What Did Girls Accomplish during the U.S. Civil War?

When people think of the contributions of children during the Civil War, they often think of the young boys that snuck into battle, but the contributions of girls were equally important. Girls at the home front displayed their loyalty to the North and South in a variety of ways. Almost all girls found themselves performing new roles around the house when their fathers and brothers went to battle. In addition, many girls found inventive ways to support the soldiers.

After their fathers and brothers left for war, girls learned to help their mothers with more tasks. Southern families had to do housework without the aid of slaves. Emma LeConte wrote, “This afternoon I washed the dinner things and put the room to rights…this is my first experience in work of this kind.” Northern children also did housework. An Iowa mother remarked how cheerfully the children, led by her thirteen-year-old daughter, helped her run the family farm.

A common task for older girls was caring for and teaching their younger siblings. Emma LeConte became a teacher to her younger sister Sallie. Emma took pride in her work, stating, “I am fairly launched as a school marm.”

Girls did whatever it took to help their families survive, even if the tasks were unladylike. Anna Howard of Michigan remembered, “I was the principal support of our family.” She and her mother took in boarders, sold quilts, sewed, and taught school. “It was an incessant struggle to keep our land, to pay our taxes, and to live.”

Northern and Southern girls also contributed to the war effort by aiding soldiers.  When Union infantry passed by her house during the Battle of Gettysburg, Tillie Pierce sprung into action. “I soon saw that these men were very thirsty…obtaining a bucket, I hastened to the spring, and there, with others, carried water to the moving column until the spring was empty. We then went to the pump standing on the south side of the house, and supplied water from it.” Tillie gave water to the soldiers during the first two days of battle. When the battle ended, she became a regular visitor at the makeshift hospital nearby, bringing treats to the soldiers. Just as Tillie gave out water to Union soldiers, Sally Hawthorne of Fayetteville, North Carolina handed out sandwiches to Confederate soldiers fleeing from Sherman.

Girls on both sides of the conflict participated in raising money for soldiers. In the North, the biggest fundraising efforts that included children were fairs given by the Sanitary Commission. Girls worked four hour shifts at some fairs dressed as the Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe and surrounded by dolls for sale. Southern efforts were not as massive as Northern fundraisers because of wartime shortages, but the girls who participated were equally enthusiastic. Emma LeConte helped with a bazaar that raised money for sick soldiers. She wrote, “I was at the State House helping to arrange the tables until four o’clock…Everything to eat can be had if one can pay the price—cakes, jellies, creams, candies.”

Often girls did not wait for a big community event to help raise money. Some held their own fairs in their backyards. The Chicago Tribune described one of these “fairs.” Tables were filled with fruit, lemonade and cake. The tables “were presided over by veritable fairy queens” charming “the quarters and dimes out of the purses of visitors.”

Though they worked for different causes, northern and southern girls both had the desire to help their families and the soldiers fighting for their side.

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