The Real Camp Followers, Officer's Wives

Suzanne A

Corporal
Joined
May 28, 2015
Seeing this for the first time today. How wonderful to have all those portraits of men with wives and families "on base"! In some cases there might have been servants along as well, unpictured of course.

You pointed out the children. It amazes me that woman in that era, who always seemed to be in one stage or another of pregnancy, could travel great distances with all their children. It's hard enough to travel with a bunch of children today.

In a similar sitation, but not with the class distinction you commented on, were the wives often with children in tow who traveled to a General Hospital to be with a sick or wounded husband of any rank. Sometimes these women would become nurses for others as well. These hospitalizations were often lengthy. In one family I researched, the wife and children stayed actually in the hospital for a long period, she even gave birth there. I would not want my children exposed to the communicable diseases and unsanitary conditions of a military hospital, but they didn't grasp that danger at that time.

Probably there are no photos of these wives ast their husband's bedside. If you ever come across one, save it and let us know.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Seeing this for the first time today. How wonderful to have all those portraits of men with wives and families "on base"! In some cases there might have been servants along as well, unpictured of course.

You pointed out the children. It amazes me that woman in that era, who always seemed to be in one stage or another of pregnancy, could travel great distances with all their children. It's hard enough to travel with a bunch of children today.

In a similar sitation, but not with the class distinction you commented on, were the wives often with children in tow who traveled to a General Hospital to be with a sick or wounded husband of any rank. Sometimes these women would become nurses for others as well. These hospitalizations were often lengthy. In one family I researched, the wife and children stayed actually in the hospital for a long period, she even gave birth there. I would not want my children exposed to the communicable diseases and unsanitary conditions of a military hospital, but they didn't grasp that danger at that time.

Probably there are no photos of these wives ast their husband's bedside. If you ever come across one, save it and let us know.


Right? I think about this frequently- how on earth this was possible. I've read quite a few accounts written by nurses who came to Gettysburg. Most feature at least one story of exactly this- thee wife traveling some great distance to be at her husband's bedside, with a baby in her arms more likely than not. I always, always wonder how that would have worked! Have squished baby and myself onto dozens of plane seats- which was awful but never the worst aspect. Just traveling- poor thing knowing nothing of why he is being hauled around, hot, uncomfortable, requiring constant attention. We have the option of handy snacks, too, water and joice and milk kept cool. Just one baby much less children to care for, in a hospital, confined in a tiny area? Goodness.

And yes, in a day when conditions ensured disease spread rapidly, cannot imagine how many children became ill in those places, adding to her list of cares. I'll keep an eye peeled for a phoro- sometimes one is there in plain sight.It will be a photo we've all seen a thousand time but did not see all it contained
 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
ow gettysburg san com ladies.jpg

From Gettysburg, the Sanitary Commission hospital- an officer or two with wives- possibly in the Sanitary Commission

ow ladies bartlett hq.jpg

Bartlett's hQ

ow ladies excursion.jpg

If I posted any of these previously, please excuse- looking at a separate file at the moment.

ow officers wife 2016.jpg

Brabdy Station

ow ladies kilpatrick 3rd cav corp.jpg

Beside we-know-who, there are wives here,

ow officers wife block house.gif

Block House- and will post location, I knew it a moment ago!
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Location
Gettysburg area
close-up Brandy station officer's wife w dog.jpg



I have great sympathy for this unhappy looking woman. No doubt camp life was difficult for soldiers' wives, and maybe she wasn't feeling well, either. But I can't help wondering if her husband sitting beside his dog, instead of beside her, isn't what's vexing her. The dog does seem to be enjoying the visit.
 
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DaveBrt

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
I've no picture to share, but my avatar (QM Captain Thomas R. Sharp) spent 1861 in the Shenandoah Valley, hauling away Baltimore & Ohio RR locomotives, cars, machinery, rails and supplies. His wife, Gerty, lived with him almost the entire time. Gerty gave birth to their first child in Winchester in December, meaning she was somewhat to largely pregnant the entire time in the Valley. Sharp mentions traveling to various places (Harper's Ferry, Turner Ashby's camp, Martinsburg, Strasburg) with his wife in their buggy. Thomas and Gerty made several round trips to Richmond, almost 2 days each way.

