Author Archives: Christopher M-A. Rivera

Cavalry Bugler

Legend has that it in July 1862 Union General Daniel Butterfield had enough.  The military bugle call at the time, a calling derived from a French bugle melody, found its way into the mouthpiece of every bugler.  Used in reveille, lights out, and the honoring of the fallen, the French tune irritated Butterfield to no end.  Thus, he conceived to compose his own bugle call.  At Harper’s Landing, Virginia, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Michael Lee Laming writes, “There he made what may be his most lasting contribution to the military.”[1]  Laming is astute in this observation as Taps, the bugle call credited to Butterfield, has survived the Civil War.  Historical memory has remembered Butterfield and the story of the creation of Taps well.  However, Taps isn’t the only military song of the Civil War to have a colorful history.

One of  the most famous military songs to come out of the Civil War is not “Taps”, and maybe even more shocking, not even Northern.  The Confederate ‘national anthem’, Dixie, is well known today and has entered the American psyche as a powerful statement of rebellion.  In fact, the song is so famous, it is played by the modern United States Military Academy Marching Band.  The song was composed in 1859 by Dan Emmett who composed a lot of music for minstrel shows and appeared many times in blackface.[2]  Emmett, a native of Ohio, said in composing the piece, “Like most everything else I ever did, it was written because it had to be done.”[3]

The tune, in historical memory has taken on epic proportions.  In Gone with the Wind, the song is heard as a rallying cry after the fall of Fort Sumter, and again after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg.  In the latter, the camera focuses on a band corps playing the tune to strike up pride in the Confederate cause.  The scene becomes disagreeable as a young band member sheds a tear as he plays.  In reality, the song found its origins exclusively on the minstrel stage, and not in the hearts and minds of Southerners.  The Lost Cause pride in the anthem is laughable when considering the true first lyrics of the song and not the longing to be back in the South:

Dis worl’ was made in jiss six days,

an’ finished in various ways,

Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie land.[4]

When singing the song today it is only fitting when beginning the Confederate anthem to sing in the original minstrel fashion, and remember the stereotypical black dialect written by Emmett:

I wish I was in de land ob cotton,

Old times dar am not forgotten,

Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie land.[5]

The racial undertones of Dixie come through when examining the lyrics of the piece, which seems to be seldom done.  Historical memory concerning the song has forgotten these undertones and instead focuses on the upbeat nature of the piece, made even more impactful by nature in which the song has been played in recent years by bands belong to the United States military.  However, as memorable as Dixie is, it would be inappropriate to leave out the fact that the Union had a similar prideful tune, minus the racial undertones of course.


Battle Hymn of the Republic was composed by an individual that can be considered the exact opposite of Emmett.  Composed in in 1861 by Julia Ward Howe, Howe may actually be considered less of a composer and more of a lyricist.  Around this time she heard a group singing John Brown’s Body, a popular marching song of the day.  This tune proved to be so popular that numerous lyricists wrote variations on the lyrics.  Howe’s lyrics, as the legend told by her goes, were composed while her infant slept.[6]  Published in 1862 in The Atlantic Monthly, the Battle Hymn of the Republic evoked pride and nationalism.  Interesting to note, Howe herself was an abolitionist and devout evangelical.  Her lyrics and the song, like Dixie, have survived the years and entered into American memory, serving as a song of rally during the World Wars.[7]



While Battle Hymn of the Republic remains in the repertoire of military bands this day, few recall the biblical passages associated with the song.  The lyric, “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;” most assuredly comes from Revelations 14:19 which reads, “And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.”  The translation, this blogger asserts, is that Howe contends that the institution of slavery has laid over the land for too long and the wrath of God has festered and has now been unleashed upon the South.  Not all marching tunes of the Union, it should be noted, were steeped in abolitionism.



Another famous rallying tune for the Union was a very old song to the soldiers of the Civil War.  When Johnny Comes Marching Home was an Irish folk song of the seventeenth century and, interestingly enough, was at first an anti-war song.[8]  In 1863, Patrick Gilmore wrote the lyrics to the Irish folk song and became the song we know it as today.[9]  Being a folk song, the tune is less of a military march and more of popular tune.  Much like Johnny Comes Marching Home, Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel, composed in 1863 by John Thompson was less of a marching song.  Thompson’s composition, as Historian Chandra Manning notes that the song, “Mocked the Union Army’s failure to capture Richmond in 1861 and 1862.”[10]  Unfortunately, this wonderful backstory has faded from memory and now resides only with historians.



