Podcast Episode 57 – The Women of Bull Run

A small bluebird microphone on a stand

At the beginning of the Civil War, the battle of Bull Run at Manassas was the bloodiest battle in America to that point in time. Men and women were affected…and both men and women fought and served.

Join us as we talk about the women at the Battle of Bull Run.


The Women at the First Battle of Bull Run

Scott: Welcome to Talk with History. I’m your host Scott, here with my wife and historian Jen. Hello. On this podcast, we give you insights to our history inspired world travels YouTube channel journey, and examine history through deeper conversations with the curious, the explorers, and the history lovers out there.

Now before we get into our main topic, I wanna ask our listeners for re reviews. On Apple Podcast or Spotify, wherever you’re listening, the reviews really do help the show grow. And now that we’re trying to put this out as a video podcast sharing the video wouldn’t hurt either.

So YouTube share would be great cuz I bet the History Channel does not do live streams like this.

I bet they do. We’re coming for them as we tell you guys all the time. . 

[00:01:01] First Battle of Bull Run

Scott: Jenn, why don’t you get us started on our topic tonight, which is the first Battle of Bull Run and what we 

Jenn: did there. Sure. So, This is Women’s History Month, and the first Battle of Bull Run is very talked about.

I would say if you’re a Civil War historian, buff, or just like to study the Civil War, first Battle of Bull Run is a very significant battle. I wouldn’t say maybe not as popular as Gettysburg. , but pretty popular. It’s a, it’s 

Scott: a popular one. 

Jenn: It’s the first. Significant battle of the Civil War. It’s the one that really sets the stage for this being a drawn out civil war.

Yeah. This is not gonna be an easy victory for either side. 

Scott: You mentioned that we’ve, we’ve actually talked, about bull run mm-hmm.

once or twice mm-hmm. over the, over this past month. Yes. Largely because of Rose Greenhow. Because of Rose Greenhow, 

Jenn: who was a Confederate spy. Yes. So that is why we did bull run is Rose Greenhow story kind. There. And since it had been done so often, and since it was Women’s History Month, we decided to do bull run in a women centered lens.

[00:02:08] Bull Run through the Lens of Women

Jenn: Right. So we wanted to talk about the women at Bull Run and we kind of talk about women in the Civil War as well, which I 

Scott: thought was actually quite fascinating. Looking at it through. Through the lens of the women that were at Bull Run, because some of the women that were there, you, you told their stories, right?

Yes. So we told the larger the, the story that everybody, who’s, who’s kind of a, a little bit of a history fan, understands the battle of bull run, right? Yes. So the overall kind of what was happening, people didn’t think that this was gonna be a big deal, but then you kind of told women’s stories Yes.

In between. And I thought that was really, really interesting. Well, and 

Jenn: what I wanted to people understand is it’s just so multifaceted, right? Women are not just operating in. Element of the war, right? They’re not just nurses, right. Or they’re not just wives of soldiers, like they’re doing everything in warfare.

And so I wanted to tell their stories and just give them credit for what’s happening. Plus bull run is significant because the first casualty of the Civil War is a woman. 

Yep. And so, and she’s still buried there at Bull and she’s buried on the batty battlefield. , there’s a lot of women stories we could tell, and I think it’s important because we do get a lot of like significant figures that come out of the Civil War.

Clara Barton significant, but she gets her start at the first battle, a bull run. Right? So it’s kind of interesting to, to, to tell the stories of how these women are all coming together. And doing their part in the Civil War, even in the very first 

Scott: battle. 

, one of the things that I enjoy, is those battlefield that give you a feel like you’re there. Oh yeah. And this is absolutely one of those battlefield that really gives you the feel. Oh yeah, I can ab, I can totally see how this was because they have the, a statue of Stonewall Jackson, which is obviously larger, larger than life.

Mm-hmm. . But it’s kind of standing there on this one rise with cannons on one on one side, and then there’s the house that you talk about Yes. Where the first casualty was. Mm-hmm. with cannons on the other side. And there’s this large battlefield in between. You’re like, man, this is like, they would just walk straight across in lines, , and they would fire at each other.

Just, I mean, just wild how they, how they did it back then for us now, and this was one of those battlefields, it wasn’t massive, not compared to, Yorktown or, or the battlefield, things like that. But the, the battlefield itself, I think was just, I, I love that open feel and it really gives you the.


