Michigan Annie’s Pluck and her Battlefield Devotion to her true love, is just one story of women fighting and dying, while in harm’s way during the Civil War. A curiosity, yes, but to the surprise of some Civil War historians, Annie was by no means unique. She was one of over 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. What would compel a woman to march into terrible combat and how could she conceal her identity in what must have been uncomfortably close quarters?
To get to the front lines, each woman had to pass herself off as a man. Many were detected immediately and given the boot. Physical exams of the time tended to be cursory and both armies were often so desperate for recruits that virtually anyone could pass. Occasions for discovery were limited; troops routinely slept in uniform, baths were a novelty and latrines were so foul that many soldiers sought refuge in nearby woods. A high-pitched voice or a lack of facial hair could be attributed to youth. Several women attempted to blend in by learning to cuss like sailors, taking up gambling, or even dating local young ladies.
Michigan Annie’s Pluck is just such a tale and in her own words, she relates why she assumed the role of an infantry trooper and her Battlefield Devotion to the life and welfare of her true love.
The Chicago Post reported the following Civil War incident, of a young girl who had just arrived from Louisville, Kentucky,
“She gave her name as Annie Lillybridge, of Detroit and stated that her parents reside in Hamilton, Canada. Last spring she was employed in a dry-goods store in Detroit, where she became acquainted with a Lieutenant, of one of the Michigan regiments, and an intimacy immediately sprang up between them. They corresponded for some time, and became much attached to each other. Some time during last summer, the Lieutenant was appointed to a position in the 21st Michigan Infantry, then rendezvousing in Ionia County. The thought of parting from the gay lieutenant nearly drove her mad, and she resolved to share his dangers and be near him. No sooner had she resolved upon this course than she proceeded to the act. Purchasing male attire, she visited Ionia, enlisted in Captain Kavanagh’s company, 21st Regiment. While in camp she managed to keep her secret from all; not even the object of her attachment, who met her every day, was aware of her presence so near him.
“Annie left with her regiment, passed through all the dangers and temptations of a camp life, endured long marches, and sleeping on the cold ground, without a murmur. At last, the night before the battle of Pea Ridge, (or Prairie Grove,) in which her regiment took part, her sex was discovered by a member of her company; but she enjoined secrecy upon him, after relating her previous history. On the following day she was under fire, and, from a letter she has in her possession, it appears she behaved with marked gallantry, and, with her own hand, shot a rebel captain, who was in the act of firing upon her Lieutenant. But the fear of revealing her sex continually haunted her. After the battle, she was sent out, with others, to collect the wounded, and one of the first corpses found by her was the soldier who had discovered her sex.
“Days and weeks passed on, and she became a universal favorite with the regiment, so much so that her Colonel frequently detailed her as regimental clerk, a position that brought her in close contact with her lover, who, at this time, was either major or adjutant of the regiment. A few weeks subsequently she was out on picket duty, when she received a shot in the arm that disabled her, and, notwithstanding the efforts of the surgeon, her wound continually grew worse. She was sent to the hospital at Louisville, where she has been ever since, until a few weeks ago, when she was discharged by the post surgeon, as her arm was stiffened and rendered useless for life. She implored to be permitted to return to her regiment; but the surgeon was unyielding, and discharged her. Annie immediately hurried toward home, and, by the aid of benevolent strangers, reached this city. At Cincinnati she told her secret to a benevolent lady, and was supplied with female attire. She declares that she will enlist in her old regiment again, if there is a recruiting officer for the 21st in Michigan. She still clings to the lieutenant, and says she must be near him if he falls or is taken down sick; that where he goes she will go; and when he dies, she will end her life by her own hand.”
Young Michigan Annie’s Pluck and her Battlefield Devotion, prove that bravery, patriotism and love, often go hand in hand.