August 30, 1862, proved to be yet another bloody day. Henry Clark was in the thick of things, fending off Federal troops in the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, when the Confederate private caught an enemy shell in the thigh. Clark was swarmed by bluecoats and taken prisoner.
It was presumably when a Union medic treated Clark’s wound that the soldier’s tightly held secret was unmasked. Henry’s real name was Mary Ann. Indeed, she was a divorced mother of two.
When Federal troops realized that they had a woman on their hands, they moved quickly to release her—as long as she swore to return to the life of a proper lady. They even gave her a dress to wear. She agreed and was freed, then quickly cast off the frock and made her way back to the rebel army, where she was promptly promoted. Not long after, a young Confederate soldier—having joined a crowd gathered around Clark, then apparently serving openly as a female officer—wrote home: “Pa among all the curiosities I have seen since I left home one I must mention, a female Lieutenant.”
A curiosity, yes, but to the surprise of many Civil War buffs even today, Clark was by no means unique. She was one of an estimated 400 women who took up arms in the war; they were not nurses, or laundresses or cooks, but actual female soldiers disguised as men, who marched, mastered their weapons, entered into battle and even gave their lives.
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