Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Meaning of Vivanieres & the Roles of Women in the Civil War

In my constant efforts to research Gettysburg, I have uncovered more facts that I find pretty amazing. There are so many unsung heroes from that famous battle that deserve a closer look. Today I honor viviandieres and some of those other women who played important roles during that significant time.

Vivandières have an interesting role in the American Civil War. These brave women traveled with soldiers as mascots or nurses; there are even cases where they fought alongside their male counterparts. A vivandières could provide creature comforts to the soldiers. The term "Vivandière", is derived from a mixture of French and Latin, which literally means "hospitality giver." Many Vivandières carried a trademark cask, either round or oval, often filled with brandy.

A Vivandière uniform

Women Soldiers in Gettysburg

The above photographs are of Frances Clalin. Frances Clalin known by her married name of Frances Clayton, was a woman who disguised herself as a man named Jack Williams in order to fight for Union forces during the American Civil War. She served in the Missouri artillery and cavalry units for several months. Frances Clalin and her husband Elmer Clayton were both born and raised in the north.

Pickett's Charge

Two Confederate female casualties (one dead, one seriously wounded) were discovered after the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863. As confirmed in the Army Official Records of the war, the body of an unidentified female Confederate soldier was discovered by a burial detail near the stone wall at the angle on Cemetery Ridge. She had been a participant in Pickett's famous charge.

An author reporting on Pickett's charge at Gettysburg noted, "The fact that her body was found in such an advanced spot is testimony to her bravery. However, except for an unverified story that the woman had enlisted in a Virginia regiment with her husband and was killed carrying the colors during the charge, Hays' notation [in the Official Records] is the extent of acknowledgment she received for having given her life for her country."[xxvii]

Another female Confederate casualty at Gettysburg was reported after the battle by a wounded Union soldier from Michigan, while in hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania. He wrote a letter home saying that there was a female Confederate soldier in hospital with them who had been wounded severely and lost a leg at Gettysburg. He thought this was "romantic" and felt sympathy for her.

Why would women have disguised themselves to become soldiers? Most likely it was financially driven for most of them. It was a different world then. If your husband, father, brother or whoever was supporting you went off to war, there were no food stamps, no welfare, and women were not educated to support themselves. So they joined the Army to be paid and fed. Some joined for love because they decided to go with their husband or boyfriend. And we know some of them went just for the adventure of it.

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