American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

Secession Women

Of course, all the women in the United States were not Unionists. You have already heard how the Southern women treated the Union officers whenever they met them on the streets. Do you remember how angry the New Orleans women were when Butler came? But these Southern women, who believed that their side was right, and that the Unionists were but thieves and robbers, were not content with being merely angry. They worked for their soldiers just as the Northern women worked for theirs.

There are some funny stories told of ways in which these bright-witted women used to plan to carry help to the Confederate soldiers.

It was the fashion then for ladies to wear very large hoops; and these ladies soon found it very convenient to fasten packages and letters to the wires of these hoops, and so carry them to the soldiers.

One lady was found to have on a quilted skirt which weighed fifty pounds. What do you suppose she had hidden in this wonderful skirt? You may be sure it was something for the soldiers. It was filled in all among the quiltings with sewing silk for the doctors in the army to use for sewing up wounds, and a medicine, called quinine, which is believed to be very good for fever and chills.

All trunks and boxes and packages that went out from Washington on the train were carefully searched; and sometimes, I fancy, very strange things were found in them.

One story is told of a little red, wooden trunk, marked Mary Berkitt, Wheeling, Virginia. It was a very innocent looking little trunk, looking as if it might belong to some old lady perhaps. But the officers had learned from experience that the most innocent looking people and the most innocent trunks sometimes held the greatest secrets. So Old Lady Mary's trunk was looked into. On the top, lay some clothing, very neatly packed, and under these some dresses.

"Never mind that trunk," said an officer; "there's nothing under there but the old lady's caps."

"Can't be too sure," answered the officer in charge, still pulling out the clothing. Down at the very bottom of the trunk, the caps were found indeed. Hundreds and hundreds of them—more than the old lads could ever wear in a whole lifetime, you will think. Yes, indeed; but you see, boys, they happened to be percussion-caps; and the officer, thinking them more useful for him than for her, emptied them all out, and I fear Mary never saw her trunk again.