Suspicions She’s a Spy

Lynchburg, Va. (photo c1913;LOC - PAN US GEOG - Virginia no. 45)

Scene of this masquerade (52 years later) - Lynchburg on the James

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch September 27, 1861:

Patriotism and pantaloons.

Subjoined is the story of a lady who could not reconcile herself, in the midst of the excitement of the war, to the passive patriotism of making shirts for the soldiers; but, donning a shirt and pantaloons herself, she deemed it much more honorable to fight. Her impulses were noble, though, perhaps, malapropos.–The account is taken from the Lynchburg Republican, of yesterday:

Judah P. Benjamin (ca. 1856;LOC - LC-DIG-ppmsca-05642 )

To interrogate the imposter (with a smile)

On the cars of the Tennessee company, which arrived here on Tuesday evening among many other officers, was one whose gay and dashing appearance attracted universal attention, and led to the firm belief on the part of all that he was one of the chief dignitaries of the military world. Decked out in all the “pomp, and pride, and circumstance of glorious war,” and with an air that seemed to say, “I am the master of the great Wellington and Bonaparte,” he trod the streets the observed of all observers, when, in an evil hour, it became noised about that the gallant officer was sailing under false colors — in other words, that he who had become the envy of all the men, and the admiration of all the women, was herself a woman, dressed up in the habiliments of the sterner sex. Our police, ever on the alert of suspicious characters, and knowing of no good reason why the gay one should have donned the “pants” instead of the gown, quickly arrested her, and carried her before Alderman Saunders, who, after a tedious examination, being unable to find out much either favorable or unfavorable to the suspected party, determined to send her to Richmond for the Secretary of War to examine. She gave her name as Mrs. Mary Ann Keith, of Memphis, Tennessee, but registered at the Piedmont House as Lieut. Buford. Said she had been married twice, her first husband having been a member of Sherman’s famous battery; her second was in the Southern army, but she stated that she was separated from him for some reason she did not make known. She declared she was all right on the Southern question, and scouted the idea of being a spy. She said her reason for dressing in soldier clothes was, that she had determined to fight the battles of her country, and thought such disguise more likely to enable her to accomplish her object. She may be all sound as far as we know to the contrary, but a proper regard for our safety requires that all such characters should be strictly examined wherever they are found in the South. The prisoner was sent to Richmond yesterday morning.

You can read a three-part article about female soldiers in the Civil War (and see some photos) at the National Archives. There is another good overview at Civil War Women Blog.

Bull Runnings explains that Sherman’s famous battery was famous because of its success at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican war. It’s commander then was Thomas W. “Old Tim” Sherman.

According to the Lynchburg paper Judah P Benjamin, who just took over as CSA Secretary of War, will need to interrogate Mrs. Keith to make sure she’s not a spy.

Portrait of Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Sherman, officer of the Federal Army (1860-65;LOC - LC-DIG-cwpb-05370)

The Sherman of the famous battery

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