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Women Spies In The American Civil War

2273 words - 9 pages

With over a half million deaths the most gruesome war in American history drove citizens to action. The suffering during this era was so great many were inspired by nationalism to act. For those who were unable to join the fight upon the battlefield, espionage represented a chance for personal involvement. Although it is believed that many agents never sought recognition for their service, especially Confederate scouts, documentation depicts the espionage present during the American Civil War to be surprisingly sophisticated. By examining the recorded history involving active female intelligence agents in the American Civil War, we can see the roles of female scouts were severely underestimated, frequently encouraged, and generally unpunished in accordance to the rigid social formalities of the nineteenth century.
When first examining the documentation it is difficult to comprehend whether women were being patronized or treated too delicately; the fact of the matter is the average treatment of women during this era was radically different from society’s attitude toward men. It is also evident women exploited stereotypes to their advantage. Larry G. Eggleston explains the particular viewpoint of American society in Women of the Civil War as “Women were held with respect even though they were considered to be the weaker sex. Many women broke away from society’s traditional view of women when the Civil War began” (1). To avoid detection agents often manipulated social stigmas. Traditionally, Men were expected to join their countrymen upon the battlefield and women were to remain at home attempting to keep order. Some women were equally effective from their posts at home, while acting as scouts for their respected causes.
While the American Civil War has been romanticized for having turned brother against brother while back home the ladies mourned the antebellum balls passed, the notion of women behaving submissively and frivolously is preposterous. Furthermore, some women enlisted in the armies disguised as males, others found they could contribute their service to the war through acting as scouts. For those women that enlisted, changing their dress was only a small fraction of the work required to blend in to their brigade. Hiding all feminine characteristics including the ways, in which they walked, talked, sat, and acted was necessary to avoid detection (Eggleston 2). An abundance of radical periodicals and writings intended for a female audience emerged at the beginning of the war (Endres 32). With ample encouragement women found it within their interests to take an active role in the fight. Some, including Elizabeth Van Lew, simply desired for the feuding between the regions to end and found espionage to be their contribution (Kane 235). In “Companions of Crisis: The Spy Memoir as a Social Document”, Curtis Carroll Davis depicts the female scouts perceiving their duty to their country to be through espionage. Surprisingly, men, including...

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