Resource

Women Soldiers

Photographs of women who disguised themselves as men to fight during the Civil War.

Miss F.L. Clayton, 4th Missouri Artillery, wounded in the battles of Shiloh and Stone River

Samuel Masury (photographer), Miss F.L. Clayton, 4th Missouri Artillery, wounded in the battles of Shiloh and Stone River, ca. 1865. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

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Frances L. Clalin [Clayton]

Samuel Masury (photographer), Frances L. Clalin [Clayton], ca. 1865. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C

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Unidentified African American Woman

Unidentified African American Woman, 1861. New-York Historical Society Library.

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Unidentified African American woman in uniform

Unidentified African American woman in uniform, 1861. New-York Historical Society Library.

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Background

Historians have identified about 400 women who disguised themselves as men and enlisted to fight in the American Civil War. They found army records of soldiers who were discovered to be women during their service. Historians also found pension cases for women who revealed themselves after the war ended. It is possible that the number of women soldiers was much higher, since historians only have records for those who were discovered or revealed themselves.

After the war, not every person assigned female at birth returned to life as a woman. Albert D. J. Cashier took the opportunity to establish a new identity as a male citizen. The medical doctor of his unit saw no reason to out a citizen who performed their duty admirably and kept Albert’s transition a secret from the rest of his unit.

About the Image

The first set of photographs shows Frances Clayton in and out of her Union soldier uniform. At the outbreak of the war, Frances and her husband joined the Union Army together, enlisting in different states to make sure Frances was not caught. Frances took the name Jack Williams during her service. After 22 months of fighting side-by-side with her husband, he was killed at the Battle of Stones River. Frances later recalled stepping over her husband’s dead body while trying to escape a Confederate charge. Shortly after the battle, Frances revealed her true identity and the army discharged her. She then traveled the country telling her story to newspapers and lobbying army and government officials to give her the pensions and bounties she and her husband were owed. It is unknown whether she ever received her pension.

The second set of photographs is more mysterious. They clearly depict the same Black woman in and out of Union soldier dress. The photos are included in an album presented to Major M.S. Euan, but there is no identifying information about the subject, or where and why she fought. Her photographs stand as evidence that Black women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War.

Vocabulary

  • bounty: A bonus payment for special services.
  • Confederate: Relating to the group of states that seceded from the United States before the Civil War in order to preserve slavery.
  • enlisted: Joined the armed forces.
  • pension: A sum of money regularly paid to a former soldier for life in recognition of service.
  • Union: The name for the states that remained a part of the United State during the Civil War.

Discussion Questions

  • Why did women have to disguise themselves as men to fight in the Civil War?
  • What dangers did women face when they disguised themselves as soldiers?
  • What do these photograph sets tell us about their subjects?
  • Why is it important to acknowledge the presence of women fighters in the war?
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Suggested Activities

Themes

POWER AND POLITICS; AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP

Source Notes
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