Thousands of white and African-American women populated the Union and Confederate military encampments during the Civil War. Although most military histories never mention the contributions of women attached to the Civil War armies, women performed dozens of essential services for the troops. Laundresses; cooks; NURSES; MILITARY WOMEN (soldiers); female sutlers or vivandières selling spirits, food, tobacco, and dry goods; daughters of the regiment; soldiers’ and officers’ wives; and PROSTITUTES worked in or near the camps. When regiments went on the march, the womenfolk packed up their household belongings and accompanied them, usually walking or riding on wagons and carts at the rear of the troops.
The phenomenon of women laboring within the military camps was not a new development of the Civil War. The European continental armies of the eighteenth century welcomed women into their midst. In the American Revolutionary War, women worked in an unofficial capacity among the rank-and-file: washing clothing, cooking, sewing and repairing uniforms, nursing and cleaning. Revolutionary War soldiers depended on the services women provided for their well-being. Women were recompensed, in most cases, with half a soldier’s food ration, and, occasionally, a small wage.
During the Civil War, the main priority of most camp women was to be near their husbands, male relatives, lovers, or friends. When women could spare the time, they helped other men in the regiment in other capacities. They nursed soldiers during epidemics, lugged water to the campsites, cleaned weaponry, prepared ammunition, entertained the troops with