Surprising facts of history, from HistoricalNovelsRUs


Did you know... that Kansas and Missouri were once at war with each other?

Even before the Civil War, in a period known as "Bleeding Kansas", there was armed conflict over slavery between factions in Missouri, a slave state, and Kansas. One former slave speaks of slavery in Kansas this way: "Marcus Lindsay Freeman was brought to Kansas Territory as a slave. When he was 59 years old, he gave the following reminiscence. Attached to his reminiscence is a note from Freeman saying that he had always liked his master and that he did not want to say anything bad about him. His comments, though, reveal he was not treated as a free man.

I was born in the year 1836 on the farm of George Bayne in Shelby, Kentucky. . . . He was my owner and gave me to his grandson Thomas when we were both babies. Thomas was three months older than I. His mother, having died at his birth, he was given to my mother to raise. We grew up together just as if we had been two little puppies. When he was big enough to eat at the table, he used to leave a lot of victuals on his plate and some coffee in his cup and bring it out to me to eat; for we slaves did not get such good things as were served as the white table.

Thomas Bayne brought us to his farm near Williamstown, Jefferson County, where he located in the autumn of 1854. He took up a claim there of 160 acres and bought other land. . . . I stayed for a few months, and then with his permission went back to Kansas City and married and rented my time for $200.00 a year for seven years until I was emanicipated. Mr. Bayne gave me a pass which allowed me to go between Missouri and his farm in Kansas."

On February 23, 1860, the Territorial Legislature passed a bill over the governor's veto abolishing slavery in Kansas.

In the 1850s, there was great concern over the balance of power between the free and slave states in Congress. Pro-slavery forces wanted as many new states as possible admitted as slave states - abolitionists wanted as many as possible admitted as free. It's a bit like the struggle between liberal and conservative forces in Congress today - some people in Texas are concerned about the influx of liberals into their red state, while Oregon and Washington, conservative 40 years ago, have flipped sides in the last decades as their populations have soared from tech industry and the accompanying influx from California and other regions.

Kansas had people moving from Massachusetts and other pro-abolitionist areas mainly to assure that Kansas entered the Union as a free state. The town of Lawrence, Kansas thus became an abolitionist enclave. Situated only about 40 miles inside the Kansas border, it became a flashpoint for the conflict.

The Sacking of Lawrence occurred on May 21, 1856, when pro-slavery activists, led by Sheriff Samuel J. Jones, attacked and ransacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas. This early conflict led to only one death. A first person account is given at

This also resulted in brawl in the US Senate between Massachusetts Senator Sumner, and North Carolina Senator Butler - Sumner was so severely injured he could not return to the Senate for 3 years.

The violence continued with the Sacking of Osceola, a Kansas Jayhawker initiative on September 23, 1861, to push out pro-Southern elements at Osceola, Missouri. It was not authorized by Union military authorities but was the work of an informal group of pro-Union Kansas "Jayhawkers". The town of 3,000 people was plundered and burned to the ground, 200 slaves were freed and nine local citizens were court-martialed and executed.

This set the stage for Quantrill's revenge raid. From a first person account by Rev. Richard Cordley: "Quantrill assembled his gang about noon the day before the raid, and started towards Kansas about two o’clock. They crossed the border between five and six o’clock, and struck directly across the prairie toward Lawrence. He passed through Gardner, on the old Santa Fe wagon road, about 11 o’clock at night. Here, they burned a few houses and killed one or two citizens. The passed through Hesper, ten miles southeast of Lawrence, between two and three o’clock. The moon was now down and the night was very dark and the road doubtful. They took a little boy from a house on Captain’s Creek, near by, and compelled him to guide them into Lawrence. They kept the boy during their work in Lawrence, and then Quantrill dressed him in a new suit of clothes, gave him a horse and sent him home. They entered Franklin about the first glimmer of day. They passed quietly through, lying upon their horses, so as to attract as little attention as possible. The command, however, was distinctly heard, “Rush on, boys, it will be daylight before we are there! We ought to have been their an hour ago.” From here it began to grow light, and they traveled faster....They passed on in a body till they came to the high ground facing Main street, when the command was given, “Rush on to the town!” Instantly they rushed forward with the yell of demons.

The attack was perfectly planned. Every man knew his place. Detachments scattered to every section of the town, and it was done with such promptness and speed that before people could gather the meaning of their first yell, every part of the town was full of them....The horsemanship of the guerrillas was perfect. They rode with that ease and abandon which are acquired only by a life spent in the saddle amid desperate scenes. Their horses scarcely seemed to touch the ground, and the riders, sat with bodies and arms perfectly free, with revolvers on full cock, shooting at every house and man they passed, and yelling like demons at every bound. On each side of this stream of fire, as it poured toward the street, were men falling dead and wounded, and women and children half dressed, running and screaming, some trying to escape from danger and some rushing to the side of their murdered friends....At the Johnson House they shot at all that showed themselves, and the prisoners that were finally taken and marched off, were shot a few rods of the house, some of them among the fires of the burning buildings. Such was the common fate of those who surrendered themselves as prisoners, Mr. R. C. Dix was one of these. His house was the nest door to the Johnson House, and being fired at in his own house, he escaped to the Johnson House. All the men were ordered to surrender. “all we want,” said a rebel, “is for the men to give themselves up, and we will spare them and burn the house.” Mr. Dix and other gave themselves up. They marched them towards town, and when they had gone about two hundred feet, the guards shot them all, one after another.... The order was “to burn every house, and kill every man.” Almost every house was visited and robbed, and the men found in them killed or left, according to the character or whim of the captors. Some of these seemed completely brutalized, while others showed some signs of remaining humanity. One lady said that as gang after gang came to her house, she always met them herself, and tried to get them talking. If she only got them to talking, she could get at what little humanity was left in them. those ladies who faced them boldly, fared the best.

Mr. G. W. Bell, County Clerk, lived on the side hill overlooking the town. He saw the rebels before they made their charge. He seized his musket and cartridge box with the hope of reaching the main street before them. His family endeavored to dissuade him, telling him he would certainly be killed. “They may kill me, but they cannot kill the principals I fight for. If they take Lawrence, they must do it over my dead body.” With a prayer for courage and help he started. But he was too late. The street was occupied before he could reach it. Finding escape impossible, he went into an unfinished brick house, and got up on the joists above, together with another man. A rebel came in and began shooting at them. He interceded for his friend, and soon found that the rebel was an old acquaintance who had often eaten at his table. He appealed to him in such a way that he promised to spare both their lives, for old acquaintance sake, if they would come down. They came down, and the rebel took them out to about twenty of his companions outside. “Shoot him! Shoot him!” was the cry at once. He asked for a moment to pray, which they granted, and then shot him with four balls.

The corn field west of the town was full of refugees. The rebels rode up to the edge often, as if longing to go in and butcher those who had escaped them, but a wholesome fear that it might be a double game, restrained them. A Mrs. Hindman lived on the edge of this corn field. They came repeatedly to her house for water. The gang insisted on knowing what “was in the corn field?” She brave woman, replied, “Go in and see. You will find it the hottest place you have been in today.” Having been to carry drink to the refugees, she could testify to the heat. The rebels took her word and left. So every little ravine and thicket around the outskirts of the town were shunned as if a viper had been in it. Thus scores of lives were saved that would otherwise have been destroyed."

We can only give a few incidents of the massacre as specimens of the whole. The scenes of horror we describe must be multiplied till the amount reaches one hundred and eighty, the number of killed and wounded. Many women acted courageously, and some lives were saved, while others had their husbands shot as they lay over top of them, trying to protect them, since the raiders generally would not shoot a woman. Boys above the age of 12 were slaughtered. Most of Quantrill's raiders were themselves teenagers. Much of the town was burned to the ground.

Union troops followed the raiders into Missouri, but vented most of their fury on the civilian population of western Missouri. Four counties in Kansas were emptied of Missourians and everything burned to the ground. The action continued into Missouri, carried out by the infamous Jayhawker, Charles "Doc" Jennison. Jennison's raids into Missouri were thorough and indiscriminate, and left five counties in western Missouri wasted, save for the standing brick chimneys of the two-storey period houses, which are still called "Jennison Monuments" in those parts.

Did you know... Mother's Day was created to promote peace after the Civil War?

Ann Reeves Jarvis, a mom, arranged mother's friendship day in West Virginia in the 1860s, with the surprisingly serious purpose of quieting animosity between Union and Confederate soldiers, their families, and neighbors, at the end of the Civil War.

Did you know... Stanley was a Confederate Soldier?

Did you know... Stanley was a Confederate soldier?

Many people have heard of Stanley's famous question, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" at the end of his quest for the famous missionary doctor in Africa. But did you know that before his successful journalism career, Henry Morton Stanley was a Confederate soldier, who fought at Shiloh, and wrote an eyewitness account? On the morning of the battle, Stanley writes, "Day broke with every promise of a fine day. Next to me, on my right, was a boy of seventeen, Henry Parker. I remember, because while we stood at ease, he drew my attention to some violets at his feet, and said, "It would be a good idea to put a few in my cap. Perhaps the Yanks won't shoot me, if they see me wearing such flowers, for they are a sign of peace." "Capital," said I, "I will do the same." We plucked a bunch and arranged the violets in our cap. The men in the ranks laughed at our proceedings, and had not the enemy been so near, their merry mood might have been communicated to the army."

We loaded our muskets, and arranged our cartridge pouches ready for use. Our weapons were obsolete flint-locks, and the ammunition was rolled in cartridge paper, which contained powder, a round ball, and three buckshot. When we loaded, we had to tear the paper with our teeth, empty a little powder into the pan, lock it, empty the rest of the powder into the barrel, press paper and ball into the muzzle, and ram home. "

At first the battle went well for the Dixie Grays, but later Stanley records: " 'It's getting too warm, boys!', cried a soldier, and he uttered a vehement curse upon keeping soldiers hugging the ground until every ounce of courage was chilled. He lifted his head a little too high, and bullet skimmed over the top of the log, and hit him fairly in the center of his forehead, and he fell heavily on his face."

"Just as we bent our bodies for the onset, a boy's voice called out, 'Oh, stop, please stop a bit, I have been hurt, and can't move!' I turned and saw Henry Parker, standing on one leg, and dolefully regarding his smashed foot."

Parker was permanently disabled, and was discharged from the army April 10, 1862.

Stanley served with the 6th Arkansas Infantry, Company E, the Dixie Grays, commanded by Capt. Sam Smith. The regiment saw its first true battle action during the Battle of Shiloh, where it performed extremely well. The 6th Arkansas was decisively engaged at Shiloh with the Confederate left wing, engaged against Sherman's Federal troops. The 6th Arkansas was able to re-arm itself with "Springfield rifles" (probably .58 cal. M1855 rifle muskets) from Federal weapons left on the field at Shiloh. They fought under the direction of General Hardee.

After the war, Stanley became a roving journalist, traveling to the Ottoman Empire, where he was imprisoned, and later In 1869 Stanley received instructions to undertake a roving commission in the Middle East, which was to include the relief of Dr. David Livingstone, of whom little had been heard since his departure for Africa in 1866 to search for the source of the Nile.

Stanley travelled to Zanzibar in March 1871. Stanley found Livingstone on 10 November 1871 in Ujiji, near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. He may have greeted him with the now-famous line, "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" It may also have been a fabrication, as Stanley tore out of his diary the pages relating to the encounter. Neither man mentioned it in any of the letters they wrote at this time. Livingstone's account of the encounter does not mention these words. The phrase is first quoted in a summary of Stanley's letters published by The New York Times on 2 July 1872.

(Sources: Sir Henry Morton Stanley, Confederate, edited Nathan Cheairs Hughes Jr, Copyright 2000, University of Louisiana Press, and )

Did you know... Pope Gregory IX made the great Bubonic plague worse?