Though only a Captain, Sharp was rather well off, mostly from his inheritance from his father, who had been one of the pioneer railroad superintendents in the country.

Sharp kept a sketchy diary through 1863 that shows Gerty, baby, Sister and the 18 yo daughter of the Treasurer of the Winchester & Potomac RR (as nanny?) making several railroad trips from Richmond to Raleigh and Columbia -- always escorted by one or two of Sharp's cousins or clerks.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I've no picture to share, but my avatar (QM Captain Thomas R. Sharp) spent 1861 in the Shenandoah Valley, hauling away Baltimore & Ohio RR locomotives, cars, machinery, rails and supplies. His wife, Gerty, lived with him almost the entire time. Gerty gave birth to their first child in Winchester in December, meaning she was somewhat to largely pregnant the entire time in the Valley. Sharp mentions traveling to various places (Harper's Ferry, Turner Ashby's camp, Martinsburg, Strasburg) with his wife in their buggy. Thomas and Gerty made several round trips to Richmond, almost 2 days each way.

Though only a Captain, Sharp was rather well off, mostly from his inheritance from his father, who had been one of the pioneer railroad superintendents in the country.

Sharp kept a sketchy diary through 1863 that shows Gerty, baby, Sister and the 18 yo daughter of the Treasurer of the Winchester & Potomac RR (as nanny?) making several railroad trips from Richmond to Raleigh and Columbia -- always escorted by one or two of Sharp's cousins or clerks.


Thank you! Love to have this stuff! It does seem officers were able to have their wives with them frequently and not just in posh, hotel circumstances. Gertie was made of whipcord and steel, my goodness! 4 days over certainly awful roads, in a buggy ( no one can tell me those things were advanced by way of a smooth ride ), while pregnant? No, thank you. There's a book on the wives of generals- none I know of on the Gerties of the war? There's a lot of interest ( naturally ) in our female soldiers, spies and ( less nicely ) er, working women, that maybe the women toughing it out in different fashions have been overlooked. I left out nurses on purpose because interest there is baffling. Interest in Clara, yes, maybe a few others, otherwise not a lot.

One of the biggest disappointments of the era is not having as many photographs from Confederate camps, hence daily life there. Because we've been lucky enough to see the women of the war through these, from a good amount of Union camps it would follow their counterparts were there, in Confederate camps somewhere.

Love to know if this Captain Sharp was related to the Sharp, on the Federal side who worked for the Secret Service? Not with Pinkerton- he ran his own organization, quite brilliantly.
 

KLL

Private
Joined
Jul 6, 2016
Location
Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Hello, I am finding this thread so very educational and I love the pictures. I am planning on portraying my 3rd Great Grandmother wife of the man pictured as my profile. He was a Captain of Co E of the 54th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

My question for all of you is this: Could his wife have visited him in camp? We are going to be attending reenactments this year and I just want to be sure that portraying her and being in camp would be acceptable. I don't know and I doubt if she ever did visit the camps because she was a mother. I am doing it so that my husband and I can honor my ancestors, especially my 3rd Great Grandfather who was wounded at the Battle of New Market, VA and was a prisoner of war. He lost an eye. His story is a very interesting one but for another thread.

Can you give me some advice on this? Her youngest son did follow his father to war at the age of 12.

Any advice appreciated!
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Hello, I am finding this thread so very educational and I love the pictures. I am planning on portraying my 3rd Great Grandmother wife of the man pictured as my profile. He was a Captain of Co E of the 54th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

My question for all of you is this: Could his wife have visited him in camp? We are going to be attending reenactments this year and I just want to be sure that portraying her and being in camp would be acceptable. I don't know and I doubt if she ever did visit the camps because she was a mother. I am doing it so that my husband and I can honor my ancestors, especially my 3rd Great Grandfather who was wounded at the Battle of New Market, VA and was a prisoner of war. He lost an eye. His story is a very interesting one but for another thread.

Can you give me some advice on this? Her youngest son did follow his father to war at the age of 12.

Any advice appreciated!

Goodness, what a terrific family story! We have some amazing, amazing reenactors here- since I know little of reenacting I can only refer to some of what I have seen as ' purists '. Details? OH my.

I can assure you, it is accurate to have your ancestor visit her husband in camp. One of the reasons I love these photographs is the trail of historic bread crumbs lefts behind.

