Some Heroic Women of South Carolina
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Mrs. James H. White.
Johnston, S. C.
As historian of this Chapter, I feel it an honor, as well as a privilege, to be able to testify to the many acts of heroism among the women of the South during that trying period of the four years’ war. As my life at that time was not cast among the hills of old Edgefield, I must beg that I be not confined to that County, not even to the State of South Carolina, in telling some of the reminiscences of heroic deeds.
Those of you whose lives have dawned since the blessed Angel of Peace spread her wings over our dear Southland, or even those who were children at that time, can have no adequate conception of the labor and trials the wives and mothers, and even the young girls, endured. There was work for all. While the mothers were looking after the carding and spinning that had to be done, not only to supply the family with clothing, but to send to the soldiers; or riding over the farm, directing the hands, so that the crops would not fail; the young girls were busy knitting socks, or making garments to send to the loved ones in the camp. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” And those brave women who took the part of man, as well as woman, deserve as much praise for their heroism as those who left home and followed the loved ones in the battlefield. History does not tell of those, but they deserve more than praise for their patience in waiting, and their energy in doing.
There are others who won for themselves names that will live so long as the historian’s pen shall immortalize their bravery in giving up the comforts of their homes, leaving all that a woman holds most dear, to share the dangers, trials and privations of a soldier’s life. Edgefield had one daughter whose name will be honored together with her generals and great men while a veteran of the Rebel army lives: Mrs. Neal Horn, who left her home and went with her husband and son to Virginia and, sharing their tent life with them, served through the war not with guns, pistols, and swords, but ever by their side, to supply, as far as she could, home comforts in cooking, and keeping their clothes clean and mended. When the God of Battle held high carnival, and the wounded and dying were all around, her womanly ministrations were not confined to her own loved ones, but many a mother’s boy was comforted, and his dying hour made easier, by her presence.
There are many in Edgefield who know and love the name of Mary Ann Bowie, “the soldier’s friend,” as she was called. While she was never amid the frightful scenes of the battlefield, still she gave her time and life, and traveled all over the country, soliciting contributions of money, clothing, or anything that could be used for their comfort.
Among those whose deeds were prompted by charity and love of country, there were others who were wild over the excitement and romance that the war offered. Belle Boyd sprang into notoriety first as a Southern spy and newspaper reporter. Many were” the acts of bravery she did in obtaining useful information for our generals. About a year before the close of the war, she was on the privateer “Greyhound,” bound for Nassau, when she was captured by the Yankees and suffered all the privations of a prison until she was ex-changed.
Of all who have gained a reputation for reckless daring and deeds of valor during the Civil War, there are none who outrank the brave Cuban girl, Loretta Valesque. Naturally of a romantic turn of mind, she became so enthused over the wrongs of the South that she determined to have a part in the tragedy there being played. The first act in her life of adventure was to marry a young American officer who was serving in the United States Army. She was only fourteen at that time; but the girls of Cuba mature so much earlier than here, she had a woman’s form and a woman’s heart. When war between the States was declared, his regiment was ordered back to the United States, and such was her influence over him that, yielding to her persuasion, he left the Union Army and enlisted with the South. Loretta, full of the excitement pertaining to war, wanted to share the danger with him. She longed to be where she could hear the music of the bullets as they whistled past, and see the lightning of the swords as they flashed from the scabbards. Pleading with him to let her accompany him, she was, as she thought, justly indignant when he refused his consent. Womanlike, she concealed her impatience, and while he thought she had given up the idea, she only bided her time. “When a woman wills, she wills,” and you may depend on it. His farewell kiss was scarcely cold on her lips when she sought a tailor, to have him make and pad a suit of clothes for her. Thus disguised, she boarded a train for New Orleans. Alas! Lieutenant Harry Buford, her “nom de guerre,” had not calculated on the heat of the city, consequently the padded garments became un-endurable; so she had to find another tailor to substitute wire for cotton in the padding; these she fastened under her arms, giving her the necessary squareness to her figure. After getting rigged up, her next step was to raise a company of recruits, and, at the head of these, she made her way to Pensacola, to join her husband. Words cannot express his surprise and chagrin when she was shown into his presence and made herself known to him; but he was a wise man, and appreciated the romantic side of the situation, so instead of giving her away and opposing her, he helped to drill her soldiers. Unfortunately for her, her husband was killed not long after by the bursting of his carbine. Nothing daunted, she succeeded in having her company transferred to Virginia, and marched into line at the Battle of Bull Run. A writer, in speaking of her on that occasion, says, “No man on the field fought with more energy than she did; fear was not known to her.”
Getting tired of active duties, she decided to assume her female dress and take the part of a spy. Having bribed an old Negro to ferry her across the Potomac one freezing cold night, she arrived safely in Washington. There she renewed her acquaintance with some officers of the Northern Army. Bringing all her powers of fascination to bear upon them, she gained what valuable information she could and then returned to the Confederate lines.
In giving us a short history of her life as soldier and spy, the writer remarks that, in the midst of her varied experiences, she found time to be married three times, and left the romantic adventures of her life as a legacy to her children. A wound on her arm caused her sex to be discovered. Once known, she managed to escape to some other section of the country, and again assumed her masculine garb. The last that was heard of this wonderful woman, she had gone to California as a miner.