While it is no surprise that in the early 1800’s women were not supposed to hold political views, it is equally no surprise that some women didn’t particularly care about that gender social code explained Marianne Monson in Women of the Blue & Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies.
“The book covers women who flouted norms to participate in the war, both publicly and privately: as abolitionists, medics, spies, teachers, and even as soldiers. Monson captures these women in vivid historical scenes, showing how black women in particular accomplished so much, even as those in power thought them incapable of doing so,” said Meredith Grahl Counts in her review for forewordreviews.com.
Publisher’s Summary: Hidden amongst the photographs, uniforms, revolvers, and war medals of the Civil War are the remarkable stories of some of the most unlikely heroes-women. North, South, black, white, Native American, immigrant-the women in these micro-drama biographies are wives, mothers, sisters, and friends whose purposes ranged from supporting husbands and sons during wartime to counseling President Lincoln in strategy, from tending to the wounded on the battlefield to spiriting away slaves through the Underground Railroad, from donning a uniform and fighting unrecognized alongside the men to working as spies for either side.
This book brings to light the incredible stories of women from the Civil War that remain relevant to our nation today. Each woman’s experience helps us see a truer, fuller, richer version of what really happened in this country during this time period.
About the Author: Since she was a very young child, Marianne Monson has been fascinated by the power of words (and even tried inventing her own language for a time). After earning a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from BYU, she continued her study at Vermont College of Fine Arts, earning an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Since then, she has worked as an editor/art director of children’s books, authored eight books and counting for children and adults, and continues editing and writing for a variety of audiences, including magazines, books, blogs, and other publications. She teaches Creative Writing and English at Portland Community College. Her two children are often featured in her work (and are self-confessed logophiles as well).
Whether they were writing controversial articles, pamphlets, or novels, Monson said women such as Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe are well known for their efforts to end slavery. But others such as the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, left their South Carolina plantation to seek an education and rebel against the slave system. They authored a series of pamphlets urging the South to end slavery. They were kicked out of their Quaker sect and evicted from their housing. They would not acquiesce and set out on a nine-month speaking tour. Suffice it to say, in Women of the Blue & Gray, Monson expertly shares their almost forgotten story of ridicule and triumph that influenced how men and women believed and acted in the 19th century.
Monson revives stories of women warriors as well. She said most historians say that anywhere between 400 and 1,000 women concealed their gender in order to fight in the Civil War. Some followed their husband or a close family member. Others joined for the reliable pay or to escape an abusive home life. When their secret was found out, women risked rape, ridicule, and abuse. Each of the many women Monson discussed has an extraordinary tale worth hearing – both as inspiration and a reminder of the sacrifices these and other individuals made on behalf of the country.
Women of the Blue & Gray is a must read for adults or teens who enjoy learning about life in the 1800’s from multiple female perspectives. Union, Confederate, Native American, slave and freed women played astonishing and forgotten roles in shaping the culture and direction of this nation.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Also by Monson:
Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women – Monson shares the stories of twelve women who heard the call to settle the west and came from all points of the globe to begin their journey. As a slave, Clara watched helpless as her husband and children were sold, only to be reunited with her youngest daughter six decades later. Charlotte hid her gender to escape a life of poverty and became the greatest stagecoach driver that ever lived. A Native American, Gertrude fought to give her people a voice and to educate leaders about the ways and importance of America’s native people. All endured hardships, overcame obstacles, and changed the world.
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I’ll Pass for your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by Anita Silvey – Sarah Emma Edmonds enlisted because she believed in the Union cause; Melverina Peppercorn joined to stay near her twin brother. Although women were not allowed to enlist as soldiers in the Civil War, many disguised themselves as men and fought anyway.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott (audiobook) – Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women–a socialite, a farm girl, an abolitionist, and a widow–who were spies. After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives. Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war.
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