If you carefully scroll through, several show children inside camps with officers and mothers. One of my favorites is a wife holding a baby, another is an entire family, multiple children and wife, and officer all if front of a tent. It would take me a bit but can also come up with proof that some of these women you see ( and I'm guessing most ) had children they left in the care of a relative while visiting their husbands in camp. Journals and letters are scattered through the war years, women having done so.

I've read ' No, wives did not visit husbands in camp '- and am always so baffled! These LoC and National Archive photographs tell a different story. Because there are so many, from so many different types of camps, seems safe to go with what they tell us.
 
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KLL

Private
Joined
Jul 6, 2016
Location
Johnstown, Pennsylvania
I can assure you, it is accurate to have your ancestor visit her husband in camp. One of the reasons I love these photographs is the trail of historic bread crumbs lefts behind.

If you carefully scroll through, several show children inside camps with officers and mothers. One of my favorites is a wife holding a baby, another is an entire family, multiple children and wife, and officer all if front of a tent. It would take me a bit but can also come up with proof that some of these women you see ( and I'm guessing most ) had children they left in the care of a relative while visiting their husbands in camp. Journals and letters are scattered through the war years, women having done so.



JPK: Thanks for the great information. The pictures are so amazing and it's nice to know that Captain's wives did visit their husbands. So that I am not out of place at all in camp. I will be dressed nicer than the ladies that cook and the Private's wives, camp followers. I thought I could read or do needlework to keep busy.

I'll have to tell you my 3rd Great Grandfather's full story soon! You will enjoy it I'm sure.

KLL
 

KLL

Private
Joined
Jul 6, 2016
Location
Johnstown, Pennsylvania
I found this one. I like it because it is a PA Infantry. This looks like a tough life. I don't know how to make it big like the other pictures. Hope you can all see it by enlarging it.

Tim Hooper saved to civil war camps
From 1861, a second look at these Northern infantry campers -- and our first glimpse of their puppy. "District of Columbia. Tent life of the 31st (later, 82nd) Pennsylvania Infantry at Queen's Farm, vicinity of Fort Slocum." Wet-plate glass negative, photographer unknown.
 

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I can assure you, it is accurate to have your ancestor visit her husband in camp. One of the reasons I love these photographs is the trail of historic bread crumbs lefts behind.

If you carefully scroll through, several show children inside camps with officers and mothers. One of my favorites is a wife holding a baby, another is an entire family, multiple children and wife, and officer all if front of a tent. It would take me a bit but can also come up with proof that some of these women you see ( and I'm guessing most ) had children they left in the care of a relative while visiting their husbands in camp. Journals and letters are scattered through the war years, women having done so.



JPK: Thanks for the great information. The pictures are so amazing and it's nice to know that Captain's wives did visit their husbands. So that I am not out of place at all in camp. I will be dressed nicer than the ladies that cook and the Private's wives, camp followers. I thought I could read or do needlework to keep busy.

I'll have to tell you my 3rd Great Grandfather's full story soon! You will enjoy it I'm sure.

KLL


Thanks very much! Fair warning, I'm terribly interested in these stories, they're just endlessly fascinating so when you have time, we'll love having it. Notice I'm sharing the blame. One of the only nice aspects of getting a little older is a terrible memory- you can even come back next year, tell the same story and I'll like it just as much! :giggle:
 

TomP

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 29, 2015
Location
Corinth, MS
I found this letter in the Quiner Scrapbooks ofthe Wisconsin Historical Society Online. I have been unable to ascertain who the soldier was. Beware: it is a heart breaker...

A Wife on the Battlefield

The following is an extract from a letter, dated at Corinth on the 6th ult, vividly portrays the fearful emotions and anxious thoughts which torture the mind of an observer during the progress of battle and narrates but one of many harrowing scenes of war:

Oh, my friend! How can I tell you of the tortures that have nearly crazed me for the last three days! Pen is powerless to trace, words weak to convey one tittle of the misery I have endured. I thought my self strong before. I have seen so much of suffering that I thought my nerves had grown steady, and I could bear anything; but to-day I am weak and trembling like a frightened child.

