The Old Museum at Manassas

Women on the Battlefield

This special exhibit was on display in in our museum during the 1997 season.

Women too had an important role in the Civil War.

Here are the stories of four women that played a part in the First Battle of Manassas.

Mrs. Judith Carter Henry

Although many civilians living on and around the battlefield were directly affected by the First Battle of Manassas, the Henry family in particular would stand out among others in their loss and tragedy.
At the time of the battle Henry Hill was owned by Mrs. Judith Carter Henry, an eighty-five year old widow confined to her bed. She lived here with her daughter Ellen Phoebe Morris, and was often visited by her sons John and Hugh.
It would be in these fields that the first major land battle of the Civil War would be decided.

As the approach of the Union troops became imminent Mrs. Henry's daughter Ellen and son John tried to move her to a nearby residence. The sound of gunfire and smell of smoke frightened Mrs. Henry into demanding that they return to her own house.
Shortly thereafter, Rickets' Union artillery was moved into position near the house. In an attempt to dislodge confederate sharpshooters located in the house, Capt. James B. Ricketts turned his guns on the house and opened fire, fatally wounding Mrs. Henry as she lay in her bed.
sound (mp3 112k)
Mrs. Henry, the only civilian death of this battle was buried the next day beside her house.

Relics saved by the Henry Family
Judith Henry's China bowl Jewelry Box Tea Canister Bedpost cut from the bed
in which she was killed

Mrs. Fanny Ricketts

Upon hearing that her husband Capt. James B. Ricketts of the 1st U.S. Artillery had been seriously wounded and possibly dead at the First Battle of Manassas, Fanny refused to believe the news. She set out alone from their home in Washington D.C. determined to find her husband.
Fanny would find him wounded but alive in a house located on the battlefield known as Portici. She remained by his side, nursing him under miserable conditions for twelve long weeks, first at Portici and later in a Richmond prison.

An excerpt from the diary of Fanny Ricketts.

26 July, Fri.
. . .Oh nothing, no words - and they are limited in this little diary - can describe the horrors around me. Two men dead and covered with blood were carried down the stairs as I waited to let them pass. On a table in the open hall a man was undergoing amputation of the leg. At the foot of the stairs two bloody legs lay and through it all I went to my husband. Outside the next door was a severed arm, and my clothes brushed by blood, cloths, splint, etc. I found my dear husband lying on a hospital stretcher still covered with blood!
God alone knows the horrors of this place...Downstairs there are some forty men in the various stages of death or possible recovery. Blood runs on the floors, the smell is dreadful but no language can describe it.

27 July, Sat.
Dear J. passed a restless night, his knee is much inflamed. Oh God grant my darling husband be spared his leg...I was awake all night, the groans of the dying sounding in my ears. As I look from the window I see a severed leg under a tree. It has been there all day and I intend asking to have it removed.

Medical supplies such as these were used in the care and treatment of wounded both in the field and in hospitals.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a widowed Washington D.C. socialite at the outbreak of the Civil War. She was born on a tobacco farm in Maryland and sympathized strongly with the southern cause. Due to her personality and position in society, she had highly influential ties to the nation's most powerful men and she used this to spy for the Confederacy.

Rose was credited by both Jefferson Davis and General Beauregard for sending a series of messages that forewarned them on their preparations for the First Battle of Manassas.

More text from Library of Congress
In the 1850s, widow Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a popular Washington hostess, well known for her diverse circle of friends, but after the war began, Greenhow vigorously supported the Confederate cause. In July 1861 Greenhow alerted the Confederate army to Union plans for the Battle of Bull Run, forcing detective Allan Pinkerton to send her and her young daughter to Washington's Old Capitol Prison. Greenhow, now a famous southern martyr, moved to England, where she published her prison memoirs. She died in a shipwreck on her way home in 1864. While Greenhow and her daughter Rose were still in prison, they posed for Brady's photographer Alexander Gardner. Brady published their portrait as part of his series Incidents of War.

Sarah Emma Edmonds

1841 - 1898
Whether it was for independence, patriotic duty or the money, Sarah Emma Edmonds, in disguise, joined the ranks of her fellow man and enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as Franklin Thompson.

Sarah was serving as a male nurse during July of 1861. Caring for the wounded at a field hospital somewhere between Centreville and the Battlefield, Sarah was forced to escape on foot as the Union Army retreated.

During her two year military career Sarah would serve as nurse, mail carrier, soldier and spy. Upon contracting malaria and not wanting her true identity discovered, Sarah deserted the Army.

In 1897 Sarah was accepted as a member into the Grand Army of the Republic - the only female ever to receive this honor.

Born in New Brunswick, Canada, Sarah E. Edmonds was the fifth daughter of Isaac and Elisabeth Leeper Edmondson (the family’s original name). Her father who had hoped for a large family of sons to help him farm his land, was bitterly disappointed with his female progeny.

Sarah was keenly aware of her father’s disappointed, and after some education and acquisition of "male skills", she ran away from home to Michigan. Sarah tried very hard to be the boy her father wanted, abandoning female attire and becoming an expert equestrienne and noted marksman. But she never won the approval of or even a kind word from Isaac, whom she dubbed "The Brutal Father."

When war broke out, Sarah cut off her hair, became "Frank Thompson," and enlisted as a private in Company F, 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. She perfected her masculine qualities; her guise was successful. In 1861 Sarah went to Virginia and served as a male field nurse, but when she tried to be recruited as a combat soldier, she was rejected for being "too small and delicate."

Her second recruitment attempt succeeded, and she was sworn in as a private. She stood guard and picket duty, drilled as hard as any of the men, fought 1st Bull Run and Chickahominy, and even spied for the Union (once "disguised" as a woman). In 1863, when her “secret” started to be discovered, Sarah deserted.

Moving to Ohio, Sarah shed her male identity, and became a nurse in a hospital. She wrote a book, published in 1865, entitled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, claiming to have served as a female nurse. Sarah eventually married and kept her secret from most until 1882, when she applied for a veteran's pension. Some of her army confidants wrote affidavits corroborating her petition, and Congress granted Sarah the pension.


Owned at the time of the First Battle of Manassas by the Lewis family, Portici was named for a town in Italy known for its history of destructive fires.
Located in close proximity to the battlefield, the house served as headquarters for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. After the battle it was converted into a field hospital.

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