Gregory (born Ugolino di Conti; c. 1145 or before 1170 –

22 August 1241) has the dubious distinctions of putting the Talmud on ecclesiastical trial, starting the Papal Inquisition (though not with torture - that came later), and endorsing claims from Konrad von Marburg that black cats were a stand in for Satan in cultic rituals. In the papal bull Vox Romana, Gregory urges the extermination of cats, particularly black ones. (Engles, Donald W. (2001). "Appendix III: Pope Gregory and the Vox in Rama". Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat. Routledge. p. 183. ISBN 0415261627.) The reduced population of cats may have been instrumental in the rise of the rat population, making the plague of 1340s much worse. The plague is estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe's population. (Austin Alchon, Suzanne (2003). A pest in the land: new world epidemics in a global perspective. University of New Mexico Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-8263-2871-7)

In 2017, there were reports of bubonic plague cases in Arizona. (…/ )

What a legacy!

Did you know.... baseball almost sunk Eisenhower?

As a boy in Abeline Kansas, Dwight and his brothers Edgar, Earl, Arthur, and Roy liked to play baseball. They made a game of washing the dishes - the one who dried threw the dish to one putting away, sometimes tossing a wet dish to the one drying.

Eisenhower attended West Point, and is quoted as saying "not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest" (Baseball Almanac). "Angels in the Outfield" was his favorite movie.

But baseball wasn't always kind to Eisenhower - there was a controversy that could have gotten Eisenhower dismissed from West Point.

Instead of baseball, Eisenhower played football at West Point, sustaining an injury that kept him from playing team sports. However, to play football he had to have never played any sport for pay, and Eisenhower had to attest to his - but the honor code, formalized after Eisenhower's graduation, says "A Cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do." According a New York Times interview "I was a center fielder. I went into baseball deliberately to make money, and with no idea of making it a career. I wanted to go to college that fall, and we didn't have money. But I wasn't a very good center fielder, and didn't do too well at it." Eisenhower stated at other times that his ambition was to have been a professional baseball player.

Supposedly he played in a semi-pro minor league team, under the name of Wilson. Eisenhower could have been dismissed from West Point, had he been discovered, and we never would have had him as General of the Army, and 34th President of the United States.

Did you know... Union and Confederate troops were not always fighting each other?

According to the New York Times, Feb 7, 2014, soldiers from opposite sides who were bivouacked near each other might talk across the lines, borrow a smoke, or even gamble together. "In a conflict that exemplified the military axiom that soldiering is 99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer terror, the blue and the gray called timeouts from opposition to trade tobacco for coffee, share food, relate war stories and converse about home, or play cards during downtime on the battlefield."

One soldier's diary records that he was lonesome, so he regularly met for over a month with a Union soldier, on an island in the stream separating the two armies. They played cards, had barbeques, and generally became friends. Only later did he discover that the Union soldier he met with was the commanding major of the enemy troops, who used information gained in their socializing to win the battle in the spring.

After Chickamauga, a truce was declared to allow ambulances to collect the wounded. "Afterward, the pickets, or advance guards, decided to maintain the truce unofficially, a reprieve for their lives. Sgt. Joseph T. Gibson of the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry explained that the pickets of the two armies stood 75 to 100 feet apart, and that “they were on the best of terms and conversed frequently on various subjects.” The Confederate pickets, low on rations, “always found the pickets on the Union line ready to fling a cracker across the little stream that separated them.”

"Soldiers also often laid down their arms to allow women to pass through lines to deliver small packages or visit friends. On Jan. 16, 1865, for example, a New York Times correspondent reported from near Petersburg, Va., “All is peaceful along the lines; even in front of that diabolic locality, Fort Hell … quiet reigns … Though the lady on whose behalf the flag was displayed failed in her attempt to reach Yankeedom, soldiers of either army took advantage of the opportunity to make their duties less onerous and dangerous than before.”

