“A Vast Army of Women: Maine’s Uncounted Forces in the American Civil War”
By Noreen O’Brien, Purchasing, Marine Parts Express
While birds are a deep passion I have, another is reading, especially books by Mainers, women in particular, and books about Maine.
I recently read A Vast Army of Women by Lynda L. Sudlow, and the contents were revelatory. While I did know that women were at the front during the Civil War, I thought it was because they wanted to be near their spouses or, more rarely, their sons, to care for them. I did not realize that nationally thousands of women—not exactly the rare exception—enlisted as men to fight for a cause they believed in.
According to Sudlow, “Slipshod [physical] exams allowed many women to disguise themselves as men and pass without their gender being detected.” While most of the women included in this book served as nurses, female nurses were in fact quite rare before the Civil War and during its early days.
Women did fill other roles throughout the war years, however. For instance, Arbella F. Pollister from Portland, Maine, was one of the nation’s first female telegraphers, and was responsible for listing casualties in Morse code, sent from the office of the provost marshal.
Acquiring accurate statistics on women’s participation in any capacity of the war effort has proved to be near impossible, though, for a variety of reasons. Record keeping was poor at best; many who fought did so as volunteers, so there are no payment records available; and the war wreaked such havoc across the country and lasted for so much longer than anyone anticipated that few records were kept of even those who were paid for their services.
The opening chapters of this book, with such titles as “The Union is Dissolved!”; “On the Homefront”; “United Efforts”; and “Notes on Nursing” offer fascinating general background details about the war. The remaining pages are devoted to biographical sketches on those women involved in the war, and their lives following it, as the author was able to learn.
Sometimes all that could be discovered about these women was that they served. But, as Sudlow’s chapter title for the biographies suggests, they were “Heroines All!” A fascinating read, A Vast Army of Women is one of those books that I will return to again and again—if for nothing else but inspiration.
Like the women on both sides of the conflict who felt their cause was just, Marine Parts Express always tries to make sure our customers get the best deal. Call us toll-free at 877.621.2628
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March 24, 2011 / Noreen O'Brien / 1
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