Women in combat? Been there, done that
Approximately 400 women fought in a survived the war.
Recently, the United States military authorized the deployment of women in active combat. However, women have seen combat in every American war since the foundation of the Republic. Who were these women and why did they go to such lengths to conceal their sex? The American Civil War was unique with women being photographed and extensively documented serving as soldiers.
Frances Clalin, wife, mother, drinker, smoker, and deadly cavalryman. Pretty good at poker too.
These women sometimes even fought with distinction, felling enemy soldiers with equal alacrity as their male counterparts, and sometimes even more so.
The Daily Mail features a series of images and a short article featuring stories such as that of Union cavalryman, Jack Williams, who comrades described as "a hard-drinking, tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed son of a gun." Deadly with a pistol and a sword, Jack could also hold his own at the poker table.
Jack was wounded three times and captured once, and only later revealed to be a woman - Frances Clalin, a mother of three. She joined to stay with her husband.
When he was killed at the battle of Stone's River, she stepped over his body and charged as ordered. She was subsequently wounded herself and discharged when she was discovered to be female.
In fact, many women joined and fought alongside their husbands. The effort required of them was great because they had, at all times, to conceal their sex. This was probably much more difficult than the more commonly cited challenge of "keeping up with the boys." Many women of the period tended to be hardy, given the rigors of life on the farms of the western United States and back then, much as today, have always been capable of matching pace.
It is a myth that women are incapable of serving as well as men. Despite popular belief, when it comes to war, women have been there, done that.
However, in the male-dominated culture of the 19th century, women who were discovered were immediately discharged and sent home.
Some women were not discovered until they were wounded and surgeons attempted to treat them. It is also likely that hundreds of women went unrecognized, either keeping silent after the war, or being lost as casualties and sharing many of the mass graves prepared after battle.
Many women who served later returned to life as wives and mothers, a few penning their stories to share with future generations.
At least one female soldier found life as a man easier, so much so that she chose to go about as a man for the rest of her life. Jennie Hodgers fought in forty battles as Albert Cashier. After the war, she continued to pass herself off as a man and enjoyed the right to vote. Her doctor discovered that he was a she in 1910, but agreed to keep her secret. She lived the rest of her days in a veteran's home.
By the time of her death her true identity was revealed but she was still buried in her Union uniform and her tombstone bears both names.
The women soldiers of the Civil War are an inspiring story of those who remain so devoted to their husbands or to causes, that they will endure any hardship to support them. They did not serve to buck traditional gender roles or to usurp society, but rather to promote the welfare of their families and states. For this, we can regard them with honor and pride and accord each the recognition they deserve.
It's also important to recognize that women are no strangers to war.
© 2013, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Civil War, women, gender roles, combat, identity, Frances Clalin
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