Saturday, March 15, 2014

Women soldiers fought, bled and died in the Civil War, then were forgotten

Under a deadly barrage of artillery fire, wave after wave of Union troops hurled themselves across an open field outside of Fredericksburg on a bitterly cold mid-December day and charged up a steep hill in a futile attempt to dislodge Confederates dug in atop Marye’s Heights.

By nightfall, nearly 13,000 Union troops lay dead or wounded — double the number of fallen Confederates — and a “young and good-looking” corporal from New Jersey that a comrade described as “a real soldierly, thoroughly military fellow,” was promoted to sergeant for bravery.

One month later, the sergeant, a veteran of the Seven Days Battle and Antietam, gave birth to a baby boy.
The New Jersey sergeant, whose name and fate have been lost to history, was not the only woman disguised as a man fighting at Fredericksburg that day. Sarah Emma Edmonds, using the alias Pvt. Franklin Thompson, spent 12 hours on her horse, often under enemy fire, delivering dispatches as the orderly to Union Gen. Orlando M. Poe.

A teenaged Lizzie Compton, who fellow soldiers knew as Jack or Johnny, was discovered to be a woman only after the battle when military doctors peeled her blue uniform away to treat a shrapnel wound to her side. Discharged — it was illegal to serve in the military as a woman — Compton would go on to reenlist in and be discovered by six more regiments and serve in the Union army a total of 18 months.

In January, the Pentagon agreed to allow women to fight in combat. But what was ignored in that controversial debate was the long-forgotten history of hundreds of American women who had fought bravely in the nation’s wars, won battlefield citations for valor and died on the front lines More here...