Kady Brownell in Army Costume

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Kady Brownell in Army Costume
Unknown Artist
Page 55
Frank Moore. Women of the War; Their Heroism and Self Sacrifice. Hartford, Connecticut: S.S.Scranton.
Steel Engraving
F 83344 .59
Newberry Library

Kady Brownell was one of about 250 women to fight in the Civil War. Some women wanted to serve as soldiers and dressed as men to gain access to the army—but not Brownell. Instead, she fought openly as a woman alongside her husband in the Fifth Rhode Island Infantry. This portrait taken after the war shows her holding a ceremonial sword, but during the war she was in charge of carrying the flag into battle. She was, however, described as a “skillful sharpshooter and expert swordsman,” and practiced shooting and using her sword regularly in camp. When her husband was wounded and discharged, she, too, returned home.

Brownell posed for this photograph that was made into an engraving for Frank Moore’s book, Women of the War: Their Heroism and Self Sacrifice Brownell’s experience shows how women’s lives changed so dramatically during the Civil War. On the battlefield, Brownell carried the flag (considered a position of great honor) and nursed wounded soldiers, but at home other women took on new jobs, as well.  Women worked tirelessly to help the war effort and support their families while their husbands, fathers and brothers were away.

1. Compare this image of Brownell with that of A Woman in Battle: Michigan Bridget Carrying the Flag. What are the similarities between these images, and the stories of the women? How do they differ? In particular, what do you observe about the uniform that Brownell wears in comparison to Bridget’s dress?

2. Today, American women serve in the armed forces, but they are still restricted from taking part in combat. Nonetheless, in support roles—as truck drivers, pilots, and engineers—they are often very close to battle and frequently become part of it. Why do you think women have had such a hard time, then and now, convincing society that they can or should be soldiers?

Further reading:
Bartlett, Sara. “Kady Brownell, A Rhode Island Legend.” Minerva 19, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 39.

Blanton, Deanne. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. Conflicting Worlds. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002.

Moore, Frank. Women of the War; Their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice. Hartford, Conn: S.S. Scranton, 1866.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago