African American Women in the Armed Forces, Part 2: The Civil War (1861-1865)

During the Civil War (1861-1865), many black nurses served in the Confederate as well as the Union Army. Due to the racism that was embedded in the country, and reflected in the army, all black men and women were segregated from the white enlistees. They neither ate, slept, nor interacted socially.


Susie King Taylor, who was in the Union Army during the Civil War, wrote in her diary that the colored troops were not paid for the first 18 months that they served. They had to depend upon what they could get from the commissary. Their wives washed laundry, and sold cakes and pies to soldiers. Taylor wrote that in 1863 the government decided to give the African American soldiers half the pay of white soldiers, but they refused. The men said that they would rather give their service than to accept the government’s offer, which was insulting. In 1864, the government finally offered the African American soldiers full pay, equal to the white soldiers, and they also granted all back-pay due.


Susie King Taylor, who was a volunteer nurse, laundress, and cook, worked all during the Civil War, and she never received a salary. Taylor went on to open a school for black children.


We already know about the great Harriet Tubman who led a number of enslaved men and women to freedom, but Tubman was also a scout for the Union Army, gathering intelligence on Confederate troops. It is said that she also led raids into enemy territory. As stated by Theresa McDevitt in her blog piece, “The Brave Black Women Who Were Civil War Spies,” black women often operated as spies, scouts, curriers, and guides to Union soldiers who escaped from prison camps. They operated in the fields and slave cabins, as well as in the Confederate White House, as did Mary Elizabeth Bowser who, with her photographic memory, attained information on troop movements, strategies, and locations of Union prisoners. Likewise, Mary Trouvestre, a free black woman, obtained plans to build the C.S.S. Virginia, a Confederate warship. She was able to get a copy to Gideon Welles, the Union Secretary of the Navy, thus causing them to pick up construction on their own warship.


Though their work has mostly been forgotten, these women’s collective efforts assisted the Union Army in winning the Civil War.



SUBMITTED BY: Sharon Smith-Knight



McDevitt, Theresa. “The Brave Black Women Who Were Civil War Spies.” Ms. Magazine Blog. Ms. Magazine, 28 Feb. 2011. Web. Retrieved 17 Jul. 2017.

Sheldon, Kathryn. “Brief History of Black Women in the Military.” The Women’s Memorial, no date. Web. Retrieved 17 Jul 2017.

Administrator. “Female Soldiers in the Civil War.” Civil War Trust., no date. Web. Retrieved 17 Jul 2017.


SUBJECTS: Military; Women soldiers; Women’s history; U.S. Civil War

*Image of Susie King Taylor retrieved from:

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