): 268-301. doi:10.2307/newyorkhist.93.4.268.
  4. Marshall, Anne E. “A “Sisters War”: Kentucky Women and Their Civil War Diaries” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 110, no. 3/4 (2012): 481-502. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23388059.
  5. O’Neal, Rose. “Letter to Alexander Boteler.” n.d. Accessed April 07, 2018. https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/greenhow/1863-12-10/1863-12-10.html.
  6. Sizer, Lyde Cullen. “Mapping the Spaces of Women’s Civil War History.” Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 4 (2011): 536-48. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26070167.
  7. Szpila, Kathleen. “Lest We Forget: Ellen Ryan Jolly and the Nuns of the Battlefield Monument.” American Catholic Studies 123, no. 4 (2012): 23-43. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44195438.
  8. Thompson, Sarah E. “Sarah Thompson’s Account of Morgan’s Defeat.” n.d. Accessed April 07, 2018. https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/thompson/1864-09-03/1864-09-03.html.
  9. Valentine, Hannah. “Letter to Michael Valentine from Hannah Valentine.” n.d. Accessed April 07, 2018. https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/campbell/1838-01-30/1838-01-30.html.
  10. [1] Devine, Shauna “”To Make Something Out of the Dying in This War”: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science.” Journal of the Civil War Era 6, no. 2 (2016), 149.
  11. [2] Hannah Valentine, “Letter to Michael Valentine from Hannah Valentine,” n.d., accessed April 07, 2018, https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/campbell/1838-01-30/1838-01-30.html.
  12. [3] Marshall, Anne E. “A “Sisters War”: Kentucky Women and Their Civil War Diaries” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 110, no. 3/4 (2012), 492.
  13. [4] Szpila, Kathleen. “Lest We Forget: Ellen Ryan Jolly and the Nuns of the Battlefield Monument.” American Catholic Studies 123, no. 4 (2012), 30.
  14. [5] Sizer, Lyde Cullen “Mapping the Spaces of Women’s Civil War History.” Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 4 (2011), 540.
  15. [6] Madway, Lorraine. “Purveying Patriotic Pageantry: The Civil War Sanitary Fairs in New York.” New York History 93, no. 4 (2012), 275.
  16. [7] Beard, Rick. “From Civil War to Civil Rights: The Opportunities of the Civil War.” History News 66, no. 3 (2011), 15.
  17. [8] Sarah E. Thompson, “Sarah Thompson’s Account of Morgan’s Defeat,” n.d., accessed April 07, 2018, https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/thompson/1864-09-03/1864-09-03.html.
  18. [9] Rose O’Neal, “Letter to Alexander Boteler,” n.d., , accessed April 07, 2018, https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/greenhow/1863-12-10/1863-12-10.html.
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