Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Women at War: Civil War Service

One of the great things about the internet is that you can be looking up a specific subject matter and see a little link; click on that link and find out things you never would have thought about before.

For instance, did you know a woman invented "night signals" used by the US Navy and life saving (coast) guard until the 1930s? And, that the chemicals used for the pyrotechniques of these signals are the base of modern flares?

Me neither, but you can read all about it here.

. Franklin Coston was a scientist from Boston, employed by the Dept. of the Navy prior to the Civil War. He died an untimely death at a young age, some believing his work on gaslighting to have had toxic effects. He left Martha, his young wife, and three young children nearly destitute. Although virtually unknown historically, Martha Coston performed one of the most crucial roles in the Civil War, developing a night signals communications system for the Navy. As one peruses navy records of the war, one finds references to signals being used prior to battles to give instructions and operational orders during them. After the war, the Coston Night Signal was heavily relied upon by the U. S. Lifesaving Service and after its integration, the Coast Guard. It remained the main naval night signaling device utilized into the 1930s. The pyrotechnic formula developed is still the basis for flares used today.]

Read the entire memoirs because it has some interesting commentary about trying to deal with the military.

Then there is an open letter written in 1863 by Mary Abigail Dodge that appeared in the Monthly Atlantic: A Call to My Country Women, that virtually speaks through the ages.

O women, stand here in the breach,--for here you may stand powerful, invincible, I had almost said omnipotent. Rise now to the heights of a sublime courage,--for the hour has need of you. When the first ball smote the rocky sides of Sumter, the rebound thrilled from shore to shore, and [illegible] the slumbering hero in every human soul. Then every eye flamed, every lip was touched with a live coal from the sacred altar, every form dilated to the stature of the Golden Age. Then we felt in our veins the pulse of immortal youth. Then all the chivalry of the ancient days, all the heroism, all the self-sacrifice that shaped itself into noble living, came back to us, poured over us, swept away the dross of selfishness and deception and petty scheming, and Patriotism rose from the swelling wave stately as a goddess. Patriotism that had been to us but a dingy and meaningless antiquity, took on a new form, a new mien, a countenance divinely fair and forever young, and received once more the homage of our hearts. Was that a childish outburst of excitement, or the glow of an aroused principle? Was it a puerile anger, or a manly indignation? Did we spring up startled pigmies, or girded giants? If the former, let us veil our faces, and march swiftly (and silently) to merciful forgetfulness. If the latter, shall we not lay aside ever weight, and this besetting sin of despondency, and run with patience the race set before us?

A true philosophy and a true religion make the way possible to us. The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will; and He never yet willed that a nation strong in means and battling for the right should be given over to a nation weak and battling for the wrong. Nations have their future--reward and penalty--in this world; and it is as certain as God lives that Providence and the heaviest battalions will prevail. We have had reverses, but no misfortune hath happened unto us but such as is common unto nations. Country has been sacrificed to partisanship. Early love has fallen away, and lukewarmness has taken its place. Unlimited enthusiasm has given place to limited stolidity. Disloyalty, overawed at first into quietude has lifted its head among us, and waxes wroth and ravening. There are dissensions at home worse than the guns of our foes. Some that did run well have faltered; some signal-lights have gone shamefully out, and some are lurid with a baleful glare. But unto this end were we born, and for this cause came we into the world. When shall greatness of soul stand forth, if not in evil times?[snip]

Let us show now what manner of people we are. Let us be clear-sighted and far-sighted to see how great is the issue that hangs upon the occasion. It is not a mere military reputation that is at stake, not the decay of a generation’s commerce, not the determination of this or that party to power. It is the question of the world that we have been set to answer. In the great conflict of ages, the long strife between right and wrong, between progress and sluggardy, through the providence of God we are placed in the vanguard. Three hundred years ago a world was unfolded for the battle-ground. Choice spirits came hither to level and intrench. Swords clashed and blood flowed, and the great reconnaissance was successfully made. Since then both sides have been gathering strength, marshalling forces, planting batteries, and to-day we are in the thick of the fray. Shall we fail? Men and women of America, will you fail? Shall the cause go by default? When a great Idea, that has been uplifted on the shoulders of generations, comes now to its Thermopylae, its glory-gate, and needs only stout hearts for its strong hands,--when the eyes of a great multitude are turned upon you, and the fates of dumb millions in the silent future rest with you,--when the suffering and sorrowful, the lowly, whose immortal hunger for justice gnaws at their hearts, who blindly see, but keenly feel, by their God-given instincts, that somehow you are working out their salvation, and the high-born, monarchs in the domain of the mind, who standing far off, see with prophetic eye the two courses that lie before you, one to the Uplands of vindicated Right, one to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, alike fasten upon you their hopes, their prayers, their tears,--will you, for a moment’s bodily comfort and rest and repose, grind all these expectations and hopes between the upper and nether millstone? Will you fail the world in this fateful hour by your faint-heartedness? Will you fail yourself, and put the knife to your own throat? For the peace which you so dearly buy shall bring to you neither ease nor rest.

Please read the rest. It is much the same today as in every war before.

Read other interesting stories about women in the Civil War.

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