But do not wonder at it. My dear husband lies beside me, wounded unto death perhaps. I have lost all hope of him tho’ I thank God for the privilege of being this moment beside him. And being in agony. There has been little time to tend them, poor fellows. True, the surgeons are busy all the time, but all the wounded have not yet been brought in, and it seems as if the time will never come when our brave men shall have been made comfortable as circumstances may permit. It is awful to look around me. I can see every imaginable form of suffering, and yet am helpless to aid them of any consequence.

Since night before last I have not left my husband’s side for a moment, except to get such things as I required, or to hand some poor fellow a cup of water. Even as I write my heart throbs achingly to hear the deep groans and sharp cries about me. He is sleeping, but I dare not close my eyes, lest he should die while I sleep. And it is to keep awake, and in a manner to relieve my over-burdened heart, and I am writing to you now under such and auspices.

On the morning ogf the 3rd instant the fight began. The attack was made on Gen. McArthur’s division, and we could plainly hear the rolls of artillery here, as it is only about two miles and a half from this place. Oh! The fearful agony of that awful day! I had seen F. a moment early in the morning, but it was only for a moment when he bade me good bye, saying hurriedly, as he tore himself away: “Pray for me, my wife; and, if I fall, God protect you!” There was something in his look and tone that struck a chill to my heart, and every moment after I knew the fight had begun I felt as if he had indeed fallen. I cannot tell how long it was before I heard that Oglesby’s Brigade was engaged, but it seems and age to me. After that my agony was nealry intolerable. I never had a thought or fear for myself, I was thinking only of F. Then I got the word he had been hotly pursued by the rebels and had fallen back.

Late in the afternoon I succeeded in gaining a little intelligible information.

Poor General Hackleman was shot thru the neck while giving command, and fell mortally wounded. He died between ten and eleven o’clock the same night, I have since learned. Up to the time of receiving the wound he had acted with the greatest bravery and enthusiasm, tempered with a coolness that made every action effective. When dusk at last put an end to the first day’s conflict, I learned that Gen. Oglesby had been dangerously wounded, but could gain no intelligence from my husband. I could not bear the suspense. Dark as it was and hopeless as it seemed to search for him then, I started out for the battlefield.

Oh, How shall I describe the search of the night? It looked like madness. It was madness. But all night long I straggled amongst bleeding corpses, over dead horses, trampled limbs, shattered artillery – everything that goes to make up the horror of a battle-field when the conflict is over. They were removing the wounded all night. Oh, think how awful to stumble over the dead and hear the cries of the wounded and dying, alone in the night time. I had to start off alone, else they would not have let me gone.

As you may suppose, I could not find him, either among the living or the dead. But the next morning, just after sunrise, I came to a little clump of timbers where a horse had fallen – his head shot off and his body half covering a man whom I supposed dead. His face was to the ground but as I stopped to look closer, I perceived a faint movement of the body: then heard a faint moan. I stopped and turned the face upward. The head and face were both covered with blood, but when I turned it to the light I knew in spite of its disfiguration. Oh God, the agony of that moment sickened me almost to suffocation. With strength I thought impossible in me, I drew him crushed and bleeding, from beneath the carcass of our poor old horse, whom we had both loved and petted and dipping my handkerchief in a little pool of water amongst the bushes, bathed his face and pressed some moisture between his parched, swollen lips. He was utterly insensible, and there was a dreadful wound in his head. Both limbs were crushed hopelessly beneath the horse. He was utterly beyond the reach of human skill to save, but as soon as possible I had him conveyed to the hospital. I have nursed him ever since, hopelessly and with a heart breaking with grief. Oh! How many wives, how many mothers, are to-day mourning the dead and dying, even as I mourn my dying! He has not opened his eyes to look at or speak to me since he fell. Oh! Could he but but speak to me once before he dies. I should give him up with more resignation. But to die thus – with out a look or word! Oh, my heart is breaking!

 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
@TomP , goodness, thank you so much for account! Nothing brings these images home like their words- she could be speaking for any of them so perhaps it is fitting we do not know who her husband may be.

Somewhere is an idea wives were not there. Once in awhile we'll get the question " Were they? " These photos, and words like these bear witness. We have accounts from Gettysburg, wives who came looking for husbands, too- having to dig up grave after grave.

What an awful thing we did to each other 150 years ago.
 
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