Before I left we began talking about women and the roles they played in the war. We looked at women's roles in general and then we talked about a woman who disguised herself as a man and fought as a man. Today I'd like to talk about another woman, Anna Etheridge.
Anna was a daughter of the 2ndMichigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a vivandiere. In 1861, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 troops to serve in the Defenses of Washington D.C.. The 2ndMichigan, mustered in as " The first three-years Regiment from Michigan." (Dyer), marched to Washington in June and stayed in the defenses until. their first major battle on July 21,1861 at Manassas.
The soldiers called Anna "Gentle Annie" and thought of her as an angel of mercy. But don't let the name fool you, she was more like a combat medic in today's world. Anna was not like other vivandieres, she didn't slow down in the heat of battle, nor did she turn tail and run. She wore two pistols in her belt and stayed just behind the lines with the surgeon's orderly. When she saw a man fall she dashed into the midst of the battle to lift the wounded soldier onto her horse and get him to safety.
After the First Battle of Bull Run the unit remained in the Defenses of Washington until March, 1862 when they began service in the Peninsula Campaign as part of the Third Brigade, Third Division, Third Corps. The 2ndMichigan fought in every battle of the Peninsula Campaign but, when at the outset of the campaign General McClellan, newly appointed General of the Army of the Potomac, ordered all women out of camp Annie was forced to temporarily leave the regiment. She may have been ordered out of camp but she didn't go home. She worked with the Hospital Transport Service, a volunteer civilian organization formed by the Sanitary Commission. In anticipation of heavy casualties needing to be moved to hospitals in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, the organization was given possession of unused government transports docked at Alexandria, Virginia. Wounded soldiers arrived by train twice a day and Annie, assigned to the Knickerbocker, along with others washed the blood and grime from the men's bodies and got them ready for the surgeons. When the transport filled to capacity, which was about 450, it sailed to one of the hospitals, deposited the wounded and returned time and again for more wounded.
The Peninsula Campaign resulted in thousands upon thousands of casualties, casualties from sickness as well as wounds. The fighting was bitter but the mud, swamps and "Chickahominy fever", caused by the poisonous air from the swamps and marshes, claimed many a soldier. Perry Mayo of the 2ndMichigan wrote to his parents following the battle of White Oak Swamp,
One of the bloodiest battles ever fought. Our regiment is very badly cut up".After the battles we have fought and the sickness occasioned by the hardships of camp life, the [regiment] can not raise more than 300 men now, fit for duty".I was at the depot where the wounded were sent off on the cars [headed for the hospital transport ships] and helped load three trains with wounded men. The piles of arms and legs around the operating stands was enough to sicken anyone not used to such sights.
In August, 1862, the Army of the Potomac retreated towards Washington, D.C. taking Annie with them. Once again Confederate forces gathered in the vicinity of Manassas and on August 29 - 30 the two armies clashed in the bitter Second Battle of Bull Run. Annie was with the regiment helping several soldiers to safety and while helping a soldier of the 7thNew York Infantry Regiment, a cannonball "tore him to pieces under her very hands." (Hall, 39) Only advancing Confederate soldiers forced her to flee.
Later, while bandaging the wounded, General Kearny, commander of the Third Division, Third Corps, approached Annie and said, "I'm glad to see you here helping these poor fellows, and when this is over, I will have you made a regimental sergeant." Unfortunately, General Kearny was killed two days later at Chantilly and she never received the appointment.
Annie became well-known and in February, 1863 a newspaper correspondent from Bangor, Maine described her in a dispatch from Washington, D.C. that was reprinted in the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune. Part of the article says,
Colonel [Israel B.] Richardson was engaged in raising the 2ndMichigan volunteers, and she and nineteen other females volunteered to accompany the regiment as nurses. Every other has been returned home and been discharged, but she has accompanied the regiment through all its fortunes, and declares her determination to remain with it during its entire term of service. She has for her use a horse furnished with side saddle, saddle-bags, etc. At the commencement of the battle she fills her saddle bags with lint and bandages, mounts her horse, and gallops to the front, passes under fire, and regardless of shot and shell, engages in the work of staunching and binding up the wounds of our soldiers. In this manner she has passed through every battle in which the regiment has been engaged, commencing with the battle of Blackburn's Ford, preceding the first battle of Bull Run, including the battles of the Peninsula and terminating with the battle of Fredericksburg.