Songs of the Civil War are numerous and varied and all of them have interesting stories.  Whether Union or Confederate, abolitionist or pro-slavery, the music of the Civil War is intriguing.  As it is played today, Civil War tunes are much different in terms of connotation, but knowing these stories will elucidate the impact of the Civil War on music of the day.  Concerning music, perhaps  Ulysses S. Grant said it best when he claimed, “I only know two tunes: one of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’, and the other isn’t.”



[1] Lanning Lt. Col., The Civil War 100 (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2008), 345.

[2] Steven H. Cornelius, Music of the Civil War Era (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2004), 30.

[3] Dan Emmett, quoted in Steven H. Cornelius, Music of the Civil War Era (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2004), 30.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Diane Ravitch, The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation, Rev. 2nd ed. (New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2000), 257.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Mark Aldrich, A Catalog of Folk Song Settings For Wind Band (Milwaukee: Meredith Music, 2004), 36.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War, 1st Vintage Civil War Library ed. (New York: Vintage, 2008), 53.

Perhaps the most famous heroine in American combat history is Molly Pitcher.  At an early age children know her name and how she was on stand-by with water to cool the canons at the Battle of Monmouth (1778) then took up her husband’s station at the cannon when he fell in battle.  One children’s book proclaims, “General Washington heard what Mary had done.  He honored her by making her a sergeant in the army. From then on, Mary was known as ‘Sergeant Molly.'”[1]  This particular work is geared towards children of six years of age and does some interesting ‘adult’ things by including detailed information on her and her husband’s lineage .  On the cover is a strong, powerful, striking image of Pitcher and so striking is this image, that the battlefield fades away in the background in a haze of gunpowder smoke.

Monument of Molly Pitcher in Old Carlisle Cemetery, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Erected in 2000 for the 250th anniversary of the founding of Cumberland County

Molly Pitcher’s monument from afar.

This isn’t the only recent children’s book written on the heroine.  There is: Jessica Glasser’s,  Molly Pitcher: Young American Patriot (2006), Anne Rockwell’s, They Called her Molly Pitcher (2006), Augusta Stevenson’s, Molly Pitcher: Young Patriot (Childhood of Famous Americans) (1986), and Frances E. Ruffin’s, Molly Pitcher (American Legends) (2002). These are just a few and don’t include academic works.  In fact, so much is written on Pitcher it would seem that she won the Battle of Monmouth single-handedly.  Unfortunately, the American forces at the Battle of Monmouth only fought to a standstill and Pitcher has seemingly become the only legend out of the battle.[2]  So convoluted is this picture that on the back of a sing-along book dedicated to Pitcher it reads, “She helped win a big battle in the American Revolution.”[3]  In the ‘big battle’ Pitcher ‘helped win’, British General Henry Clinton was able to retreat and later the same year, sacked Savannah.[4]  The battle itself is important to remember as it was the first major battle fought along side America’s strongest ally, the French, and includes one of the most heroic moments in American history when General George Washington met retreating Continentals and rallied them to turn around and engage in a frontal assault on Clinton, forcing him to retreat.

Sarah Edmonds as herself: Left. Sarah Edmonds as Franklin Thomas: Right.

Voices aloud, calling attention to this work being intended to focus solely on the American Civil War and not the Revolution, are correct in pointing this out.  However, where are the children’s books on Sarah Edmonds, or the sing-along of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, and the robust statue of Albert Cashier?  Nowhere.  Indeed, cross-dressing women in the Civil War have been ignored and their role in combat downplayed.  For all intents and purposes, Sarah Edmonds, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, and Albert Cashier would be forgotten if not for a new wave of historiography giving proper due to the cross-dressing women of the Civil War.  While it may be argued that some of their stories were of no secret during and after the conflict,  the fact remains that the cross-dressing women that helped win the war lack a proper memorial.

The story of Sarah Edmonds begins in Canada.  Born in New Brunswick in 1841, her father didn’t much care for a daughter and fled south to the United States as ‘Franklin Thompson’.[5]  After joining the Union first as a male nurse, she applied to be a spy under General George B. McClellan.  What is amazing about this is that she successfully spied on the Confederates as a black man.[6] Edmonds contracted malaria after eleven successful spy missions and left the military having proved herself a heroine in the world of gathering information against the enemy.  In 1884 ‘Franklin Thompson’, by this time going by Emma Seelye, petitioned Congress to grant a pension which Congress did so at $12 a month for service during the Civil War for the rest of Edmond’s life.[7]

Pension of Sarah Edmonds listed as Franklin Thompson.

