Forty women left an indelible mark on the Civil War

Written by Faren Leacock, CNN

To survive unscathed in battle, any soldier requires courage, endurance and a healthy liver.

Just ask the men of New Orleans’ Confederate Army, who had to deal with the ill effects of alcohol on the battlefield during the American Civil War. Then there’s the women who suffered both physically and psychologically.

“On the battlefield, men were never around when a woman died,” said Marianne Beaupre, co-founder of the Louvin Family Research Center in New Orleans.

At least 13 women, including singers and pianists, doctors and even a schoolteacher, were among the Confederate soldiers killed during the war. Most died from pneumonia and peritonitis — not even from gunshot wounds.

“They would shoot and injure each other; their wives were sitting out in the fires,” said Helen Russell, a historian who has researched the deaths of the women.

The women had to keep fighting; they experienced two horrors: combat and illness.

“Now, they were already suffering from their own illness, plus a husband who was going off to fight,” said Russell. “It’s a terrible situation. There’s no war left to fight.”

The women eventually came together through a community organization called Josephite Women of Saint Joseph, also known as the Real Society of Nurse-Soldiers of the Common Tiber.

These women were the “lady doctors” of their time, Russell said. They got married and became responsible for caring for men who were sick during their absence. The women also had their own organizations, like the Poor House League, which fought for social justice.

The Civil War: In context

With the help of historical records, such as letters, diaries and oral histories, Russell assembled a portrait of these women and found their stories have never been heard in the public eye.

“It’s been a great awakening for me,” said Russell, describing the shock of coming across the women’s experiences in the archives of The University of Notre Dame’s Archeology Department. “For a long time, the stories of the women have been suppressed.”

Still, Beaupre says the stories deserve a broader audience. Women who served in the U.S. military often benefit from higher valor medals than their male counterparts.

Even today, veterans who served in the Korean War or Vietnam are recognized as the “Conquest heroes,” while World War II servicemen who fought in Europe, or the Persian Gulf War and later Afghanistan, are bestowed the “Somewhat Important Hero” honor.

Bemoaning the lack of recognition of these women, Russell says it’s the old saying, “Once a warrior, always a warrior.”

“If you fought, it’s just part of who you are,” she said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, women fought also, but they didn’t fight as hard.'”

Here’s a primer on the women whose stories are about to take center stage.

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