General Berry [brigade commander] declares that she has been under as hot fire of the enemy as himself" on many occasions her dress has been pierced by bullets and fragments of shell, yet she has never flinched and never been wounded".When not actively engaged on the battle field or in the hospital, she superintends the cooking at the headquarters of the brigade. When the brigade moves, she mounts her horse and marches with the ambulances and surgeons, administering to the wants of the sick and wounded, and at the bivouac she wraps herself in her blanket and sleeps upon the ground with all the hardihood of a true soldier.
In March, 1863 the 2ndMichigan transferred to Kentucky and were no longer part of the Army of the Potomac. Annie, wishing to stay with the Army of the Potomac, changed service to the 3rdMichigan and stayed with them through the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. At the battle of Chancellorsville, May 2 - 3, 1863, she was ordered from the front lines. Later a historian described her retreat in this way:
Very loath to fall back, she turned and rode along the front of a line of shallow trenches filled with our men; she called to them, "Boys, do your duty and whip the rebels." The men partially rose and cheered her".This revealed their position to the rebels, who immediately fired a volley in the direction of the cheering.
Later in the battle she found a badly wounded artillery man not receiving any care. The artillery units usually didn't have surgeons assigned to them and the infantry surgeons were busy tending to their own wounded. Annie bandaged the soldier and had him taken back to the hospital. About a year later, she received a letter found on the body of Lieutenant David A. Strachan, Company B, 63rdInfantry Regiment Pennsylvania, who died on June 6, 1864 from wounds received during the Battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864. (American Civil War Soldiers, #1130682) The letter reads as follows:
Washington, D.C., January 14th, 1864.
I am not long for this world, and I wish to thank you for your kindness 'ere I go.
You were the only one who was ever kind to me, since I entered the Army. At Chancellorsville, I was shot through the body, the ball entering my side, and coming out through the shoulder. I was also hit in the arm, and was carried to the hospital in the woods, where I lay for hours, and not a surgeon would touch me; when you came along and gave me water, and bound up my wounds. I do not know what regiment you belong to, and I don't know if this will ever reach you. There is only one man in your division that I know. I will try and send this to him; his name is Strachan, orderly sergeant in Sixty-third Pennsylvania volunteers.
But should you get this, please accept my heartfelt gratitude; and may God bless you, and protect you from all dangers; may you be eminently successful in your present pursuit".I know nothing of your history, but I hope you always have, and always may be happy; and since I will be unable to see you in this world, I hope I may meet you in that better world, where there is no war. May God bless you, both now and forever, is the wish of your grateful friend.
George H. Hill
This letter makes me want to cry. How many of us today would think to write a letter to someone when we're dying thanking them for doing something that ultimately didn't save us. George Hill had a kind heart and thought not of himself in the last days of his life but of others. I hope he did see Annie in "that better world."
Annie saw more action at the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor before the 3rdMichigan disbanded at the end of their enlistment period. By mid-June 1864, she was serving with the 5thMichigan. During that summer Annie once again had to leave the regiment when General Grant ordered all women to leave the camps and lines. Again she went into hospital service, this time at City Point, Virginia. She sent gifts such as onions and potatoes to her adopted soldiers in the 5thMichigan Regiment which went on to fight in the Petersburg Campaign and was at the capture of Petersburg on April 3, 1865 and at the surrender of General Lee at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Annie always seemed to have a guardian angel watching over her for while those around her were killed she remained safe.
Annie received the Kearny Cross, a divisional decoration designed as a "cross of valor" for enlisted men. This was the same General Kearny who wanted to appoint Annie regimental sergeant.
At the end of the war, the 5thMichigan returned to Detroit where it was disbanded on July 17, 1865. Sergeant Daniel G. Crotty, regimental color-bearer, described in his memoirs the emotional scene: "Noble Annie is with us to the last, and her brave womanly spirit breaks down, and scalding tears trickle down her beautiful bronze face as each of the boys and comrades bid her goodbye."
Ah what a scene that must have been. Here it was four years after the 2ndMichigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment first marched off to war. So much had happened and so many emotions had to be kept within. Now it was finally okay to cry!!
American Civil War Soldiers Database,www.ancestry.com/, accessed 15 March 2003; Internet.
Dyer, Frederick H.A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. Dayton, OH: Morningside, 1979. Available online atwww.civilwararchive.com/Unreghst/unmiinf1.htm#2nd, accessed 16 March 2003; Internet.
Hall, Richard. "Patriots in Disguise Women Warriors of the Civil War" New York, Paragon House, 1993.