Jenn: of what it was like. Sure. It was, it’s beautiful. It’s run by the National Park Service. Yeah. I definitely recommend visiting it. It does have a statue of Stonewall Jackson. And we’ll talk about him so you’ll have two battles, a bull run. Right. The first battle, a bull run or, and sometimes say the battle. Of Manasas you’ll hear both that kind of use interchangeably. And I, I use Bull Run for the first one in Manasas for the second one. You can use Manasas for the first one.

Bull Run for the second one. But what we did that was significant, and I want people to realize this, how close the proximity was to Washington DC Yeah. So when we visited that battlefield, we drove from Washington DC and it’s a 30 minute drive.

It’s right outside of the city and. This is significant cuz if you think about the Civil War and this being the first significant battle of the Civil War, how close they are to Washington, DC So this plays into the whole atmosphere at the time because, There was an article that came out in the union that said March onto Richmond, and they just figured they’re gonna take their army.

The union’s gonna take their army and just march onto Richmond. And Richmond at the time is of course the capital of the Confederacy. Well this, motivates the Confederacy to stop their March to Richmond and Bull Run Manassas. The significance of that area is the railroad line that leads into Richmond, which is giving supplies to.

Richmond to the Confederacy. So that’s why they wanna defend this 

Scott: area. So they were, they were really almost there to protect their, their supply line. Their supply line, right, which was the 

Jenn: railroad. And this is also gonna significantly help the confederacy because this is how they get their troops there quickly is through that railroad line they like, they get troops onto cars.

and able to get them to Manassas bull run to fight in the battle. 

Scott: And, and one of the things that we touched on once or twice actually in the video was because it was so close to DC, the kind of the, the DC Elite Yes. Actually came out in like picnic style picnic to, to watch this 

Jenn: battle. So this first battle bull run is known as the picnic battle because you do get these elites, these congressmen, these senators who are bringing their families and their buggies and their picnic blankets and their baskets, and.

Setting out to watch the battle. I don’t think people are understanding what is is going to happen here. Of course they don’t, they don’t see the significance. I was reading before we started this of how many soldiers from West Point went to the Confederacy and it’s about 290. Went to the Confederacy and you’re gonna get the superintendent of the of West Point is Beauregard.

He’s leading the Confederacy at Bull Run. So what you’re seeing right now is such a split of the nation and you’re gonna get Lee who, very prestigious in the Army, is going to go to the Confederacy Bullard. He’s, he’s the SU superintendent of West Point going to the Confederacy and. You’re gonna get these soldiers.

Now, I had said in the video like, you’re gonna get people who are have political appointments or buying their commissions but People are not buying their commissions in what I think people alluded to. Like they’re paying for their commissions and I’m not, I didn’t mean it that way.

Buying their commissions politically. Yeah. Like I’m a senator, I should be a general, I’m a senator, I should be a colonel. So it’s like buying them in a political sense. Now you do get people who are actually buy their commissions more in the south maybe than in the north, like, Nathan Bedford Forest, for example.

Sure. Who has all that money. He’s able to become an officer because he’s able to kind of pay for a lot of things, but in the north side, it’s more political appointments, and that is what really hurts the union here, because in this first battle, , they’re not ready. They don’t know how to fight. They don’t know how to line up an infantry.

They don’t understand tactics. They don’t, they can’t. They don’t take orders. Well, yeah, and the retreat is just a mess. 

So what’s happening is with 

[00:08:40] Clara Barton

Jenn: Clara Barton, so I would talk about the most significant, red Cross nurse to come out of this battle is she’s very, she plays an influential part in that retreat.

Yeah. So as the union is retreating and you have injuries, 5,000 casualties during this first battle, and the retreat is just a mess. The walking wounded is where we first start to see this. They’re walking back into dc they don’t want to stay. In Manasas because they don’t wanna die because there’s nobody there to get them.

There’s no ambulances. There’s no wagons. All that has left during the battle. And so these walking wounded come back into dc. She first encounters them, she sits with them, she’s writing letters with them, she’s feeding them. And then she’s. About six days later, they realize there’s still people out there and they go back towards Manassas and find all these casualties, these people still alive or in makeshift shacks and stuff.

And that’s when she starts to realize we need more 

Scott: provisions. So remind me, so for Clara Barton, right? Mm-hmm. , for someone who doesn’t know kind of how significant she was, did she kind of help found like basically the earliest versions of the Red Cross?

Yeah. She’s the founder of the Red Cross. Okay. Yes. All right. So that’s, I mean, that’s one thing. Like I, I know we didn’t go into the video because I didn’t put that in the video, cuz I’m the, I’m the editor. 

