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4.3 out of 5 stars
4
4.3 out of 5 stars

on 31 December 2014
Very interesting.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 October 2017
Neither the Union nor the Confederate Army in the Civil War authorized women to enlist or welcomed women combatants. Indeed, they were actively discouraged from the traditionally male preserve of combat. Yet a small number of women had the drive to assume male disguise and to enlist and fight. This book helps tell their story.

The authors of "They Fought Like Demons" DeAnne Blanton, a military archivist, and Lauren Cook, of Fayetteville State University spent more than a decade in researching primary sources to recreate the role of women as Civil War combatants. Their book tells us something about roughly 250 women soldiers, who fought either for the Union or the Confederacy.

The book spends a great deal of space on the motivations that caused women to disguise their sex and enlist. It finds that patriotism and devotion to their respective cause was the chief motive, as it was with men; but also finds that in many cases women enlisted to be with a male loved one, whether husband, lover, father, or brother. This latter motivation seemed important in the accounts and it seems to me different from the motivation of most male combatants.

The book gives good detail on women soldiers and, in the process, of Civil War military life. It describes how many women managed to avoid detection (of course, many were unsuccessful in so doing, particularly if they were wounded), the strength with which they fought, how they were regarded by their peers, both when they were assumed to be men and following the discovery that they were women, how women were treated as prisoners of war, in hospitals, and the extent of female casualties in the war. The book discusses the lives of some of the women after their career as soldiers -- one of the most interesting aspects of the book -- and it recounts some of the literature that was published about women soldiers during the Civil War era. There was more of this than I had supposed.

At the most basic level, Blanton and Cook make a convincing case that women fought in the war and contributed as soldiers on both sides. Women soldiers fought and sustained casualties at every major Civil War battle. I am a student of the Battle of Gettysburg and learned that a Confederate woman soldier died in Pickett's charge and that there were five women soldiers who were known to have fought at Gettysburg. There were also women prisoners at the notorious facility at Andersonville.

The organization of the book makes it difficult to follow the activities of most of the women in detail. This difficulty is also the result of the nature of the historical records. But two or three of the female combatants left memoirs or other records which perhaps could have been highlighted more effectively in this account.

It is worth remembering that there were about 2,750,000 combatants in the Civil War, 2 million for the Union, 750,000 for the Confederacy. Blanton and Cook document about 250 women soldiers and accept the general estimate of about 400 women soldiers serving in the War. This is statistically a very small amount. (One percent of 2.75 million is 27,500)It is also, of course, a tiny fractional percentage of the available pool of women. Thus, one should be hesitant about drawing broad global conclusions from this evidence. Blanton and Cook generally use their data wisely and circumspectly.

The Civil War remains the pivotal experience in our Nation's history. In many respects, it remains a shared American experience. Thus, it is good to have inclusive histories and to remember the role played by women in combat. Blanton and Cook show that during Civil War times, it was known that there were small numbers of determined women in the ranks. This book does a service by recreating this part of our national experience.

Robin Friedman
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on 10 November 2010
This is the story of some of the estimated 250-400 women who fought in the Union or Confederate armies during the American civil war (1861-5)
The reasons for the women enlisting are several- patriotism,to be with relatives or escaping dificult domestic conditions.
The stories of the lives the women lived and the battles they fought in are recorded in a truely excellent manner by the two American researchers.
The few pictures and illustrations are good considering their age.There is an extensive bibliography and notes section.
A first class read.
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on 7 April 2003
This account of female combatants in the War Between the States is quite fascinating. The notion of women fighting for the Rebs and Yanks was something I had never even thought about, so reading this book served as a significant learning experience for me. Clearly, a great deal of research went into this monograph, and the authors do an excellent job of describing the significant limitations imposed upon the researcher into this topic. Military records are incomplete, especially in the case of the Confederate Army, and some women served without ever being discovered at all. In the case of many, there is no record of their real names. The best substantive evidence comes from those whose actual gender was ascertained while being treated for serious wounds or who really let the cat out of the bag by giving birth. It is quite amazing to me to learn that women in the late stage of pregnancy not only kept their gender a secret but actually fought fiercely in battle at the same time. Women soldiers were also captured and imprisoned along with men, many of them refusing to divulge their secret despite the fact it might well win them release from the terrible conditions of prison camps.
Clearly, one must ask why women chose to fight. The authors devote a lot of attention to this important question. Many women took up arms in order to remain close to a loved one, be it a husband, fiancé, father, or brother; many fought for truly patriotic reasons, fuelled by the same motivations as men to defend their land and way of life. Some fought for economic reasons, knowing they could earn much more money as a soldier than they ever could as females at home; some loved the independence and removal of Victorian restrictions that a soldier's life offered them. Indeed, a small number of women had assumed male identities before the war began as a means of enjoying a better life for themselves, and some continued to live as men after the war ended for the same reasons.
The aspect of this story that I found most interesting was the reaction of male soldiers and the citizenry to the role women played in fighting. To my surprise, contemporary men and women often celebrated these brave women who took up arms. The revelation of discovery often came as a shock to the female soldier's comrades in arms, but by and large they were very supportive of those who were unmasked; even years after the war ended, they lent a lot of support to female soldiers who sought the pension they truly deserved for their service. There was no shortage of newspaper stories about women soldiers during the war, and Victorian society was surprisingly supportive and proud of those women who were motivated to serve out of romantic or familial love or true patriotism. These idealized motivations appealed strongly to the romantic notions of Victorian society. Women who joined up for selfish, economic reasons, on the other hand, were often reviled. The well-known lore and widespread respect for female soldiers continued up until the days of World War I, after which society and historians in particular either ignored, ridiculed, or cast aspersions on the internecine women warriors, and it is for this reason that the history of these unique soldiers was largely forgotten over the course of the twentieth century, only reemerging as a substantive topic in the final decade before the millennium.
There is much of interest in these pages: the means by which women soldiers managed to keep their real identities a secret, accounts of women in battle and the ranks several women attained as a result of their bravery and skill, stories of discovery and reenlistment(s), accounts of women captives in the worst of the prison camps, reports of children born on the front lines, information on the lives of several of these individuals in the years and decades following the war, etc. Numerous anecdotes are as informative as they are extraordinary. One of the slight issues I have with the monograph is the way in which information on each known female soldier was presented in piecemeal fashion-motivations, experiences, discovery, and the like are treated in separate chapters; I would have liked a continuous discussion of at least one prominent individual. As things stand, it is difficult to achieve deep insight into any one such person's motivations, experiences, and thoughts as a whole. This is a small criticism, however, because this book really is excellent. Featuring voluminous footnotes and an impressive bibliography, They Fought Like Demons is a landmark achievement in women's history as well as the history of the War Between the States.
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