civil war, feminism, History, Nashville, The Yankee Road, Wittenmyer, women's rights, Writing, yankee

Annie Wittenmyer

I ran across this tale while researching Annie Wittenmyer’s life in Iowa for my The Yankee Road trilogy. It is an interesting glimpse into army life in the American Civil War 160 years ago.

Extract from: Annie Wittenmyer, UNDER THE GUNS: A WOMAN’S  REMINISCENCES OF  THE CIVIL WAR, Boston: Stillings, 1895.


A WOMAN who had served as a private soldier in the ranks was severely wounded and taken prisoner at Chickamauga. She fell in a charge made upon the Confederates; and as the troops immediately fell back she was left with the other wounded on the field, in the enemy’s lines. As she was dressed as the other soldiers were, her sex was not discovered till she was under a surgeon’s care in the hospital. She was wounded in the thigh. No bones were broken; but it was a deep, ugly flesh wound, as if torn by a fragment of a shell.

A day or two afterwards she was sent with a flag of truce into the Union lines. The sum and substance of the official message sent with this woman was: ”As the Confederates do not use women in war, this woman, wounded in battle, is returned to you.” There was great indignation in the regiment to which this woman belonged; and officers and men hastened to protest, that, although she had been with them for more than a year, not one in the regiment suspicioned that she was a woman. She had stood the long, hard marches, did full duty on the picket-line and in camp, and had fought well in all the battles in which the regiment took part. She was in the hospital at Chattanooga for some time, where I first met her. When she was able to bear the transportation, she was removed to a hospital at Nashville. I met her there again and again, and tried to ascertain why she had enlisted.

” Had you a husband in the regiment .”  I questioned.


“A lover or friend .”

” No, I didn’t know any of them.”

”Well,  why did you enlist?”

“I thought I’d like camp-life, and I did.”

”You did your full share of the hard work, I am told, marching, going on picket duty, and chopping


 “Yes ; I was put on detail just like the others, and I never made any excuse. I was awfully afraid they would find me out, and then I’d have to go.”

” But they did not find you out.”

“No ; not till I was wounded. The most I care about now is that they won’t let me go back.”

 “Where did you come from and what is your real name?”

“I don’t want to tell, and I sha’n’t tell, either.”

When she was able to sit up the question of clothing became an important one. The surgeon said, “She must have women’s clothes to put on.”

We women from the North, by gift and by purchase, provided the necessary outfit for a woman’s wardrobe.  To raise some funds for her we had her photograph taken, first in the uniform of a private soldier, and then dressed as a woman. She sold them to soldiers and visitors for twenty-five cents each, and raised considerable money. 

I have the two I purchased, which I have treasured in my war album all these years. She was stout and muscular, with heavy features, high cheek bones, and her black abundant hair was cut very close. She was perhaps twenty-six or twenty-eight years old, but when in her military rig looked like a beardless boy.

The time came at last when she must be dismissed from the hospital  and I was commissioned by the officers to find out all I could about her, and where she lived, as she had been more friendly to me than to the others. The interview was a long one. I can give only the main points. 

“The time has come,” I said, ”when you must be sent out of the hospital.  Where do you wish to go to?”

“I’ll stay in Nashville,” she answered.

“But you can’t stay in Nashville. This city is within the military lines, and no one can come in, stay here, or go out of this town, without a pass. You have come into these lines in disguise as a soldier, but you are now known. So if you not go willingly, you will be sent out in charge of a provost marshal. That is, you will be taken under arrest by the government officers to Louisville, and left there. Then what will you do? You are not strong enough to do hard work, and I doubt if you could get any work there to do.”

“I’m awfully sorry I can’t go back into the army.”

“You certainly cannot, the case is too well known; and recruiting officers have been warned, and will be on the lookout hereafter. If you will give your name and place of residence, the government will send you home, and the trip will not cost you anything.”

“If I tell you my name, and the place I wish to go to, will you keep it a secret?”

“I will be obliged to tell the officers.”

“Will you ask them not to publish it?”

“I certainly will; and I will never tell it to any one, except the officers from whom I will get the order for pass and transportation.”

“I will trust you,” she said; and she whispered her name and residence. Two days after that she was on her way to her home in the Northwest. I never knew what became of her.