In Vicksburg, Miss., according to a New York Times correspondent writing on April 19, 1863, though “the principal occurrence of the last week or so has been the daily exchange of courtesies, under the name of flag of truce, between the Unionists and rebels” regarding the business of exchanging prisoners, “the real object amounts to little more than an exchange of newspapers, and an endeavor on the part of thirsty rebel officers to obtain a supply of National whiskey.” Amid reports of pillage and rape, the correspondent noted: “Each [Union] boat that goes down takes a demijohn of Bourbon, which is freely dispensed to the gray-coated deputation that meets us at the Point.”

Did you know... there were children in the Civil War?

Most of us wouldn't even think of our pre-teenage adolescents fighting on the battlefield - they ought to be at a soccer match, or playing video games with friends. Yet children are sometimes drawn into war. During the Civil War, many soldiers lied about their age and enlisted as regular troops. But in addition to these, there were the drummer boys. Drummer boys were a means of communicating commands to soldiers, and sometimes did get into the fighting. Most didn't carry weapons, but were right there in the midst of the battle, balls flying and shells exploding. They sometimes assisted surgeons, carrying away severed limbs. One famous drummer boy was Johnny Clem, who became known as Johnny Shiloh. He ran away from home at age 9 to join the army. He was in the army until 1915, and retired as a general. Disney made a movie about him, and there's a book by James Rhodes.

Did you know... Personal guns for the militia supplied a lot of the arms available at the beginning of the Civil War?

In the years just before the Civil War, and at its beginning, many soldiers came from Home Guard militias. These early military units used mostly personal guns belonging to the soldiers themselves. In the south, many soldiers in the militia didn't own guns, and drilled with broomsticks. At the start of the war, Confederates used a lot of old muskets, like the 1812 Springfield, and shotguns. Later, the Confederates obtained more modern rifles, like the 1860 Enfield shown here. In the view of the Confederates, the Union soldiers were invading their homes, and they were defending themselves. 

Gun control was an issue, even in these early days. 

In 1813, Kentucky enacted the first carrying concealed weapon statute in the United States. The Kentucky Court of Appeals struck down the law in 1822 as a violation of the state constitutional protection of the right to keep and bear arms.

In 1837, Georgia completely banned the sale of pistols, with the exception of larger pistols known and used as "horsemen's pistols" and other weapons. The Georgia State Supreme Court overturned this law in Nunn V. State (1846).

Indiana, Alabama and Arkansas all had concealed carry laws in the early to mid 1800's. Before the Civil War, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the privileges of citizenship included the individual right to own and carry firearms.

Towards the end of the war, the Union adopted the Spencer repeating rifle, a lever action .56 caliber rifle that was the premier rapid fire weapon of its day. Turned down over and over by the Army, in frustration, Christopher Spencer, the inventor of the rifle, walked into the White House (no guards then) and showed the rifle to Abraham Lincoln. The old frontiersman took it out on the White House lawn, shot it a few times, and ordered the Army to get this weapon into the hands of Union soldiers. A short carbine version for cavalry and a repeating shotgun were also made.

The Civil War was unique in that it was one of the first armed conflicts that was recorded on film, with actual photographs. The picture shown is from the National Archives, an actual photograph of the dead at the battle of Antietam.

Did you know... Morgan made the Union buy Dinner?

Near Gallatin, Tn., Confederate general John Hunt Morgan intercepted a troop train going south from Louisville, Ky. The train was full of Union troops and their wives and horses. Morgan had his men tear up the tracks, and pull barricades onto the tracks after the train passed to prevent it backing up. Trapped, the Union troops started to emerge. A Union colonel was wounded, and the Union troops surrendered to Morgan's smaller force. Searching the train, Morgan's men found a strongbox full of Union greenbacks. Morgan invited the Union prisoners to dinner at the nearby hotel, paying with the Union money. The enemies sat down across from each other, instead of shooting each other. Morgan later declined to burn the train, citing the ladies on board. After taking the weapons, stores, and horses, Morgan released them to return to Louisville. 

Did you know ... ?  blog

An ongoing series on interesting history

Our First Blog Entry  - Did you know ...?

February 14, 2018

William Dorsey Crump, one of the founders of Shallowater and Lubbock, Texas, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, August 21, 1844. Will had a very colorful life, as a Confederate soldier fighting in the Second Kentucky Cavalry under John Hunt Morgan. He endured two years in Camp Douglas, the North's version of Andersonville, as a prisoner of war. His story is chronicled in my novel series, "Across the Great Divide".

Did you know ... Indiana had laws preventing immigration by African Americans?

February 14, 2018

Indiana and some other northern states passed laws forbidding African Americans to enter the state permanently, without proof that they were free, and in some cases posting $1000 bond for good behavior. Though sporadically enforced, the provision in the 1851 Indiana constitution was passed by a higher margin than the constitution itself.

Did you know .... sanctuary cities are nothing new?

February 14, 2018

On September 18, 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. In part, it stated that slaves escaped from bondage could be recaptured, and returned to slavery. A captured slave might be brought before a judge, who determined whether the individual was slave or free. The judge was paid five dollars for a freedman, ten dollars for a slave. The act imposed fines an prison sentences for those assisting escaped slaves.

While racial prejudice was rampant in all regions of the country, in the 1850s a few cities, indignant at the inhumane treatment of slaves, defied the federal law, and protested the return of escapees to slavery. In February 1854, Anthony Burns, a nineteen year old former slave, was arrested and returned to slavery - but not before the citizens of Boston mounted a massive protest. 

In 1842, the Supreme Court backed up the idea of dual sovereignty. The ruling in Prigg v. Pennsylvania said that the issue of fugitive slaves was indeed a federal matter, just like immigration is today. States couldn’t pass laws interfering with that federal law, but they also had the right to opt out of enforcing it.

Oberlin, Ohio was another famous sanctuary for slaves. The town closed ranks around escaped slaves when slave catchers were in town, and aided others in escaping to Canada, since Britain and the Commonwealth nations abolished slavery August 28, 1833. 

Ripley, Ohio was a famous Underground Railroad town, with several notable people defying the Fugitive Slave Act to hide escaping slaves on their road to freedom. 

When slave catchers tried to search one town in Wisconsin, the people banded together as one and ran the slave catchers out of town.

Did you know... there were black slave owners?

February 19, 2018

Most slave owners were white, but there were more than a few black slave owners.  In the 1830 Federal Census, black slave owners held more than 10,000 other African-Americans in bondage. Free blacks held slaves in 29 of Kentucky's counties in 1830.

In fact, the first slave owner in the American colonies was a black man

In Lexington, KY in 1860, one fifth of the population were slaves.

In the United States in 1860, the census shows a total population of 31,443,321.  Included in this are 3,950,528 slaves, 12.5% of the total population.

Did you know... five elected presidents did not win the popular vote?

February 26, 2018

  1. The most recent election, in 2016. Trump got 62,984,825, Clinton 65,853,516. However, Trump won 304 electoral votes, to Clinton's 227.

  2. In 2000, George W. Bush was declared the winner of the general election and became the 43rd president, but he didn’t win the popular vote either. Al Gore holds that distinction, garnering about 540,000 more votes than Bush. However, Bush won the electoral vote, 271 to 266.

  3. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison received 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168, winning the presidency. But Harrison lost the popular vote by more than 90,000 votes.
  4. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes won the election (by a margin of one electoral vote), but he lost the popular vote by more than 250,000 ballots to Samuel J. Tilden.
  5. In 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected president despite not winning either the popular vote or the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson was the winner in both categories. Jackson received 38,000 more popular votes than Adams, and beat him in the electoral vote 99 to 84. Despite his victories, Jackson didn’t reach the majority 131 votes needed in the Electoral College to be declared president. In fact, neither candidate did. The decision went to the House of Representatives, which voted Adams into the White House.

