- Vladimir Putin orders military to boost presence in Arctic
- Brooklyn, N.Y.: ‘Lesbian capital’ of the Northeast
- Elian Gonzalez: It’s America’s fault that my mother died
- India top court rules homosexuality is illegal
- Aaron Hernandez, ex-Patriot, on prison life: ‘I’m way less stressed in jail’
- Man pulled from water believed to be disgraced D.C. cop
- Kabul airport hit by suicide bomber who targeted NATO gate
- Space probe on course to land on mile-wide comet
- New budget accord saves $23 billion — after $65 billion spending spree
- Congress seeks ban on in-flight calls
Civil War nurse achieves rank of major
When the Civil War broke out, many women were anxious to serve, too, although the Army only accepted male soldiers.
Some women became nurses at the battlefields and on the home front. An unknown number disguised themselves as men and served in the Army. Then there was Union Maj. Belle Reynolds, the only woman who was commissioned as an officer during the war.
Reynolds was born Arabella Macomber in 1843 in Shelburne Falls, Mass. Her family moved to Iowa in 1857. On April 12, 1860, she married William Reynolds, a Peoria, Ill., physician. Just one year later, on their first anniversary, the South began firing on Fort Sumter. William immediately signed up with the 17th Illinois and was sent to the front. Belle joined him in August.
From the start, she lived as her husband did. She ate solider food and went on soldier marches. She slept on the ground with only a blanket for cover, as did the men, and if it rained, she became as drenched as they were. While coping with Army rations, exhausting marches and any Confederate ordnance flying around her, Belle somehow found the energy to nurse wounded and dying soldiers. She often sat up nights with them.
She faced her greatest trial at the two-day Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee on April 6 and 7, 1862. The 17th Illinois was serving with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant by then. The Army had gone into camp, not expecting a Confederate attack -- but that's what happened. The unprepared Union Army was pushed back, almost into the Tennessee River. Union reinforcements eventually arrived, and on the second day, the Southern army was, in turn, driven back.
The quartermaster's boat was turned into a floating hospital for the Union men. Belle went there to help, while William was sent forward. They had just enough time to say goodbye to each other, no doubt wondering if it was their last goodbye on Earth. (It wasn't -- William survived.) The boat was in danger of being overrun by panic-stricken soldiers, so Belle was ordered to stand guard with a revolver and fire it into the air if necessary. Later that night, she began nursing the men on board.
On April 8, Belle and a few other women left the boat and made their way across the battlefield to do daytime nursing at Shiloh's log church, which had been converted into a hospital. When nightfall came, they went back to the boat to nurse a new load of shattered bodies there.
This was the pattern for the next week. For seven days, Belle got no sleep, except when she could sit down for a few minutes and rest her head on the boat's railing. Then a visiting party of physicians and Gov. Richard Yates of Illinois saw her condition and insisted she return home with them to recuperate for a while, traveling on the USS Black Hawk.
During the journey, the others naturally were curious about what she had seen and done, and when they learned of it all, the governor exclaimed, "Why, this woman is more deserving of a commission than half of the men who have them." One of the doctors suggested the governor go right ahead and give Belle a commission.
Yates took out a blank commission form, filled it out, and signed it. The key passages read: "I, Richard Yates, Governor of the State of Illinois and Commander in Chief of the Illinois State Militia ... do commission her to take rank as Major, from the 7th day of April, 1862," and "I do strictly require all officers and soldiers under her command to be obedient to her orders."
Two weeks later, Belle returned to camp with her commission and also a black horse given to her by the governor. Belle and William would serve three years altogether, though she would be considered an invalid during the last two. Both husband and wife survived the war.
After the war, a few naysayers occasionally claimed her rank was honorary, not fully official, a bit of make-nice by Yates. A few journalists even put the word major in quotes.
For the most part, however, there were no doubts about Belle's status. When she was back in camp, the soldiers tossed their hats into the air and yelled, "Bully for you!" Then more than 3,000 of them marched past, saluting her.
• John Lockwood is a Washington writer.
By Donald Lambro
Growth spikes are little more than trend-free anomalies
- Teen thugs in DC run wild -- even while wearing GPS ankle bracelets
- New budget accord saves $23 billion -- after $65 billion spending spree
- Obama takes 'selfie' at Mandela's funeral service
- VEGAS RULES: Harry Reid pushed feds to change ruling for casino's big-money foreigners
- CARSON: Why did the founders give us the Second Amendment?
- Gov't Motors: Obama fudges math on auto bailout, $15 billion loss for taxpayers
- Somber duty: U.S. presidents in hot demand at Mandela's memorial
- FITTON: A closer look at the Benghazi lie
- American bourbon now better than Scottish whiskey: U.K.-born expert
- LAMBRO: The dark lining to the silver cloud of Obamanomics
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Helping the YOUniverse conspire on your behalf.
A column dedicated to discussing politics, national security, civil liberties, and education.
Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
The “Silver Tsunami” created by aging Baby Boomers is hitting America. Let’s explore how we adjust to it, enjoy it and defy negative expectations about age.
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow