HALSTEAD —There is an untold story in the history of the Civil War, the history of women like A.J. Luther of Elwood, Kansas. Luther died in 1863 in the Battle of Vicksburg, Louisiana. She died with the rank of Sergeant.
It is known that women prepared bandages, cared for the sick and wounded and did laundry during the Civil War. What is lesser known is that as many as 1,000 women served as soldiers — fighting for either the Union or the Confederacy.
"It is sort of the best-kept secret that women were even involved in the civil war," said Diane Eickhoff, an author and historical researcher. "When most people think of the Civil War they think of Grant, (George B.) McClellan and all the other heroes of the war and they do not give credence to women who were absolutely vital to the success of the war in many different ways,"
Eickhoff, an independent author and editor, and her husband, Aaron Barnhart, will both host “Women Soldiers of the Civil War” at 7 p.m. July 17 at the Halstead Public Library, 264 Main St., Halstead.
“This program evolved out of a single slide that often brought an earlier Speakers Bureau talk of mine to a standstill,” Eickhoff said. “People are as fascinated as I was to learn how so many women were able to disguise themselves as men — and to learn about their different motives for entering the battlefield.”
The program will follow the stories of indvidual women who fought in the Civil War.
Eickhoff spent about 15 years researching the era, writing a book about Clarina Nichols, who she calls the "political mother of Kansas." Clarina Nichols was a crusader for women's rights. During that research she started to get interested in women prior to the Civil War and what the war's impact was upon them.
She started researching the ways women supported the war efforts.
"Women were active during the Civil War. I discovered these amazing women who actually put on men's trousers, cut their hair and bound their breasts to pose as soldiers," Eickhoff said. "At that time there was no physical examination for soldiers. You went and sort of recruited yourself to serve. That is what these women did."
During the Civil War, hundreds of women cut their hair and donned men’s clothing to report for duty to Union and Confederate Army recruiters. Others served as scouts and spies or rode with their husbands and brothers in service. The presentation will explore a time when there was a great emphasis on women’s and men’s separate roles in society.
One of the reasons that attracted women to combat was they were paid the same as men — 50 cents a day.
"They were successful as other soldiers," Eickhoff said. "They favorably compared to male soldiers and were even promoted at a slightly higher rate than their male counterparts. They served in all the major battles of the Civil War. ... These women were not feminists. They were not politically motivated. Probably most of them were doing it for the money. For the first time in their lives they were earning the same amount as men doing comparable work. ... They were either needing to support families or they were also looking for (adventure). These were adventurous women."
Members of the community are invited to attend the free program. Contact the Library at 316-835-2170 for more information. The program is made possible by Humanities Kansas.