In addition to these, in the 1860 election there were four candidates: Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, and John Bell. Candidates in those days were responsible to pay and print ballots with their names on them. Lincoln did not even appear on the ballot in the southern states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas..

Lincoln won slightly less than 40 percent of the popular vote, but a majority of the electoral votes, 180. Douglas won nearly 30 percent of the popular vote but won only Missouri’s 12 electoral votes. Breckinridge, with 18 percent of the popular vote, garnered 72 electoral votes, winning most of the states in the South as well as Delaware and Maryland. Bell, who won 12.6 percent of the vote, secured 39 electoral votes by winning Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson won the popular vote, but the election was decided by the House of Representatives when he and Aaron Burr tied for electoral votes at 73.

This procedure is established by the twelfth amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1804.

Did you know... there were female spies and soldiers in the Civil War?

March 5, 2018

During the American Civil War, there were many women who played pivotal roles. While exact figures are not available, it is estimated that there were hundreds of women who acted as spies. “Women acknowledged as spies were typically young, white well-to-do, and unmarried, as well as attractive, charming, intelligent, and quick-witted – desirable characteristics when eliciting information from soldiers. Since few able-bodied men or servants remained in communities, especially in the South, married and widowed women usually were too preoccupied with caring for family, neighbors, and soldiers to consider becoming involved in surreptitious activities.” - Women in the Civil War 

Women were perfect for the role of spy because they were easily trusted and viewed as non-threatening by soldiers who, enamored by their beauty, would often let their guard down around them.

Men didn’t expect women would get involved in such a dangerous job, so women spies often went undetected during the early phase of the Civil War.  A female slave in the house of Jefferson Davis served as a spy. The sister-in-law of John Hunt Morgan was arrested by the Confederacy as a spy, after giving information from correspondence between her sister and Morgan. 

At the early part of the war, travel between the Union and the Confederate states was not restricted. You only needed a passport, and nothing at all until 1863 to enter the CSA. It was common to have relatives fighting on both sides, so little was thought of a woman moving back and forth across the boundaries. Also, many southern states were largely in Union control for much of the war - the battle lines shifted constantly. 

A few of these spies were:

  1. Pauline Cushman - 

    Following the death of her husband, Pauline Cushman left her children in the care of family and returned to acting. While touring in Union-controlled Kentucky in March 1863, she was approached by a pair of Confederate sympathizers and offered money to toast Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Hesitant at first, for she supported the Union cause, she reported the incident to the Union provost marshal in Louisville. Seeing the possibility of her gaining Confederate trust, he told her to accept the offer. During a performance, she hoisted a glass and said, “Here’s to Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy. May the South always maintain her honor and her rights!”

    The Northern managers of the theater group were appalled and fired her on the spot, but as expected, Pauline Cushman became a darling of the South. Chief of Army Police, Union Colonel William Truesdail, instructed her to travel behind Confederate lines and learn all she could. He warned her that it would be dangerous and that if she was caught, she’d be tried—and hanged—as a spy.

    She hid battle plans in her shoe, but was caught, and nearly hanged. She was saved by the timely arrival of Union troops as she stood on the scaffold. She often went about posing as a man, sometimes in uniform. President Lincoln awarded her the rank of brevet-major in the Union army.
  2. Belle Boyd - Boyd started out as an informal spy, gathering what information she could. Her talents as a flirt helped her extract information from Union soldiers. She wrote down her discoveries in letters that she got to the Confederate side with the help of her slave or a young neighbor. One of these missives was intercepted and Boyd found herself in hot water with the Union. Despite facing possible execution for her crime, Boyd managed to get off with a warning.
  3. Mary Elizabeth Bowser -

    Since Bowser's owner was a prominent member of Richmond society, she was able to obtain a servant position for Bowser at parties held by Varina Davis, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

    This then led to a full-time position as a servant at the Confederate White House in Richmond.

    During Bowser’s time there, she used her education and photographic memory to gather intelligence by reading military documents left out on desks or tables and eavesdropping on conversations.

