By Ron and Arlene Kaiser
As a group, many women of Michigan stepped up admirably during the Civil War. They already were hardier and more independent than their eastern counterparts, the result of the demanding extremes of pioneer life.
Following are some examples of Michigan’s courageous women:
Sarah Emma Edmonds, from Flint, passed herself off as a man, and enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as Franklin Flint Thompson, initially serving as a male nurse.
Later Edmonds used her abilities at disguise to become a spy for the Union Army and infiltrate Confederate positions in Northern Virginia.
According to her writings, “One disguise required Edmonds to use silver nitrate to dye her skin black, wear a black wig, and walk into the Confederacy disguised as a black man by the name of Cuff. Another time she entered as an Irish peddler woman by the name of Bridget O’Shea, claiming that she was selling apples and soap to the soldiers. Again, she was ‘working for the Confederates’ as a black laundress when a packet of official papers fell out of an officer’s jacket. When Thompson returned to the Union with the papers, the generals were delighted. Another time, she worked as a detective in Kentucky as Charles Mayberry, uncovering a Confederacy agent.” (Edmonds, S. Emma E., Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, chapter XV.)
On her transfer west, she undertook the same role in Kentucky before reverting to her old role as a nurse for General Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.
She became ill with malaria and went to a private hospital to avoid discovery. Consequently, she was listed as a deserter. Then she went to Washington, D.C. and worked as a nurse, this time as a woman.
Edmonds later published her memoirs and eventually received a Congressional discharge as well as an Army pension.
Ohio-born, Julia Susan Wheelock Freeman was an American missionary who became known as the “Florence Nightingale of Michigan.” She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002. Her Civil War experiences began when her brother, Orville, was wounded at the Battle of Chantilly in September 1862. Julia traveled to Virginia to nurse him, and finding that he had died, decided to remain. She was soon appointed as an agent of the Michigan Relief Association. In this role she spent the rest of the war tending to wounded, dying, and sick soldiers, diligently working to improve sanitary conditions.
Lorinda Anna Blair Etheridge, “Gentle Annie,” served as a “Daughter of the Regiment” with the 2nd Michigan Infantry throughout the Civil War. She followed the regiment wherever it went and was almost captured at Second Bull Run (Second Manassas), before she transferred to the 3rd Michigan when the 2nd Michigan was sent west. Anna was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville and when General Grant ordered all women to leave the camps, she served as a nurse at City Point, Virginia. For her service she was awarded the Kearney Cross for noble sacrifice and her heroic service to the Union Army.
Bridget Divers or Deavers, whose exploits during the war earned her the nicknames of ‘Irish Biddy’ and ‘Michigan Bridget,’ rode with the First Michigan Calvary under General Armstrong Custer and was said to have been present at various battles including that of Fair Oakes in May 1862, although this is not confirmed. After General Grant banished women from operations in 1864, Bridget worked with the United States Sanitary Commission. Mary Livermore, who worked with Bridget, said, “Sometimes when a soldier fell, she took his place, fighting in his stead with unfailing courage. Sometimes she rallied retreating troops. Sometimes she removed the wounded from the field, always fearless and daring, always doing good service as a soldier.”
Source of Credit for Information, “The Civil War State of State” by Chester G. Hearn
Irish American in the Civil War, Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame