Prologue: Selected Articles
Spring 1993, Vol. 25, No. 1
Women Soldiers of the Civil War, Part 2
By DeAnne Blanton
© 1993 by DeAnne Blanton
|Discharge document for a soldier with "Sextual incompatibility." (NARA, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's—1917, RG 94)|
The Union CMSR for John Williams of the Seventeenth Missouri Infantry, Company H, shows that the nineteen-year-old soldier enlisted as a private on October 3, 1861, in St. Louis and was mustered into the regiment on the seventh. Later that month, Williams was discharged on the grounds: "proved to be a woman."(8) The Confederate CMSR for Mrs. S. M. Blaylock, Twenty-sixth North Carolina Infantry, Company F, states:
This lady dressed in men's clothes, Volunteered [sic], received bounty and for two weeks did all the duties of a soldier before she was found out, but her husband being discharged, she disclosed the fact, returned the bounty, and was immediately discharged April 20, 1862.(9)
Another woman documented in the records held by the AGO was Mary Scaberry, alias Charles Freeman, Fifty-second Ohio Infantry. Scaberry enlisted as a private in the summer of 1862 at the age of seventeen. On November 7 she was admitted to the General Hospital in Lebanon, Kentucky, suffering from a serious fever. She was transferred to a hospital in Louisville, and on the tenth, hospital personnel discovered "sexual incompatibility [sic]." In other words, the feverish soldier was female. Like John Williams, Scaberry was discharged from Union service.(10)
Not all of the women soldiers of the Civil War were discharged so quickly. Some women served for years, like Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye, and others served the entire war, like Albert D. J. Cashier. These two women are the best known and most fully documented of all the women combatants.
|Sarah Edmonds Seelye served two years in the Second Michigan Infantry as Franklin Thompson (right). In 1886, she received a military pension. (Courtesy of the State Archives of Michigan)|
Records from the AGO show that Sarah Edmonds, a Canadian by birth, assumed the alias of Franklin Thompson and enlisted as a private in the Second Michigan Infantry in Detroit on May 25, 1861. Her duties while in the Union army included regimental nurse and mail and despatch carrier. Her regiment participated in the Peninsula campaign and the battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Antietam. On April 19, 1863, Edmonds deserted because she acquired malaria, and she feared that hospitalization would reveal her gender. In 1867 she married L. H. Seelye, a Canadian mechanic. They raised three children. In 1886 she received a government pension based upon her military service. A letter from the secretary of war, dated June 30 of that year, acknowledged her as "a female soldier who . . . served as a private . . . rendering faithful service in the ranks." Sarah Edmonds Seelye died September 5, 1898, in Texas.(11)
AGO records also reveal that on August 3, 1862, a nineteen-year-old Irish immigrant named Albert D. J. Cashier, described as having a light complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair, enlisted in the Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry. Cashier served steadily until August 17, 1865, when the regiment was mustered out of the Federal army. Cashier participated in approximately forty battles and skirmishes in those long, hard four years.
After the war, Cashier worked as a laborer, eventually drew a pension, and finally went to live in the Quincy, Illinois, Soldiers' Home. In 1913 a surgeon at the home discovered that Albert D. J. Cashier was a woman. A public disclosure of the finding touched off a storm of sensational newspaper stories, for Cashier had lived her entire adult life as a man. None of Cashier's former comrades-in-arms ever suspected that he was a she. Apparently, neither did the commandant at the Soldiers' Home. She died October 11, 1914, in an insane asylum.(12) [A deposition from a fellow soldier taken in 1915 revealed that her deception was quite complete.]
|Albert D. J. Cashier (Courtesy of the Illinois State Historical Library)|
|Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.|