    Bowser then delivered the information to a baker named Thomas McNiven who made daily deliveries to the house. McNiven later described his activities in conversations with his daughter Jeannette:

    “Miss Van Lew was my best source. She had contacts everywhere. Her colored girl Mary [Elizabeth Bowser] was the best as she was working right in Davis’ home and had a photographic mind. Everything she saw on the Rebel President’s desk she could repeat word for word. Unlike most colored, she could read and write. She made the point of always coming out to my wagon when I made deliveries at the Davis’ home to drop information.

In addition to spies, some women disguised themselves as men, and fought along side the male troops. It is estimated there were about 400 women on both sides fighting. Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers of the Civil War therefore assumed masculine names, disguised themselves as men, and hid the fact they were female. Because they passed as men, it is impossible to know with any certainty how many women soldiers served in the Civil War. Estimates place as many as 250 women in the ranks of the Confederate army. Mary Owens, discovered to be a woman after she was wounded in the arm, returned to her Pennsylvania home to a warm reception and press coverage. She had served for eighteen months under the alias John Evans.

The Union CMSR for John Williams of the Seventeenth Missouri Infantry, Company H, shows that the nineteen-year-old soldier enlisted as a private on October 3, 1861, in St. Louis and was mustered into the regiment on the seventh. Later that month, Williams was discharged on the grounds: "proved to be a woman."(8) The Confederate CMSR for Mrs. S. M. Blaylock, Twenty-sixth North Carolina Infantry, Company F, states:

This lady dressed in men's clothes, Volunteered [sic], received bounty and for two weeks did all the duties of a soldier before she was found out, but her husband being discharged, she disclosed the fact, returned the bounty, and was immediately discharged April 20, 1862.(9)

Another woman documented in the records was Mary Scaberry, alias Charles Freeman, Fifty-second Ohio Infantry. Scaberry enlisted as a private in the summer of 1862 at the age of seventeen. On November 7 she was admitted to the General Hospital in Lebanon, Kentucky, suffering from a serious fever. She was transferred to a hospital in Louisville, and on the tenth, hospital personnel discovered "sexual incompatibility [sic]." In other words, the feverish soldier was female. Like John Williams, Scaberry was discharged from Union service.(10)

Not all of the women soldiers of the Civil War were discharged so quickly. Some women served for years, like Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye, and others served the entire war, like Albert D. J. Cashier. These two women are the best known and most fully documented of all the women combatants.

Records  show that Sarah Edmonds, a Canadian by birth, assumed the alias of Franklin Thompson and enlisted as a private in the Second Michigan Infantry in Detroit on May 25, 1861. Her duties while in the Union army included regimental nurse and mail and despatch carrier. Her regiment participated in the Peninsula campaign and the battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Antietam. On April 19, 1863, Edmonds deserted because she acquired malaria, and she feared that hospitalization would reveal her gender. In 1867 she married L. H. Seelye, a Canadian mechanic. They raised three children. In 1886 she received a government pension based upon her military service. A letter from the secretary of war, dated June 30 of that year, acknowledged her as "a female soldier who . . . served as a private . . . rendering faithful service in the ranks." Sarah Edmonds Seelye died September 5, 1898, in Texas.(11)

Records also reveal that on August 3, 1862, a nineteen-year-old Irish immigrant named Albert D. J. Cashier, described as having a light complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair, enlisted in the Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry. Cashier served steadily until August 17, 1865, when the regiment was mustered out of the Federal army. Cashier participated in approximately forty battles and skirmishes in those long, hard four years.

After the war, Cashier worked as a laborer, eventually drew a pension, and finally went to live in the Quincy, Illinois, Soldiers' Home. In 1913 a surgeon at the home discovered that Albert D. J. Cashier was a woman. A public disclosure of the finding touched off a storm of sensational newspaper stories, for Cashier had lived her entire adult life as a man. None of Cashier's former comrades-in-arms ever suspected that he was a she. Apparently, neither did the commandant at the Soldiers' Home. She died October 11, 1914, in an insane asylum.

Men often still underestimate women... :)