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The Life of Women During the Civil War

The Life of Women During the Civil War

There is something about the land in and around Fairfax County, Virginia that inspired unusual courage in the women of the Civil War. Here, at the crossroads between North and South, the stakes were higher. The danger more imminent. And the women more heroic.

Directly across the street from the Fairfax Courthouse, Antonia Ford's home was used as a boarding house for Union troops. She casually listened to their conversations, then relayed information to J.E.B. Stuart, most notably before the Second Battle of Manassas. She is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Laura Ratcliffe trudged through sucking mud to warn Colonel John Singleton Mosby of a Yankee threat to his well-being. As a result, Mosby evaded capture and lived to be a prominent thorn in the Union's side throughout the war. Her grave is hidden within a hedge in front of the Herndon Marriott Suites in Herndon.

Sojourner Truth was a preacher and hero, helping to bring order and divine sustenance to those who occupied Freedman's Village, a temporary encampment for newly freed slaves at what is now Arlington National Cemetery.

Last, but not least, are the heroic and devoted nurses of the Civil War:

  • Clara Barton set up a hospital in St. Mary's Church in Fairfax Station to treat the wounded of 2nd Manassas. She worked tirelessly throughout the war, a front-line witness to its ravages. She later founded the American Red Cross at her home in Glen Echo, MD, now a national historic site.
  • Annie Blair Ethridge enlisted with the Michigan Infantry and marched with her regiment to join with the Army of the Potomac. She was known for fearlessly entering battlefields toting bandages (and a pistol or two!) to safely nurse the wounded. She narrowly escaped capture at 2nd Manassas and is one of only two women to receive the Kearney Cross for bravery under fire.
  • Jane Stuart Woolsey was Superintendent of Nurses at the Fairfax Seminary Hospital in Alexandria. Her memoir, Hospital Days: Reminiscence of a Civil War Nurse, is regarded as a beautifully written account of hardship and courage based on three years in the wards.

These heroines demonstrate the strength and passion of the era's women. And, for a few difficult years, they all converged in one region to stand up for their ideals. One visit to Fairfax County and Northern Virginia can bring all that history back to life.

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The Civil War in Fairfax County and the Capital Region

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