Not all American women remained at home while the men fought the Civil War. Some wives, particularly those of officers, followed their husbands to the front lines of battle and lived with them at soldiers' camps. Some unmarried women spent time at the soldiers' camps as well, cooking, doing laundry, and sometimes serving as prostitutes even though the traditional values of society frowned upon this practice. In addition, approximately four hundred women posed as men in order to fight
Others overcame their reticence and came to different conclusions. Thousands of female nurses performed a wide range of tasks in formal and makeshift hospitals. They comforted and fed patients, helped change bandages, obtained supplies, cooked food, shook out ticks, did laundry, cleaned the wards, lifted patients, and helped soldiers write letters home. At least 21,000 female nurses served in the Union Army and others served as nurses in unofficial capacities. The number of female Confederate nurses is more elusive, but soldiers and doctors all noted their omnipresence. Even with volunteers in short supply, African American nurses were frequently relegated to menial tasks as ''wardboys.'' At Tunnel Hill Hospital in Atlanta, for example, ''negro women who aid in cleaning the wards are also required to wash'' (Mohr 2005, 278). Despite their varied roles, the work that women provided in military hospitals, at all levels, proved invaluable.
Sold thread, paper, matches, soap, and tea to the soldiers. She also took note of the Confederate defenses and collected other valuable information. When she was finished, she stole a horse to ride back to the Union line. She was shot at and wounded in the arm by Confederate forces, but she escaped. Another time, Edmonds went behind enemy lines disguised as a middle-aged black woman. While doing laundry for the Confederate soldiers, she found official papers in an officer's coat. She slipped out of the camp in the middle of the night and took the papers to Union leaders.
In addition, this lack of a male workforce, black and white, placed even more emphasis on the labor of African American slave women. As the Confederate Army impressed slave men, the women who remained in the slave communities were given the additional responsibility of doing the labor previously done by men. As some female house slaves were moved into the fields to work, others gained additional tasks inside the house. For example, one former slave recalled that during the Civil War, ''I worked in the big house, washed, ironed, cleaned up, and was nurse in the house when the war was going on'' (Weiner 1998, 165). Slave women also had to deal with the isolation and trepidation that came with loved ones living at a distance. Although the Confederate Army did not impress slave women, many slave owners hired out their female slaves to compensate for the white family's financial needs. Slave Ellen Campbell, for example, recalled that ''My young missus wus fixin' to git married, but she...
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