Edmonds was open about her time during the Civil War, going so far as to give interviews and write on her experiences.  In an incident at the Battle of Antietam (1862), Edmonds recalled that she discovered the dead body of another female soldier disguised as a man.[8]  Historian Anita Silvey contrasts this by pointing out that, “At least six women remained undiscovered in the army until they gave birth to babies.”[9]  Edmonds didn’t stay in the role of Thompson for any long period of time, but bravely served her country on the front lines.

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman volunteered as a man in the 153rd of New York after her brother was killed in battle.[10]  Wakeman went by the first name Lyons and sent letters during the war addressing herself as both Rosetta and Lyons.[11]  She died before the end of the war contracting dysentery.[12] Wakeman is the archetype heroine, showing bravery in the face of danger.  In a letter she wrote to her father on July 2, 1863 Wakeman writes, “Our regiment has laid out in the fields for some time every night, awatching [sic] for the rebels.  For if they do, they will get lick.”[13]  She is amazingly candid and brings to light some of the issues of the soldiers on the battlefield like pay.  She was steadfast in every way proclaiming, “For my part I am ready at a minute’s warning to go into the field of battle and take my stand with the rest.”[14] Wakeman invokes emotions that are certain to make individuals laugh and empathize with a true heroine, but are also sure to instill wonderment in her courage as a soldier.  In a memorable letter she writes, “I am as independent as a hog on the ice.  If it is God [sic] will for me to fall in the field of battle, it is my will to go and never return home.”[15]

Sarah Wakeman as Lyons Wakeman

One of the most interesting and tragic occurrences of a cross-dressing female soldier during the Civil War is that of Albert Cashier.  Cashier was born Jennie Hodgers.  Serving in  the 95th of Illinois during the Civil War, Cashier lived his entire adult life as a man.  His immersion into the cross-dressing role was not, it should be pointed out, intended to solely help him serve during the Civil War.  As such, he can be viewed as a hero in the modern transgender community, serving his country through battles like the Siege of Vicksburg (1863).  It was not discovered until 1911 that Cashier was physically female when he was examined by a doctor for a wound in a car crash.[16]  In a 1915 deposition given by a soldier that served with Cashier the comrade said, “I never suspected anything of that kind.”[17]  Any memorial depicting Cashier is sure to invoke controversy, but his contribution in the struggle for equality should never be forgot.

Albert Cashier

Grave of Albert Cashier

Deposition Concerning Cashier

Remembering the role of women in the Civil War is paramount, properly done only through memorialization.  The statue of Pitcher is feminine in nature, safe in assurance that she stayed within cultural conventions and stepped into the role of heroine by taking up her position from a masculine figure, only to continue his work.  What is not conventional is the role of women in the Civil War, cross-dressing and posing as men in order to fight.  A children’s book on cross-dressing soldiers during the Civil War will most likely never be written.  However, the women that fought during the Civil War deserve no less recognition.  It may be contented that Cumberland County chose Pitcher to represent the area and as such, have discretion in the manner in which she is depicted.  Pitcher, however, is not the typical heroine in American history as the women mentioned here prove.  The Civil War female crossdressing soldiers broke social boundaries that existed then and indeed, even today.  These individuals, it must be contented, should not be memorialized out of the act of crossdressing alone, but also the extreme bravery and courage they displayed in defending their country.  The Civil War may have been a war between ‘brothers’, but the role of ‘sisters’ cannot be discounted either.  Only by incorporating cross-dressing female soldiers in the story of the Civil War, through memorialization, can the full picture of the Civil War really come to light.

Frances Clayton as a male soldier.


[1]Rick Burke, Molly Pitcher (Chicago: Heinemann-Raintree, 2003), 23.

[2]Dennis P. ed. Ryan, New Jersey in the American Revolution, 1763-1783: A Chronology (Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1975), 343.

[3]Michael Dahl, Bring Us Water, Molly Pitcher!: a Fun Song About the Battle of Monmouth (Minneapolis: Picture Window Books, 2004), Back cover.

[4] Henry Beebee Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution, 1775-1781 (Charleston, SC: Nabu Press, 2010), 477.

[5]Susanna McLeod, “Canadian Sarah Edmonds a Civil War Spy,” Canadian History, (accessed June 22, 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7]Laura Leedy Gansler, The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier (University of Nebraska: Bison Books, 2007), 98.

[8]Anita Silvey, I’ll Pass For Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War (New York: Clarion Books, 2008), 66.

[9]Silvey, I’ll Pass For Your Comrade, 77.

