When a person thinks about the soldiers or important roles that people had during the Civil War time period, they probably don’t think of the roles that women played or women on the battlefields. However, lots of women from both sides of the country joined their perspective army and many more women had very important roles of leadership or support.
More than four hundred women disguised themselves as men and joined either the Confederate army or Union army. There were several reasons why they decided to make that choice. Some women wanted to fight for what they believed in, and since women were not allowed to join the military, a disguise was their only option. Others disguised themselves as men in order to join the military because of the money they could earn. A soldier could make approximately $13.00 per month, and since that was more money than women could make in most other jobs, they would join the fighting forces. Other women also joined the military for the adventure and purpose that the fighting served. Some women kept their secret long after the end of the Civil War, and some even kept their secret until death.
Women also served in other roles that supported the Civil War effort from both forces. Some worked as military nurses so they could help care for the extensive number of wounded soldiers. Others became cooks or laundresses for the military. More dangerously, other women acted as spies for their army. In addition, some women served as civil rights advocates or abolitionists.
If women were not directly supporting the war effort with military connections, then they still had to take on many roles that they had not had before the war. Due to the absence of so many men within their communities, many women became the head of their households and took jobs that were traditionally held by their male counterparts. Almost overnight, women were forced into positions that they were not familiar with and had to adapt quickly in order to thrive for themselves and their families.
All of these positions were new ones for American females. Prior to the Civil War, most women took pride and comfort in establishing a well-organized, safe, and comfortable home for themselves and their families. They generally found themselves in supporting roles for their own individual family within the walls of their own home, and not the emerging supportive role they would need to take on as supporters outside the home and within their community, as the war would eventually require. The majority of women adapted to this change quite well, and even thrived on their new-found demands.
One thing is for certain about the roles that women played during the Civil War time frame, and that is that very few women sat around idly and waited for their husbands, brothers, or fathers to return home from the battlefields in order to carry on with their lives. Most historians agree that prior to the Civil War, women had never played such an important and influential role in the support of a war.