Many Civil War books have been published about women serving secretly in the Union or Confederate Army. Some served as nurses and as what might be considered mascots openly. Bonnie Tsui has gathered research on certain women who did serve in some way during the Civil War as well as photographs of some of these women in and out of uniform. Readers may wonder how these women were able to pass the physical examinations; in those days, the Armies on both sides were not too concerned about the physical condition of their volunteers or, later, their conscripts. They wanted “men” able to shoot a gun and march from one place to another; they did not do a thorough examination. According to Tsui, soldiers retrieving the dead or wounded from battlefields discovered, to their surprise, a woman’s body in uniform.
Tsui refers to and quotes from many sources written since the Civil War. There are not many autobiographies of women who masqueraded as men. Some of the information Tsui discovered came from letters and diaries of these women. Some of these women’s families and friends knew what they were doing, while others had no idea. Most women, after the War or after being discovered, returned to wearing women’s clothing - but not all of them. One woman kept up her masquerade into her 70s or 80s. Some asked for and received a pension from the government just like their male counterparts.
She Went to the Field is a fascinating compilation of biographies of women who were outrageously brave to go to War, either dressed as a man or not. Tsui is a former associate editor at Travel + Leisure magazine and a recipient of the Radcliffe Traveling Fellowship and a 1999 graduate of Harvard University. She has written for numerous publications including Travel + Leisure, New York Times, Boston Globe, and the Sydney Morning Herald.
She Went to the Field is a great addition to Civil War and Women’s Studies collections in public and academic libraries. It is also a great addition to personal libraries - Civil War enthusiasts will like this coveage of an unusual sub-topic of the Civil War.