From time to time I think I will use my space here to celebrate brave women who have been willing to stand up, at risk of their lives, and serve their country. Given the age of our country, the open acceptance of women in the military is a young concept. Yet, throughout our proud history – the blood of our women has spilled in defense of this great nation.
Let’s talk about Francis Clayton. She disguised herself as a man during the Civil War and enlisted in the Union Army under the name Jack Williams in 1861.
She is known to have fought in battles from the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee (February 13, 1862) through the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862) where she watched her husband, Elmer, die in battle only a few feet in front her. She did not stop fighting. In that same fight, she was shot in the hip and upon entering the hospital, her true identity was known. She was subsequently discharged from the Union Army on January 2, 1863.
During her trip home, Frances’ train was attacked and she was robbed of her papers so, she decided to re-enlist. This time to hide her gender better, she took up all the manly vices. Some of these “unladylike” activities included drinking, smoking, chewing, cussing, and smoking a cigar. She was even known to be a mean poker player.
She came to be recognized among her fellow solders as a good horseman and swordsman. She was well trained and knew her duties well, and was a respected person who commanded attention in the way she acted. Eventually, she was honorably discharged, and returned home. Not much else is known about her – but, it is enough to know that she was a trailblazer for American Military Women.
The women in the Civil War were going against regulations by joining, and were definitely entering under fraudulent terms. They have various reasons for doing so. It is presumed that Francis joined to remain with Elmer, her husband. Some women joined because they believed the cause, some joined because they were orphans and wanted to belong to something. Basically, all the same reasons people join the military today. The only difference, these women were going against the grain of a deep societal divide. They were willing to deal with the hardships of war AND the hardships of hiding their gender in close quarters for years. I cannot even imagine.
Look for more stories about brave military women from time to time here on my blog!