Women in the Civil War
Some Unsung Women

John B. Turchin, born in Russia and living in Illinois, arrived home one day to happily inform his wife that he was about to be made colonel of the Nineteenth Illinois Regiment. With eyes glaring, her response was "I'm going with you, even to battlefields." At that time most of the military nurses were men. Even so, Mrs. Turchin volunteered her services and went with her husband in an unofficial capacity. Not a year later, Colonel Turchin, now commander of a brigade, allowed his men to randomly loot in Huntsville and Athens, Alabama. He was accused of encouraging his men to plunder and rob civilians. He went before a court-martial, and it was recommended that he be dismissed from the service. Oral stories have it that his wife immediately set out for Washington and managed to gain audience with President Lincoln. Impressed with her accounting of what had actually taken place, the president set aside the verdict of the court-martial. Shortly thereafter, President Lincoln submitted the name of Mrs. Turchin's husband for a post as Brigadier General. Several month later, the now federal General, whose given name was Ivan Vasilovitch Turchinoff, was so ill that he could now even sit in the saddle. Men who served under him swore that for ten days, Mrs. Turchin took command for him and even briefly led his men into battle.

Mrs. John Charles Fremont was in Missouri when her husband garnered the wrath of President Lincoln. On August 30, 1861, the Federal major general issued a famous "emancipation proclamation" which concerned the territory where he had military control. When word reached Lincoln's ears in Washington, he demanded that it be rescinded. Fremont's wife, the daughter of powerful Missouri Senator Jesse Hart Benton, was irate and went to the capital to intercede. In early September, Lincoln is said to have seen her on at least two occasions, refusing to change his stance on the matter. Angry, upset, and disappointed, she went back to her husband in the war zone and stayed by his side until he was relieved of command in November.

The Federal commander in chief was face-to-face with the wife of an officer with a grievance on August 23, 1862. Gabriel R. Paul, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, and graduate of West Point, believed "some things in Washington were out of kilter." Repeatedly he had watched men receive promotions whose service had not been continuous. Promotions he believed should have gone to career officers. In 1862, during a Confederate invasion of New Mexico, he commanded Fort Union in the temporary rank of Colonel. When the enlistments of his men ran out, he was demoted to his previous grade of lieutenant colonel. Mrs. Paul spent numerous nights with her husband discussing "things wrong with the seniority system of the U.S. Army." Once she believed she had a good grasp of the situation, the wife of a man whose father and grandfather had fought with Napoleon, made the long trip from New Mexico to Washington to plead with the President to promote her husband rather then those who had not spent an entire career in uniform. After that meeting on August 23, 1862, the President said "She is a saucy woman and I am afraid she will keep tormenting till I may have to do it." On September 5, 1862, Paul's name was presented for promotion to the rank of brigadier general. He failed to get Senate confirmation and served as lieutenant colonel until his renomination and confirmation in April of 1863. A subordinate in the Division he commanded said "It took a while for her to do it, but Mrs. Paul eventually got what she wanted for her husband."

On January 10, 1863, the 100-ton Confederate privateer 'Retribution' captured the coal brig 'J.P. Ellicott' (or J.P.Elliott). Excited over the capture they laid bets on the amount of prize money it would bring when taken to port and sold. When crew members of the captured brig were replaced by Confederates, one of the crew member's wives was unknowingly left on board. As soon as the 'Retribution' was out of sight, she broke out a stronghold of rum and the captors became thorougly drunk. Then the unnamed (in any official reports) wife put irons on the Confederates and sailed back into St. Thomas where she delivered it and her prisoners to the U.S. Consul.

Massachusetts clergyman Stephen Barker gave up his parrish after Lincoln's first call for volunteers to become chaplain of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regimen. His wife refused to be left behind and became a nurse. She had no training and seved in field hospitals for more than three years before becoming a superintendent for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Not all women were content to work as volunteer nurses, or have only occasional visits with their husbands. Refusing to be left behind when her her husband, R.S. Brownell signed up with the First Rhode Island Volunteers, a ninety-day unit, Kady Brownell went with her husband to Bull Run in 1861. She had already won the nickname of "child of the Regiment" from Colonel Ambrose Burnside. During heavy fighting around Manassas , Virginia, Kady stayed on the battlefield to help the wounded. When the Standard bearer of the Sixth Regiment received a direct hit, Kady took up the flag and was wounded while carrying it across the field. Even though she relinquished the flag, the 'wife who went to war' picked up what she termed a "Secessia rifle" which she kept the rest of her life as a trophy.

Agnes Elisabeth Winona Leclerq Joy, probably born in Canada, was in New York when war broke out. She spent time visiting military encampments where she met and married Prussian Nobleman and soldier of fortune, Felix Salm-Salm. Called "Princess Agnes", the colonel's wife stayed with him always. Most of her time was spent tending to the sick and wounded, often ignoring regulations that forbade her on or around any battlefields. Governor Richard Yates of Illinois was so impressed that he gave her a commission as an Honorary Captain.

Enlistees of the Twenty-sixth North Carolina Regiment took notice that Sam and Keith Blalock seemed to have an unusually close relationship. Questioned about the oddity, Keith explained to the others that they were old friends who had grown up in the same town and were distantly related. Months later, officers discovered that Sam's name was actually Malinda. When Keith had originally signed up to fight the Yankees, his wife donned men's clothing and went with him to war.

You are listening to "The Cruel War"

The cruel war is raging
Johnny has to fight
I want to be with him
From morning till night

Oh Johnny, dear Johnny,
Morning, noon and night,
I think of you marching,
Left, right, left and right

I know you're so gentle
When you hold me tight,
Oh how will they make you
Get out there and fight?

Go speak to your sergeant,
And say you want out,
Just say you're allergic
To this kind of bout.

Oh Johnny, dear Johnny,
Yes, I know you're brave,
But oh how I miss you,
It's your love I crave.

Oh why did the army
Take you from my side,
To go into battle,
Away from your bride.

Tarzanna Graphics ©1997
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©Tarzanna Graphics

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