[10]Silvey, I’ll Pass For Your Comrade, 84.

[11]Maureen Zieber, “Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, ‘Private Lyons Wakeman’,” (accessed June 26, 2012).


[13]Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, An Uncommon Soldier: the Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1996), 36.


[15]Ibid., 42.

[16]DeAnne Blanton, “Women Soldiers of the Civil War,” Prologue Magazine, Spring, 1993, 25.

[17]Robert D. Henneh, Deposition on the Case of Albert J.D. Cashier, 1915

Civil War battlefield hospitals in film strike up vivid imagery.  Examples include Confederate General James Longstreet meeting a wounded General John Bell Hood in Gettysburg (1993), Union officer Robert Gould Shaw witnessing an amputation in Glory (1989), and the shock of Scarlett O’Hara witnessing an amputation in Gone with the Wind (1939).  The doctors in these films seem to have a great deal of medical knowledge.  Retired orthodontist Dr. Michael Echols, having made something of a hobby collecting surgical tools from the Civil War and extensively researching education of doctors during the Civil War writes, “The perception that ‘doctors’ or ‘surgeons’ knew how to do amputations or any other kind of surgery is just wrong.”[1]  Part of the reason for this, as Dr. Echols points out, is that medical students in the United States “trained for two years or less.”[2]  A war resulting in an upwards of 800,000[3] deaths is staggering, what is even more so is the fact that the number was in some measure due to the responsibility of incompetent doctors.  As early as 1865, doctors were moved to explain the phenomenon of the Civil War and the actions taken by doctors.  Helping to create a Civil War memory of hospitals during the conflict, doctors became in essence early historians of the Civil War.  As a result, it is important to look upon the works of doctors following the conflict as not only works dedicated to medical research, but additions to the historical narrative.  It is possible to study these works and chart an evolution of memory regarding medical research and practices during the Civil War.

The earliest work from the Surgeon General’s office on the Civil War, Reports on the Extent and Nature of Materials Available for the Preparation of a Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion (1865), set the precedence of medical researchers holding a largely Northern perspective on battlefield medical practices.  The work comes up with some interesting statistics regarding injuries,although most assuredly inacurate, including a mortality rate of solders with surgeries to the upper extremities as 13-70% while the lower extremity surgical mortality rate is stated to have been 24-57%.[4]  The next set of works that ought to be mentioned addressed surgeries specifically.   A Report on Excisions of the Head and Femur for Gunshot Injury (1869), A Report of Surgical Cases Treated in the United States from 1865-1871 (1871), and A Report on Amputations at the Hip-Joint in Military Surgery (1867) dealt with various methods of extraction of bullets and post-operation follow-ups.

Edson D. Bemis displaying wounds sustained during Civil War. Found at:

Perhaps the most important work came from the 12th Surgeon General of the United States, Major General Joseph K. Barnes.  Ordered by Congress and published in three parts with two volumes per part over an eighteen year period, Congress essentially charged Barnes with counting the dead and detailing the means by which they died in Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion 1861-1865 (1870-1888).  It is an extremely fascinating work, and mixes a great deal of historical analysis regarding procedures performed before and during the war.  Barnes in the work states, “In the first year of the War, it became evident that the form of Returns of Sick and Wounded, then in use, were insufficient and defective…”[5], and attempts to get an accurate count of the dead and in doing so, creates a wonderful record for historians to draw conclusions from.

While the reports following the war show an application of medical knowledge on the battlefield, Echols is correct to point out that doctors were too inexperienced and schools in Europe offered far more advance schooling in the medical profession.[6]   In one of the most interesting accounts in the work, Barnes does a post-operation follow-up on Union solder Edson D. Bemis.  Wounded in the head and abdomen, Barnes notes that when asked about his health after the surgery Bemis told him, “I am still in the land of the living.”[7]

Medical reports following the war sought to detail the manner in which many died in the hopes to determine the effectiveness of medical practices.  For all intents and purposes, the Civil War was a learning experience for the medical field.  To explain their actions and better understand what could be done in the future, the details compiled by doctors in medical reports following the war are invaluable.  By producing these reports, doctors added to the interpretation of memory regarding doctors and as such, can be considered as early historians of the Civil War.

[1] Michael Echols, “American Civil War Medicine,” Civil War Medical Books & Surgeon Education, (accessed June 21, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] J. David Hacker, “Recounting the Dead,” New York Times, September 20, 2011.

[4] George Alexander Otis, Reports On the Extent and Nature of the Materials Available For the Preparation of a Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1865), 45.

