Editor’s Note: This new section in HER Magazine will highlight significant women locally and in Missouri, who truly “made her mark” in history. In this “Making HER Mark” debut, brave women who fought in America’s largest battles are featured, as they were at the Museum of Missouri Military History in Jefferson City throughout the month of March in honor of “Women’s History Month.”
Some wanted to stand with their husbands in battle. Others took up gambling, drinking and cursing to adhere to common masculine characteristics of the time. Like their fellow enlisted men, all left their families behind to fight.
Civil War Trust, the largest nonprofit organization preservation of America’s hallowed battlegrounds, said conservative estimates of female soldiers in the Civil War range between 400 to 750. Each has a unique story tell, with some of these powerful women hailing from the Show-Me State or fighting for Missouri military units.
In recognition of Women’s History Month in March, the Museum of Missouri Military History shared researched displays of notable Show-Me State women who served our country throughout American history.
“During the diversity months, we find pieces of military history that match but are also very specific. … I had bits and pieces on display and in mind, but a big thanks goes to Haley K. Heil, our student intern from Mizzou (University of Missouri in Columbia),” said museum director Charles Machon. “She is here for the semester doing an internship, and she was interested in looking more into women in the military. I told her I have these few things, but maybe you could find more. She did. … I just scratched the surface, but she dove deep into these stories and created these posters.”
Among the many posters and exhibits relating the women’s military service on display through March were three female soldiers. All three were either from Missouri or enlisted out of Missouri, and all disguised themselves as men to fight in battles on American soil.
A mother of three children, Frances Clalin did not want to stand by while her husband, Elmer, fought in the Civil War. She enlisted right along with him. The Minnesota-based couple signed up for the Union army in the Missouri Artillery Regiment in 1861, according to Heil’s research.
Clalin disguised herself as a man, using the name Jack Williams. However, she took her facade even further, trying to make it as believable as possible.
“To cover herself, she took up smoking, drinking, chewing tobacco, swearing, gambling and became quite fond of cigars. …. You have to think, the physicals to get into the army during the Civil War was basically walking up to the enlistment table, and they ask, ‘How many fingers do you have? You got your four fingers on each hand and two thumbs, you are in.’ That is how it was pretty much,” Machon said. “They were desperately needing people, so she was able to enter the war without her true identity being revealed.”
Clalin was allegedly engaged in 17 battles outside of fighting in Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee in 1862, where she was wounded but not discovered. At the Battle of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862, Clalin fought alongside her husband, who died just a few feet away from her. Sources say she continued to fight despite this tragedy.
“Jack Williams” was wounded during this battle and Clalin’s true identity was revealed. After being discharged, she apparently went back to Minnesota initially to collect bounty owed to her and her husband. She moved around until landing in Quincy, Illinois, where a fund was created to aid in her quest for payment by former soldiers and friends. ^
The only known woman to serve in the U.S. Army as a Buffalo soldier was from Missouri.
Born in Independence, Cathay Williams was a slave and worked as a house servant on the Johnson plantation near Jefferson City. By 1861, Union forces occupied Jefferson City in the beginnings of the Civil War, and slaves were then considered “contraband,” according to Machon.
“They didn’t want to free them, but they didn’t want them assisting the Confederate cause,” Machon said, noting she later served the Army as a paid servant. “As a woman during the Civil War, she traveled as a washwoman, cook and seamstress through major campaigns for four years with the Army …. and witnessed several battles.”
According to Heil’s research on Williams, she witnessed the Shenandoah Valley raids in Virginia, served a Col. Benton in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a General Sheridan and his staff. After leaving Virginia, she traveled to Iowa and St. Louis, determined to fight in the war independently.
“She learned through a friend that the Army was recruiting all black units. She had been in the Army and had small pox, so she had some scarring on her face. … she thought, ‘I could get free food and do this,’” Machon said, noting she enlisted Nov. 15, 1866. “She enlisted at what is now Jefferson Barracks (in St. Louis). To keep it simple, she flipped her name to William Cathay. When you are in the Army, you go by your last name – Private Cathay. That way it helped her to know who is calling her.”
Private Cathay serviced in the 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A (Buffalo Soldiers), with no medical examination made at that time for enlistment. In 1868, she was given discharge and passed medical examination, according to Machon and Heil’s research. However, Williams never did get her pension for Army service. She stayed in area of New Mexico where Company A had previously been stationed and died in 1924.
Heil labeled the museum’s display about Elizabeth Caroline Newcom, “Military Scandal of 1848: A Woman in Men’s Trousers.” A scandal it was indeed.
Heil’s research revealed that Bill Newcume, from Platte County, Missouri, proved to be a strong soldier in the 10 months he served in the Mexican-American War. However, Newcume harbored a secret that was later discovered and led to an “informal discharge.” Bill was, in fact, Elizabeth Caroline Newcom, a woman who hid her identity from the men of the D Company that was commanded by Col. William Gilpin from Sept. 16, 1847 to May 14, 1848.
Newcom marched more than 600 miles from Leavenworth, Kansas, to Pueblo, Colorado, while in D Company, according to Heil’s research. On path to get closer to the enemy, the company did break and set up winter quarters in Colorado, before heading to Dodge City and in the middle of the Comanche-Kiowa country as the weather warmed.
Little is known about encounters with the enemy, but Heil said Newcom must have been an exceptional soldier to serve so long in marching through rough and wild terrain without being discovered. However, when they finally found out Bill was actually Elizabeth, she was discharged in a manner that would hinder her ability to get the 160 acres as promised for those fighting in the war with Mexico five years later, Heil’s research said.
