It seems strange how our aversion to seeing suffering is overcome in war, —how we are able to see the most sickening sights, such as men with their limbs blown off and mangled by the deadly shells, without a shudder; and instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist in alleviating their pain, bind up their wounds, and press the cool water to their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy and pity.
—Susie Baker King Taylor, excerpt from A Black Woman’s Civil War Memoirs, originally published as Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: With the 33rd United States Colored Troops, late 1st S. C. Volunteers (Taylor 1988, 87-88)
Susie Baker King Taylor’s 1902 memoir is the only account of an African-American girl’s life on the frontlines during the Civil War. It relates her experiences while attached to the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, one of the first black regiments. Although Susie took on the challenging roles of a grown woman all through the war—she was teacher, nurse, laundress, and soldier’s wife—she was only 12 years of age when the first shot was fired on FORT SUMTER and 16 years when the surrender was signed at Appomattox.
Though born a slave on August 6, 1848, Susie Baker spent much of her childhood living with her grandmother, who, though enslaved herself, was living much like a free woman, in Savannah, Georgia. Although education for African Americans was prohibited by law, Baker received lessons from Mrs. Woodhouse, a free black woman who operated a secret school near her grandmother’s home. Baker also managed to sneak instruction from another