Blanton, DeAnne 1964-
BLANTON, DeAnne 1964-
PERSONAL: Born 1964, in Staunton, VA; daughter of P. O. (a shipbuilder) and Jan (a nurse) Blanton; married Marc Wolfe, 1996. Education: Sweet Briar College, B.A., 1985; Wake Forest University, M.A., 1987.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408.
CAREER: Military archivist. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, senior military archivist.
MEMBER: Society for Women and the Civil War (president).
SIDELIGHTS: DeAnne Blanton is a military archivist in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and specializes in nineteenth-century army records. With Lauren M. Cook, she wrote They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. Cook is editor of An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers.
Blanton and Cook's collaboration documents the lives and experiences of approximately 250 women who fought for both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Because so many of the women who saw combat were never identified as female, an accurate count of their numbers is nearly impossible. The authors drew on a decade of research in documenting the wartime lives of women who were injured, captured, and imprisoned. They relied on military records, newspaper accounts, and the diaries and letters of male soldiers. Letters from three women and the memoirs of two other women are the only testimony available from the women themselves. Steve Raymond wrote for the Seattle Times that "historians often recite the grim statistic that more than 600,000 soldiers died in the American Civil War, but rarely do they mention that at least a few of those soldiers were women. This book tells the story of those women—and it's a fascinating one."
Women could usually pass as young boys and most often were discovered when they became ill or gave birth. It is assumed that because of stress, poor hygiene, and inadequate nutrition, many of the women experienced interruptions of their menstrual cycles. The authors also note that when a woman was found out, her sex was sometimes ignored and the woman allowed to continue fighting. Some women were promoted, some received pensions, and some continued to dress and enjoy the freedom of leading masculine lives after the war. Those who were discovered were often dismissed for "congenital peculiarities" or "the unmistakable evidence of being a woman."
Blanton and Cook take a different approach from the few historians who have covered the subject and who have described women who saw combat as either whores, homosexuals, or crazy. Some of the women deserved these titles, but they were in the minority. The authors show most to be patriots who hid their gender in order to fight. Others wanted to join husbands, lovers, fathers, or brothers, while some of the women wished to escape the constraints nineteenth-century Victorian society placed on them or simply to seek adventure. They found the combat pay far superior to the few coins they could earn as laundresses or housekeepers. Many fled the hard life of working the family farm.
Recruiters and doctors accepted recruits based only upon weight, height, adequate teeth, and presence of a thumb and trigger finger, and most women had no trouble being accepted. High collars hid lack of Adam's apples and female bodies, including those that were pregnant, hid behind loosely fitting uniforms that were almost never removed, even to sleep. One female soldier who was wounded during her second trimester healed enough to fight at Fredericksburg two months later. She was promoted to sergeant and then gave birth.
A reviewer for Civil War Studies noted that "the fact that there were women soldiers was part of the national consciousness, it seems, until the Freudian age, when anyone acting in other than customary sexual roles was deemed abnormal or depraved. With few exceptions, these women's stories were minimized and eventually forgotten until now. This book shows that female soldiers did not faint at the sign of blood, and they did not swoon in the heat. They endured the same physical hardships as their comrades."
The study pays special attention to Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, the subject of Cook's previous volume, Jennie Hodgers (Albert Cashier), and Sara Emma Edmonds (Franklin Thompson). Perhaps their most interesting subject is Loreta Janeta Velazquez (Harry T. Buford), a Cuban woman who fought and spied for the Confederacy and raised a cavalry company. Velazquez's 1876 memoir has been considered by some to be more fiction than fact, but apparently she did, in fact, perform all the deeds she writes about in her book.
New York Times Book Review contributor Raye Snover called the volume "a fascinating study of women participants in the Civil War." Mary Hatcher wrote for Charleston.net that "Blanton and Cook's study is groundbreaking and definitive."
"An additional stated goal of They Fought Like Demons is to contribute to an accurate history of women's experience in combat as part of the current debate on the place of women in the military," commented Linda Coleman in the Journal of American Culture. "While they do not enter fully into this argument, their position seems clear in their recurring admiration for and belief in the successful performance of duty by the female Civil War soldier. For them, the significant rates of disease, casualties, and wounds offer 'the real measure of any soldier's contribution to his or her nation's war effort.'"
A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "solid research by the authors, including a look at the careers of a few women soldiers after the war, makes this a compelling book that belongs in every Civil War library."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, May, 2003, S. E. Woodworth, review of TheyFought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War, p. 1606.
Civil War History, September, 2003, Elizabeth R. Varon, review of They Fought Like Demons, p. 282.
Journal of American Culture, June, 2003, Linda Coleman, review of They Fought Like Demons, p. 288.
Kliatt, January, 2004, Mary T. Gerrity, review of TheyFought Like Demons, p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, December 1, 2002, Raye Snover, review of They Fought Like Demons, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 2002, review of TheyFought Like Demons, p. 56.
Charleston.net,http://archives.charleston.net/ (December 22, 2002), Mary Hatcher, review of They Fought Like Demons.
Civil War Studies Web site,http://www.civilwarstudies.org/ (November 18, 2002), review of They Fought Like Demons.
Seattle Times,http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ (November 10, 2002), Steve Raymond, review of They Fought Like Demons.