Then, Newcom’s story became more “scandalous” when information was released that she was discovered because she was pregnant. Newcom was recruited by First Lt. Amandus Schnabel into the D Company, and it is unknown how many men were in on the secret, Heil’s research said.
“It was then discovered she was pregnant, but she had served her nearly year of service,” Machon said. “One of the things they did during the Mexican-American War to encourage men to join the Army was instead of giving a cash bonus the Northwest Territory in Missouri said if you survive your service we’ll give you 160 acres.
“Years later, she sues because she just had a discharge. It wasn’t dishonorable, just a discharge. She had members of her own company testify that yes she did her job. … Then she went in front of Congress in Washington, D.C. … they decided to award her the 160 acres.”
According to Heil’s research, Newcom was not only awarded her land in Atchinson County, Missouri in the northwest corner of the state, she also was paid for her services and received three months extra pay as if she had been properly discharged by the Army. Now, Newcom is the only known female Army veteran of the Mexican American War.
“You have these women serving our country in some way. What is neat is Missouri has the only known female Buffalo soldier. Then there is Frances, who was from Minnesota but came to Missouri, enlisted in the Army and fought in many battles. With Newcom, she served our country and fought for what was due to her, receiving her 160 acres of land,” Machon said.
Additional researched exhibits from Heil and others were also on display during Women’s History Month in March at the museum, including one describing the short-lived all female drill company at Mizzou. Gen. Enoch Crowder, a professor who Crowder Hall was named for, formed this company.
“So (the women) could have more freedom of movement with their rifles, he said they don’t have to wear their corsets. In the Victorian era … that was a big no,” Machon said, noting the company only lasted two years. “To have an actual photo and the history at the university is amazing.”
With many exhibits already housed at the museum relating to women’s military service in Missouri, Machon said plans were underway to create snippets of the Women’s History Month exhibits and display the posters in the museum by the end of April.
“We are finding these little pieces of really cool things about women serving in one way or another here in Missouri. And we want to make sure that history is recorded and shared,” Machon said.
The Museum of Missouri Military History has been open to the public for 18 years, with Machon working there since its inception.
The museum just moved to its location at the Missouri National Guard’s Ike Skelton Training Center in Jefferson City about two years ago, and it houses more than 25 exhibits and hundreds of pieces of Missouri military history ranging from periods of early settlements to the most recent conflicts. Uniforms, weapons, ranks, aircraft, photos and other artifacts tell the story of Missouri military history at the museum, including women serving our country.
Enjoy some details of select exhibits featuring women in military history at the museum, and discover much more by visiting the facility, which is open year-round.
• Two World War II female uniforms: One museum display houses two World War II uniforms worn by Missouri women. Jefferson City resident Wanda Mary Knight-Krautman’s nurse uniform is one, along with a picture of her in uniform. Knight-Krautman served through France in 1944 and later at the Battle of the Bulge, where she remembers many of the wounded soldiers being only 18 to 19 years old. In contrast to the heavier nurse uniform worn in Europe’s colder climates, the Women’s Army Corps uniform of Tech Sgt. Hazel Ball of Overland, Missouri, is made of a lighter material suitable for Bell’s service in Japan with occupation forces after the war. Items from Bell’s time overseas, including photographs from her footlocker, medicine to prevent malaria, letters and notebooks are also on display.
• A first for Missouri and the nation: Private First Class Charla Shull’s Missouri National Guard uniform is on display at the museum, along with a very important picture. In the photograph, Gov. John Ashcroft presented Shull with the Missouri National Guard Panama Service Ribbon, after she and other members of the 1138th Military Police Company returned home from Operation JUST CAUSE. President George Bush Sr. ordered the invasion of more than 25,000 soldiers to Panama after Manuel Noriega became president in late 1989 and a U.S. Marine was shot. “They were in Panama in 1989 for two weeks training, and her unit speciality was dealing with POW’s. They just happened to be there when we invaded, and the unit she was at came under attack from enemy forces,” Machon said. “She was the first Missouri woman and the first National Guard woman to be in a combat zone like this.”
• World War 1 era wooden rifle of significance: As one of the first acquired pieces at the museum, a wooden rifle shares a display case with many other interesting World War 1 era artifacts from Missouri military history. However, it shows how young women helped in military efforts during the early part of the 20th Century, as well. The industrial arts class at Central Missouri State Normal School, now known as University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, made the wooden drill rifle, which joined many others like it for use by the local Home Guard unit and S.A.T.C. (Student Army Training Corps in 1918. A photo of the girls drill company at the school during that time is also displayed with the dummy weapon.
• Being a strong female soldier: Machon likes to showcase a photo of Marie Dautenhahn, originally from Louisiana, who currently serves in the Missouri National Guard. She stands in Afghanistan next to her fellow Guardsman and son, wearing all the necessary gear required of a soldier. “I asked her how much weight did she gain after putting on all the gear, and she said she had gained about 80 pounds. I sue this to show, especially the young girls who visit the museum, military service is not like Hollywood. Here is a real female soldier and she is carrying all the gear, plus her helmet, rifle, water, etc., and she is only about 5 feet, 6 inches,” Machon said.
The Museum of Missouri Military History is located at 2405 Logistics Road in Jefferson City and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 573-638-9603 or find “Museum of Missouri Military History” on Facebook.