[June 12th marks the 75th anniversary of the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, an important step toward a more inclusive America on multiple levels. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that Act and other histories of women in war, leading up to a Guest Post from one of the best scholars of those histories and issues!]
foremost, I highly recommend archivist and historian DeAnne
Blanton’s three-part article “Women
Soldiers of the Civil War” from the National Archives’ Prologue Magazine. I’m not going to repeat everything that’s there,
so will instead just highlight interesting AmericanStudies contexts for three
of the women about whom Blanton writes:
Clayton: As this University of Virginia Special
Collections blog post on Clayton (sometimes spelled Clalin) indicates,
there are significant ambiguities and uncertainties surrounding her Civil War service.
But even if Clayton did not serve in the military and/or see combat as she
claimed repeatedly throughout her postwar life, the justifiably famous
photograph of her in a U.S. Army uniform reflects an important element of
every one of these figures and stories: their refusal to conform to gender
norms, in ways that in the 21st century might connect to identities
like nonbinary or transgender. Women in war have always pushed the envelope on
such conversations, and whatever the exact details of her experiences Clayton
was no exception.
Edmonds (Seelye): While some of the individual stories of Sarah Edmonds’
Civil War action are likewise ambiguous, there’s less overall doubt that she
of the Union Army for many battles and campaigns, both in and out of
disguise as a man. The difference depended in large part on whether she was
fulfilling her official role as a nurse or her more unofficial but certainly
still vital ones as spy, messenger, and the like. Those are of course quite
distinct, and most Civil War nurses did not, as far as any of us know,
moonlight as secret agents (although obviously Walt
Whitman did). But Edmonds nonetheless reminds us that countless women served
in the Civil War, and honestly that the line between combatant and
non-combatant was never as clear-cut as gender norms might make it seem.
D.J. Cashier: Despite the uncertainties, both Clayton and Edmonds were
relatively well-known in their own lifetimes; the same cannot really be said
for Albert D.J. Cashier, since he did not entirely exist. Or perhaps the exact
opposite is true, since Irish immigrant Jennie
Irene Hodgers lived as Cashier and thus as a man for more than half a
century, long after their Civil War service and up until their 1915 death. Since
that second life seems to have begun with that Civil War service, it’s possible
to see Cashier as profoundly representative of this complex community of Civil
War women soldiers; since it was so extended and secretive, it’s possible to
see Cashier as quite different from any of their peers. But however we see
Cashier, they’re just one of these many compelling and important American
stories and histories.
do you think? Other stories or histories you’d highlight?