In July of 1863, a Union burial group at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania made a strange discovery. Among the bodies covering the ground, the Union men found a dead woman wearing the uniform of a Confederate private.
Many women fought in the front line. An accurate count is impossible, but the number is probably between 400 and 750.
Some women went to war in order to share in the sufferings of their loved ones. Others wanted adventure or the promise of good wages. Some were led by patriotism.
The women could avoid discovery. Most of the people who fought in the war were "citizen soldiers" with no prior military training—men and women alike had to learn the ways of soldiering. Social custom forced most soldiers to sleep clothed, bathe separately, and avoid public toilets. Heavy, ill-fitting clothing concealed body shape. The inability to grow a beard was explained as the soldier’s youth.
Some women in uniform were discovered, often after being wounded and sent to a field hospital. When a woman was discovered, she was usually sent home without punishment.
The four-year war advanced the social position of women. Female front-line service may have proven that women should have the same rights as male defenders of the republic. The Civil War changed the nation's perception of its citizens' capabilities and started a new push for both racial and gender equality.
Source: Female Soldiers in the Civil War
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