Beginning -> Civil War

The Beginning to the Civil War

Women Veterans - Serving Since the Nation Began

Although not officially recognized as members of the armed forces until 1901, the involvement of women in the military dates back to the Revolutionary War. Military service is often interpreted as a synonym for combat or war, and "war" has always been considered a masculine activity. Yet, the characteristics valued in war are traits possessed by members of both sexes: steady nerves, sound judgment, courage, tenacity, patriotism and sacrifice.

Revolutionary War

During the Revolutionary War, women served as nurses, scouts, and messengers. When the men were away fighting, the women effectively defednded the settlements. Mary Hayes McCauly earned her nickname, Molly Pitcher, by carring water and grog to her husband and other American artillery men.

She earned her fame, however, by immediately taking his place firing a cannon after he collapsed during the Battle of Monmouth. Mad Ann Bailey, an expert shot and skilled horsewoman, served as a scout, spy and messenger. Sara Fulton delivered dispatches through enemy lines. Deborah Sampson, disguised as a man, enlisted in the Revolutionary Army. Her identity was protected until injuries rendered her unconscious and near death. The treating doctor discovered her true identity, and she was quietly discharged from the Army.

Civil War

Women served on both sides of the Civil War, mostly as cooks and nurses. Some women became scouts and spies, while at least 400 women disguised themselves as men and fought in battle.



Clara Barton


Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell


Louisa May Alcott

Clara Barton, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and Louisa May Alcott served on the Union side providing both care and much needed supplies. Committed to healing spirits as well as bodies, Barton extablished the first National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia after the war and went on to found the American Red Cross.

Sarah Edmonds, in disguise, served as a male nurse, but later became a spy in the Union's secret service. A master of disguise, she was able to pass as a man or woman, as black or white, and crossed Confederate lines on numerous occasions.
Because female doctors were not allowed to serve in the military, Dr. Mary Walker gave up her medical practice to serve with the Union Army as a nurse. She later volunteered to be a spy, was captured by the Confederacy and held prisoner for four months. A Congressional Medal of Honor awarded for her actions was later rescinded when the criteria changed. Several male recipients lost their medals at the same time. A special act of Congress restored the medal in 1976. Walker remains the only woman ever accorded the nation's highest military honor.
Harriet Tubman was one of the most important Union spies and scouts during the Civil War. She escaped slavery and led over 300 people in their escape from slavery via the system of safe-houses known as the "Underground Railroad"!