[5] Joesph Barnes, Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion, Part 1 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870-1888), 1:iii.

[6] Michael Echols, “American Civil War Medicine,” Civil War Medical Books & Surgeon Education, (accessed June 21, 2012).

[7] Joesph Barnes, Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion, Part 2 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870-1888), 2:162.

Many things in Gone with the Wind (1939) have an overt allusion to the Lost Cause ideology.  Consequently, pinpointing something disconnected from this concept becomes something of a masterful game.  Indeed, Gone with the Wind seems to have borrowed much from the intricate memories of Southern histories written post-American Civil War.  Seeing the war in terms of a ‘War of Northern Aggression’, the movie becomes as one critic put it, “an over inflated example of the usual false movie approach to history.”[1]  However, one scene in particular was not so ‘over inflated’, that being when a band of highwaymen attacks Scarlett O’Hara.  This results in one of the most important scenes in the movie and underscores the significance of the Crime Wave of 1865.

Believing the film to have sensationalized crime incidents following the Civil War is to diminish the real impact of the hole left in law and order following the war, and underplays the role of women in the Crime Wave of 1865.  One observer immediately after the war said, “crimes had changed from fraud to violence”.[2]  Women in particular played an important role in the violence and their populace in the local prisons shot up during and after the conflict.  Historian Lisa Frank writes, “Many Georgia women grew desperate by the war’s midpoint.  This desperation led to the widespread looting of stores and raids on warehouses by groups of destitute women, often driven by hunger.”[3]  O’Hara’s hunger pains come to mind quickly.

The role of women in the Crime Wave of 1865 is correlated to the war itself.  Historian Edith Abbott notes that during the Civil War there were four stages in crime:  a decrease in male prisoners during the war, an increase of female prisoners, an increase of children prisoners, and an increase of male prisoners following the war with the number of female prisoners not having a stark drop off.[4]  Frank points out, “In April 1863, for example, sixty-five women, some armed with pistols and knives, moved down Broad Street in Columbus, looting several stores before police were able to restore order.”[5]  Indeed, O’Hara’s harrowing run in with the highwaymen mirrored the void left in law and order as much in the South as in the North.

Found in: Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870, Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 217.

In the North, the Crime Wave of 1865 became so devastating that one Milwaukee newspaper declared, “Milwaukee was swept by a wave of crime in 1865, following the close of the Civil War.  So acute did the situation become that the common council ordered the renting of two additional police station houses for the detention of prisoners.”[6]  Additional police did come, in the form of military tribunals.  Keeping in mind that many of these prisoners in the North following the war were soldiers[7], one organization dedicated to studying this phenomenon noted, “During this turbulent time of reconstruction, swift justice was meted out through the use of military commissions.”[8]  Furthermore, the abolition of the South left a void in crime control as Historian Christopher Adamson notes, “With the abolition of slavery, alternative forms of race control had to be found and race control naturally became a major aim in crime control.”[9]  Focusing attention on these slaves and less on bands of highwaymen, highlight the issues of the Crime Wave of 1865.

The Crime Wave of 1865 was widespread and the attacking marauders in Gone with the Wind would be found as much in the South as in the North.  As a result, the attack on O’Hara seems less fiction and more fact and highlights an important phenomenon occurring after the Civil War.  What seems ridiculous fiction is that Big Sam drives off the attacking men to save O’Hara who just so happens to be in the area with a fondness for his former master.  Do not let this diminish the important statement made by this scene, that the restoration of law and order following the Civil War did not come swiftly or easily.

[1] Lincoln Kirstein, Film Magazine, quoted in Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (New York: Knopf, 2001), 189.

[2] The Executive Committee of the Prison Association of New York, 1865, quoted in  Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870,” Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 223.

[3] Lisa Tendrich Frank, “Women During the Civil War,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2012).

[4] Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870,” Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 215-216.

[5] Lisa Tendrich Frank, “Women During the Civil War,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2012).

[6] Edward T. Kaveny, “Crime Wave Here in 1865 Became so Alarming as to Cause Petitions or Additional Police and Jails,”Milwaukee Sentinel, December 27, 1923.

[7] Frank Sanborn, Massachusetts State Board of Charities, 1872, quoted in Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870,” Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 215.

[8] Tobin T. Buhk, True Crime in the Civil War: Cases of Murder, Treason, Counterfeiting, Massacre, Plunder, & Abuse (Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2012), 221.

[9] Christopher R. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery: Southern State Penal Systems, 1865-1890,” Social Problems 30, no. 5 (June, 1983): 558.