Women of the Civil War - OConnor Women of the Civil War...

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O’Connor Women of the Civil War While the Civil War is known for being a war fought due to the strong beliefs and convictions of the opposing men of the North and South, many fail to realize that women had the same enthusiasm and courage as the men battling on the warfront. Many books and movies portray women of the Civil War to be dainty creatures, finding it more fascinating to write about the common life of the average woman instead of the remarkable lives of those women who bravely fought for the cause that they wholeheartedly believed to be true. The fact is that many women saw battle and the war was just as hard on the women as it was on the men. Women were quick to work once the war began—making every preparation for the soldiers. Fund-raisers, sewing, cooking, and showing patriotism was how many women took part in the war. However, the brave women that seemed to be overlooked many times were the ones who became spies, fought on the home front, disguised themselves as men and fought, or became nurses. While the thought of women fighting or even spying in a war seems almost impossible until the twentieth century, the fact is the women have been fighting in America just as long as men. Women served as spies for Washington during the American Revolution, and many women became spies during the Civil War. Maria Isabella (“Belle”) Boyd became one of the most famous spies of the war. Being a charming woman and dedicated to the Confederacy, Boyd became an activist in providing information about enemy troop movements. In May of 1862, Boyd had collected information relating to Jackson and his strategy. Boyd rode out on horseback on the 23rdof May to inform Jackson himself that a small enemy force was not far that he could easily capture. However, Boyd kept finding herself in custody of the Union, yet when the men taunted her, Boyd never broke. Boyd’s final work was bearing dispatches to England from the Confederacy. The spy set sail for Europe on a blockade runner; however the ship was captured
O’Connor and forced to return1. Women spies did have a hard time though and were not all seen as brave as Belle Boyd. Newspapers openly accused these women of either prostitution or having an illicit affair with a soldier. Even women of the most prominent families were accused and showed little mercy should they be banished or imprisoned for spying for the cause. When an upper-class woman was accused of being a spy, the accustomed behavior towards her was shifted and she was viewed as a common prostitute. However, some women spies were seen as harmless because of their supposed eccentric behaviors, which led them to be left alone and therefore the most effective of spies. These women would often pose as insane to keep up the guise to be able to be left out of the light suspicion2. The women who served as spies risked everything as inscribed on the grave of Elizabeth Van Lew; “She risked everything that is dear to a man—friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself…” Any woman suspected of being a spy was a target for public ridicule and a damaged reputation. These women were seen as moral less because they met in the men’s camps and received men at strange hours. Later in life, the accused women would never be completely trusted or respected3. Elizabeth Van Lew was never outwardly accused of her espionage, even though her friends and neighbors grew suspicious because she seemed strangely interested in the Federal prisoners, yet refused to aid the Confederates. Lew was a daughter of a respected merchant, yet became known as “Crazy Bet” supplying Grant with information4. Another woman openly known to pronounce her rebel status as an activist for the Confederacy is Rose O’Neal Greenhow. Greenhow learned from Lieutenant 1 Elizabeth D. Leonard, All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies(New York: W. W.

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