Jenn: Yes. We talk about women in, in almost every facet here, we talk about women’s spies. Rose Greenhow.

Rose Greenhow is seducing Briga, general McDowell, he is the he’s the head of the Union Army. She is working for the Confederacy. She lives in DC and she’s a a southern woman of. You know of means. So she’s able to whine and dine elite men and she finds out how many troops they’re sending. Yeah. He 

Scott: basically gives her, troop movements and numbers, 

Jenn: Yes. Because she’s a woman and she thinks he thinks she’s dumb. She’s able to get that number to Beauregard.

And Ram Bogard knows they’re bringing upwards of 30,000 troops. He is able, he only has a cup like 10,000, a little bit over 10,000 that first initially meet the union, but he’s able to get 20,000 there to eventually push back the union and it becomes a Confederacy win. So here you get Rose Greenhow.

Bau guard gives her credit. He says, because of her, we were able to know how many men were coming and get the men there to fight. So he gives her a lot of credit. So we have her, 

Scott: and, and one of the interesting things is too, I mean, even now, just as, as I’m sitting here thinking about it, the battlefield’s big, right?

Mm-hmm. , Manasas is a decent size. , but for 30,000 people, let’s say on each side. 

Jenn: Yeah, no, it was yes. 29,000 union. 32,000 confederacy. 

Scott: So think about, so 60,000 people. 60,000 on this battlefield. Now that I sit here and think about it, that’s a. Boat loaded people, , I’m trying not to cuss on the live stream, but that’s, that’s a ton of people on this battlefield.

I, I can’t, I honestly can’t imagine seeing 60,000 people on the field where we were. And one of the things I, I like about, again, going to places like this is you kind of get that broad, expansive kind of view, from a. Camera perspective. I like doing things like that. But 60,000 people on this battlefield, I mean, they must have literally been stepping over each other and the dead as they’re trying to continue the fight on 

Jenn: this battlefield.

Sure. And another thing that’s significant about Bullen most Historians will know, or people who just like to study this is are their uniforms haven’t been decided yet. That’s right. This is not a blue versus gray yet. Right. So everyone’s kind of wearing their uniform and because they haven’t really separated.

You don’t know who’s friendly and who’s not. And people haven’t really distinguished like, well, we’re Confederacy, we’re a union. They did have battle flags, but when the battle flags were draped and not full flared, like with the win, they look the same. Oh, really? And that’s why the union will eventually change.

I mean, the Confederacy will eventually change their flag, but when they’re draped, you can’t tell whose flag is who. So, . It, it, it becomes this mass chaos. And that’s another thing with the retreat from the union is because they, they don’t even know what they’re doing. They can’t see, they can’t tell who they’re fighting. 

Scott: Yeah. And even to, to kind of go back to some of the women that we talked about. Mm-hmm.

Now, not all of them were there necessarily in a support role. I mean, some of them were there actually like. , fighting right alongside the men. I think you said there were over 400 women that were on the battlefield helping and helping or fighting in some form 

[00:13:01] How many women were at Bull Run?

Jenn: or fashion. So at the time you have a Mary Livermore who is working for the Sanitation Commission and she estimates this 400 women who are fighting in Wow as men.

In the war. But nowadays historians think it’s upwards of a thousand. Really? Mm-hmm. , oh my gosh. That women who actually wore the uniform as a male Yeah. And dressed as a male, just got out there to go fight. Mm-hmm. . And one of them significant is from the first Battle bull run. And I don’t think we talk about her in the video.

No. You, 

Scott: you talked, I think, I think this is the one you talked about by, and I ended up cutting. 

[00:13:38] Sarah Edmonds

Jenn: Sarah. Emma Edmonds. Sorry. Gotta get those E out. Changes her name to Frank Thompson. Mm-hmm. . And she fights under the second Michigan Infantry company. F. 

Scott: Yeah. And I think one of our commenters one of our subscribers, Rick mm-hmm.

Actually actually brought her up and said, Hey, what about her? And, and I actually rep replied and said, actually Jen did talk about her Yes. In one of the video clips. It just didn’t make the, the video editors cut. Yes. Which happens every now and then, which is another reason why we like to do these podcasts and live streams.

So we get to tell you guys a little bit more in detail some of the things that didn. The, the 12 minute video. So 

Jenn: she’s a significant, interesting story. She is a male for part of the war, and then is captured. And then Frank Thompson is labeled a deserter, so she doesn’t wanna come back in as a deserter.

