Saturday, April 16, 2022

Daughters of the Regiment - Vivandieres of the Civil War by Jo-Ann Roberts

Having just finished "Ainsley" my contribution to the Love Train series, I've turned my attention to Book Two in the Mended Heart series, "Winning the Widow's Heart".

In early July 1864, General Sherman ordered the arrest and deportation of the 400 women, children, and a few men from Roswell and Marietta, Georgia with treason for spinning yarn and weaving cloth for the Confederates. Then he shipped them north, from their homeland, through Tennessee and on to Louisville, Kentucky, ordering them to cross the Ohio River and support themselves in Indiana in whatever way they could.  

"Winning the Widow's Heart" follows the journey of Sofie Bishop of Roswell, Georgia from teacher to mill worker to alleged traitor and Union Captain Seth Ramsey, one of the officers charged with transporting the mill workers north.

While doing my research, I came across an article on vivandieres. Having never heard of these women who were part of a regiment, down the rabbit hole I went. Honestly, learning about these women was enlightening. I've never heard them mentioned in any history books, let alone a historical romance, either as the heroine or in a supporting role. There were the usual nurses, laundresses, cooks, and soiled doves who traveled with the armies. But!

A vivandiere was a woman who filled several roles as needed: water bearer; a seller/distributor of food and creature comfort items like whiskey and tobacco; a nurse, a laundress, a mascot for shoring up morale; and many other incidental ones that came up as circumstances warranted. There were similar ladies called cantinieres, but at least early on there was a distinction between the two; vivandieres could accompany a unit onto the battlefield, while the cantinieres were to remain behind in camp. It has been noted that vivandieres did occasionally fight with their men.

Uniforms of vivandieres in the American Civil War varied from regiment to regiment. All had in common a knee-length skirt worn over full trousers, a tunic or jacket, and a hat. This style of costume was similar to bathing costumes depicted in fashion magazines of the period and was suitable for the outside exercise required of vivandieres who lived and marched with their regiments. There was a great deal of variation in trim and materials.
Mary Tepe

When the Civil War began, French-born Mary Tepe and her husband Bernard both joined the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, popularly known as Collis’ Zouaves. 
French Mary Tepe owed her nickname to her accent. In her role as a Zouave vivandiere, French Mary Tepe wore a blue jacket, red pants, and a blue skirt trimmed in red. She participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), during which she received a bullet wound to one of her ankles. After a short hospitalization, Tepe rejoined her regiment. In July 1863, Mary and the 114th PA fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. When the battle was over, Mary volunteered her services as a nurse. A few weeks later, her nursing work at Gettysburg completed, she continued with her regiment and served throughout the remainder of the American Civil War.
Annie Etheridge
In April 1861, Annie Ethridge joined nineteen other women who enlisted as vivandieres with the Second Michigan Volunteer Regiment. Annie served throughout the rest of the war with the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments. She became famous for her bravery under fire; after a battle, her skirt was always riddled with bullets. She carried pistols for her protection, saddlebags filled with medical supplies, and she frequently rode on horseback to the line of battle to aid wounded soldiers. She served at the First and Second Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Fredericksburg. 
‘Gentle Annie,’ as she was called, worked for the Hospital Transport Service, which ferried wounded soldiers to military hospitals in the North aboard old paddle wheel boats that had been converted to be used for that purpose. Annie was used as a shield at one point -- some cowardly officer squeezed in behind Annie and her mare to shield himself from the fighting. Surprised, she turned to speak to him (and probably was going to tell him to get back into the fighting) when a stray minie ball struck him, killing him.

Kady Brownell 
 In the early 1860s, Kady McKenzie worked as a weaver in the mills of Providence, where she met and fell in love with Robert Brownell. With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Robert joined the 1st Rhode Island Infantry; Kady was determined to serve with him. 

 At the First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861), she held the regimental flag high as Confederate bullets were flying all around her. After enlisting in the 5th Rhode Island Infantry with her new husband, she served at the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina (1862). Brownell remained in New Bern after the battle, caring for her wounded husband. After his recovery he was deemed unfit for battle, and both were discharged.


                                                                                   Lavinia Williams of the 1st Louisiana Tigers

Calculating the exact number of women who served as vivandieres is nearly impossible. Neither North nor South recognized the service of vivandieres and they are rarely mentioned in official records. Their courage and brave deeds are recorded in personal accounts and post-war regimental histories. 

Armed with this fascinating information on those brave, intrepid women, a vivandiere or two will be featured in "Winning the Widow's Heart" coming late 2022/early 2023.

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  1. What an interesting post. I had no idea women filled these roles during the Civil War.

  2. This was fascinating. I had never heard of these women. Thank you for your research, Jo Ann.


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