Civil War: Women as protectors of their homeland

Maybe I overlooked or missed something in my high school history books — but I don’t remember ever hearing much about the role women played during the Civil War. Of course I knew about Clara Barton, but I never knew there were women spies or even women who dressed as soldiers so they could fight.

My forefathers lived in the Cumberland Plateau during the Civil War — one of the most partisan, and bloody, areas of the conflict. In has been documented that men on both sides of the conflict became vigilantes engaging in criminal activities like theft and murder under the guise of the war effort.

One such case happened at the home of 16-year-old Julie Marcum.

Although they lived the Confederate state of Tennessee, the Marcum’s, like many of their neighbors were Unionists. Julie’s father Hiram, even allowed his farm to be used by men who were heading north to join Lincoln’s Army. But in late summer 1861, the War came home to the Marcums and especially to Julie.

At around 2 a.m. on September the 8th, a group of Confederate soldiers surrounded the house and demanded Julie send her father out. Her father, though, was not in the house — as a precaution he had been sleeping outside.

When Hiram did not come out, one soldier remained behind and entered the home. The soldier choked Julie’s mother. He jabbed at Julie, her mother and sisters, Minerva and Didama, with his bayonet and when Didama ran upstairs to get a candle, the soldier chased her, grabbed her and threatened to kill Didama and her family.

This is when Julie took matters into her own hands. Waiting until she could run underneath the soldier’s gun, she charged him and hit him in the face and chest with an axe. Mortally wounded, the soldier fought back, shooting off two of her fingers and ramming his bayonet into her forehead, causing her to lose an eye. By this point, her father was inside the home and he shot and killed the soldier.

Two years later, the Confederates would successfully run the Marcums off their land. The family would escape into Casey County, Kentucky.

Because of the incident, in 1885, Julie was recognized by the U.S. government as a combatant in the Civil War entitling her to a military pension. She is believed to be the only woman from the Civil War to receive a pension in her own right.

Julie outlived her siblings and their spouses and died in 1936. She is buried in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

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Categories: Appalachia, Civil War History, Cumberland Plateau, Genealogy

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