So she comes back in as a woman. Yeah. And, and, and nurses for the rest of the war. But she’s the second woman, woman to be recognized by the. So we’ll talk about the first woman to be recognized by the GAR. So that’s the Grand Army of the Republic. She’s gets to wear the star and gets a pension, but you do have women who, who dress as males and.

Keep that identity their entire lives. And 

[00:14:50] Jennie Hodgers

Jenn: so that is Jenny Hodgers. She’s the 95th Illinois Company G. She’s in 40 battles of the Civil War. She uses the name Albert Cash Cashier, and she was a man before the battle. She Assumes the identity of a man before the battle, and she maintains the identity of a man.

Even in up until her death. And her, she claims that she wanted the excitement and she wanted to be a part of the battle. Some people claim she might have been the first or claim label her as a trans man. Sure. Because she wanted to, she kept the identity even outside of warfare. So you have women who are pretending to be men dressing as men, but then you have women who.

Women who are, are wearing a dress. Yeah. 

[00:15:33] Kady Brownell

Jenn: And they’re just, I’m a woman fighter and the most significant of that is Kady Bromwell. And she was there at the first Battle Bull run. She. She enlists with her husband and we talk about this. Yeah, we did. And it’s so funny cuz her husband d he’s a deserter. , and I don’t need to laugh in the video, but like she doesn’t, and she’s in the Rhode Island regiment.

She’s. Injured and she helps. She’s, she’s designated to c to hold the colors. I say that she might have picked up the colors from someone who dropped them, but she’s actually designated to hold the colors 

Scott: and, and we’ve, we’ve talked about kind of the significance of, of that before. Mm-hmm. . And kind of what that means because really in those battles back then, the colors were important.

Not just as like a motivating factor, but also to show where the line 

Jenn: was. It’s so significant in infantry warfare. Because at the time when you don’t know uniforms, at least we know our banner. And if we can fight alongside our banner, we know our line. And that’s why she’s so significant And.

She holds the banner high even with Confederacy. Bullets flying by. She is awarded again, she’s discharged from the Union Army. She gets a pension. She wears a star and she’s just significant throughout the Civil War. She stays in until she’s injured, I think in 1863, but she’s the first woman to receive.

The Gar Star. 

[00:17:03] Annie Etheridge

Jenn: Now we talk a little bit Annie Etheridge we talk about in the video.

She is from the second and third Michigan fifth Regiment. She’s a medic, and so she’s participating as a supporter as well, because there are women that will follow. They’re men and. They cook for them. Right? There’s nothing for them at back home. Yeah. They’re, they’re following in the support role. Yeah.

Unless you had a homestead and land, if your man is going to fight, you go with them. And so you fix uniforms. You, you, you nurse them if they get sick, yeah. You make food and you’re kind of following behind in kind of like the camp setting. And that’s what Anne Etheridge does and she’s a medic the whole time.

and the other pre person we talk about, which is the casualties, the women casualties at this time, and that is 

[00:17:53] Judith Henry

Jenn: Judith Henry. She’s the 84 year old. Mm-hmm. , who’s in the house at the top of the hill of Bull Run, that’s her home. And the the Confederacy comes into her home, goes into the attic as sharp shooters.

Her family tries to get her out of the house, tries to put her on a mattress cuz she’s bedridden and tries to get her out. But can you imagine trying to get her out of the house when you see our video in the middle of a battlefield with 

Scott: 60,000 people? ? Yeah. As there’s like cans going by, there’s people having picnic 

Jenn: over there, women and you’re trying to carry, so they take her back to the house.

And at the time when the union realizes there’s snipers, sharp shooters coming outta the attic, they just bombarded the house with ar artillery. Yeah. You see the cannons 

Scott: and they actually, there’s actually pictures that people went back to that battlefield mm-hmm. after the fact. Mm-hmm. . And they took pictures of, of basically the remains of that house, which is, and it’s literally like the frame, the chimney.

and it part of the frame. Yeah. 

Jenn: Yeah. So she’s a casualty. Yeah. She’s the first casualty happens to be a woman 84 years old, buried in the front yard. And so that when, if you go to bull run, her grave is there, her homestead is there rebuilt, and then you have the. The statue of Stonewall Jackson. 

[00:19:10] Stonewall Jackson

Jenn: So I say, there’s significant things that are coming out of this battle.

That name and the motivation and the morale for the Confederacy is the biggest things that’s gonna come 

Scott: out of this. And I’m not gonna lie, like. The statue’s pretty cool looking. It is, I 

Jenn: think, cooler than Jackson ever really 

Scott: looked . Oh yeah. No, he, he looks like Superman up there. . This is not a, a man of, of normal proportions that they put on this horse.

On this pedestal. Yeah. In the middle of the battlefield. Like he, he looks like a, he’s in a, wearing a superhero outfit, but it really does. It gives you that, that kind of whole concept of Stonewall Jackson, right? What, what’s the, what’s the quote? Form? Form. Form, yeah. Format behind that. On Jackson standing there.

Like a Stonewall standing. Like a Stonewall. Mm-hmm. . And it really does give you that feel because he’s up on this rise, and out on the battlefield there are key, the canons that are lined up off to the side. Mm-hmm. not too far from him. And if you were a soldier and you saw, your general.

Sitting on a H, sitting on a horse, just kind of sitting there being like, yeah, this, we’re good. Mm-hmm. , we got this, and you’re just sitting out in front. You’d probably be pretty motivated too. Yeah. 

Jenn: And I It worked in their favor. Yeah. Right. Because I say in the video, I don’t know if it’s smart or dumb.

Yeah. Because you are a standing target. If you’re not moving, makes it very easy for someone to aim at you. . But what you have happening at this time is when the Confederacy reinforcements are coming. Yeah. And so the union is getting tired. They’re not understanding what’s happening. They’re retreating, and the Confederacy is just bombarding them with more and more fresh men.

And Stonewall Jackson stands there. He’s injured in the hand, so you can see he wraps his hand, he puts his hand on his waist and he stays on his horse. And even though his. Brigade loses 50% of their men, which is the high, one of the highest casualties there. They stand there and able to reinforce people and because the Confederacy wins, the morale that comes out of that for the Confederacy is what? drives and builds the rest of the Civil War. For them, it’s, 

Scott: it’s a massive turning point for the South. Mm-hmm. , I mean, even the pictures that I pull up of Stonewall Jackson, it.

, it’s him like going through town and shaking the hand of little boy. This is after the battle. Yeah. . Because he is now a myths instantly a, a hero, right? Mm-hmm. , he, the, the myth was created , right then and there. Mm-hmm. . 

Jenn: And like I say, most people probably don’t even know his first name is Thomas, right?

Because Stonewall, I didn’t, I didn’t know that , 

But, so what’s happening to women at this time? So what happens to the significance of Stonewall Jackson is union women are basically like gut punch. , right? They’re like, how could our men retreat? They’re very melancholy. They’re very, they’re, the wind has been taken out of their sails.

They hear the opposite, right? They hear the union has retreated. They hear, this is not gonna be an easy battle. Look how close they are to Washington, DC and they won this battle, and so they feel very demoralized now. Their men have retreated. Their men are injur. . Now President Lincoln has to get more men.

He has to train more men. We have to designate new uniforms. And so the union women feel like the wind has been taken out of their sails. And then you got the. The southern women who feel aga, rep, like repurpose. Sure, yeah. And feel proud. Of course. 

Scott: Everybody wants to, 

Jenn: their home team to win.

Yeah. So this is what you’re seeing with the women on either side that is happening out of this battle. 

[00:22:42] Summary

Scott: So. If you paid attention even a little bit in school, then you probably know that the Battle of Bull Run, as we talked about, kicked off the American Civil War. And you might even know that this is where the indomitable Stonewall Jackson got his name.

Yes. The saying goes form, form there. Stan stands Jackson, like a Stonewall. But what they didn’t teach in school was that at this epic battle, there were women in the thick of a fight standing right next to the. Women like Clara Barton, Annie Etheridge, or Kady Brownell, were not merely supporting, but also rallying soldiers carrying the flag and bearing arms next to their fellow fighters on this bloody American battlefield.

These women broke social norms or ran towards the danger that most today can barely imagine. They were the women of Bull Run. 

So thank you for listening to the Talk with History podcast, and please reach out to us at our website, talk with history.com. But more importantly, if you know someone else that might enjoy this, share the video, share the live stream or the podcast, shoot ’em a text, and tell ’em to look us up because we rely on you, our community to grow, and we appreciate you all every day.

Talk to you next time. Thank you. 

Published by Scott

The mountains are calling, let me grab a jacket and my kids.

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