Read about three women who served during the war in very different ways.
Rose O'Neal Greenhow
Rose O'Neal Greenhow showed her loyalty to the Confederate cause by becoming a spy. She was born into a wealthy Maryland family and counted among her acquaintances high political officials such as John C. Calhoun and James Buchanan. Greenhow was vehemently pro-slavery, and took advantage of societal assumptions of women's innate goodness to spy for the Confederate army. Her major accomplishment was transmitting information on the movement of Union troops to General Beauregard just prior to the Battle of Bull Run. Confederate President Jefferson Davis himself credited her with the victory.
In July 1861, she was arrested and confined to her home, which became popularly known as "Fort Greenhow," and remained there with her eight-year-old daughter until the following January, when she was removed to Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison. Even from this prison, she managed to continue her espionage activities. Later that year, she was exiled to the South, where she was enthusiastically greeted as a Confederate heroine. She next went to Britain and France to circulate propaganda for the Confederate cause, in the process publishing her prison diary, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington.
In 1864, after a year abroad at the courts of Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, she boarded a blockade-running ship for home. When she attempted to escape the Union gunboat that pursued her ship, her rowboat capsized and she was drowned. In October of that year, Greenhow was buried with full military honors for aiding the Confederate war effort.
Mary Ann Bickerdyke
Mary Ann Bickerdyke was one of the first women to attend and graduate from Oberlin College. She went on to study nursing, and volunteered her services at the outbreak of the Civil War. She began by significantly improving an inadequate army hospital in Cairo, Illinois, and eventually became matron in November 1861. Unlike most female nurses, Bickerdyke carried out her work on the front lines of the battlefield. After she joined the U.S. Sanitary Commission, her courage and resourcefulness at aiding the wounded drew the attention of General Ulysses S. Grant. He gave her a pass to travel freely within his command, and she followed his army down the Mississippi. She then joined General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Georgia, creating hospitals as she went and demanding medical examinations for the soldiers. A total of 300 hospitals were erected under her influence. She became famously known in Union army camps as "Mother" Bickerdyke, attesting to the devotion and care she brought to her work.
Mary S. Peake
Among the many Northern women who followed Union armies to educate freed men and women was a significant number of African Americans. One of the first was Mary S. Peake, an African American woman born free and educated in Virginia. By September 1861, she had already opened her own school in Hampton, Virginia, a town that had recently been evacuated by the Confederacy. There she taught to all ages. Her effectiveness attracted the attention of the American Missionary Association, which lent her school financial support as well as material supplies. In 1862 she fell ill with tuberculosis, and yet still managed to continue teaching from her bedside. In February, the illness killed her, at the age of 39. At that time, her school was educating 53 students during the day and 20 at night.
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