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"They Fought like Demons
They Fought like Demons
Popular images of women during the American Civil War include self-sacrificing nurses, romantic spies, and brave ladies maintaining hearth and home in the absence of their men. However, as DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook show in their remarkable new study, that conventional picture does not tell the entire story. Hundreds of women assumed male aliases, disguised themselves in men’s uniforms, and charged into battle as Union and Confederate soldiers — facing down not only the guns of the adversary but also the gender prejudices of society. They Fought like Demons is the first book to fully explore and explain these women, their experiences as combatants, and the controversial issues surrounding their military service.
Relying on more than a decade of research in primary sources, Blanton and Cook document over 240 women in uniform and find that their reasons for fighting mirrored those of men — patriotism, honor, heritage, and a desire for excitement. Some enlisted to remain with husbands or brothers, while others had dressed as men before the war. Some so enjoyed being freed from traditional women’s roles that they continued their masquerade well after 1865. The authors describe how Yankee and Rebel women soldiers eluded detection, some for many years, and even merited promotion. Their comrades often did not discover the deception until the “young boy” in their company was wounded, killed, or gave birth.
In addition to examining the details of everyday military life and the harsh challenges of warfare for these women — which included injury, capture, and imprisonment — Blanton and Cook discuss the female warrior as an icon in nineteenth-century popular culture and why twentieth-century historians and society ignored women soldiers’ contributions. Shattering the negative assumptions long held about Civil War distaff soldiers, this sophisticated and dynamic work sheds much-needed light on an unusual and overlooked facet of the Civil War experience.
Praise for the book:
“Cook and Blanton document the lives and experiences of 250 women on both sides of the conflict who went to war disguised as men. . . . The two pored over regimental histories, searched archives across the country and, most important, used unpublished diaries and memoirs given to them by the descendants of female soldiers who heard about their work and wanted the stories of their relatives told.” —New York Times
“I have been waiting a long, long time for They Fought like Demons. This meticulous and compelling book was well worth the wait! Blanton and Cook are the first authors to provide careful, comprehensive research on the fascinating topic of female Civil War soldiers. Their vivid and varied stories of these amazing women will find a wide audience.” —Catherine Clinton, author of Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars
“In recent years more and more information has come to light about women who disguised themselves as men and enlisted as soldiers in the Civil War. This book breaks new ground on this important issue. Documenting the service of more than 240 women soldiers, some of whom fought through the war, the authors show that courage and honor under fire were shared by men and women alike.” —James M. McPherson, author of For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
“For over 140 years the fact of women’s service as soldiers in uniform during the Civil War has been known to some, doubted by many. . . . The staunch persistence of DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook in bringing this story to light has paid off in spades. They Fought like Demons is a wonderful achievement and promises to be the reference book on Civil War women soldiers for many long years to come.” —Elizabeth D. Leonard, author of All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies
“This long-awaited work is the first detailed, comprehensive study of women soldiers in the Civil War. It belongs in all women’s military history and Civil War collections.” —Linda Grant De Pauw, author of Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present
DeAnne Blanton, a senior military archivist at the National Archives, specializes in nineteenth-century U.S. Army records. Lauren M. Cook, special assistant to the chancellor for university communications at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, is the editor of An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864.
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