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War between the States
Heroines of the South

The following article is from the Confederate Veteran, Vol. IV, No. 4, Nashville, Tenn., April, 1896.


B. L. Ridley, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

General Stephen D. Lee, who was most loyal to the Stars and Bars, when asked by a Federal officer, after his surrender at Vicksburg, why the Southern people did not give up, is reported to have replied: "Because the women of the South would never agree to it." General A. P. Stewart speaks of them as a race unsurpassed for heroism, for deeds of charity and loving kindness, for self-sacrificing and patriotic devotion to the cause of their country, for unswerving constancy and perseverance in what they knew to be right, and the uncomplaining fortitude with which they accepted defeat and all its adverse consequences." To show the blood that was in them, from wealth they met the conditions that confronted them and submitted to sacrifices cheerfully, going to the washtub, the spindle and the loom to support the widowed mothers and crippled fathers and kindred, until our Southland blossoms with a heroine in nearly every home.

I have read of the heroines in Napoleon s Court, "Families of Cleopatra's enchantresses who charm posterity, who had but to smile at history to obtain history's smile in return;" Mesdames Tallien, De Stael, Recamier, Charlotte Corday, of the deeds of Joan d'Arc, of Mollie Pitcher and Deborah Sampson of our Revolution, and Florence Nightingale of England, but when I draw the line of comparison I can point to women whose names and fame “in the War between the States" will surpass them in acts and deeds that will only die with the echo of time.

The battle of Nashville gave us a heroine whose name General Hood placed on the roll of honor, "Miss Mary Bradford," now Mrs. John Johns. When Thomas' Army was pouring the musketry into us and Hood's Army was in full retreat, she rushed out in the thickest of the storm cloud and begged the soldiers to stop and fight.

The famous raid of General Streight with two thousand men, near Rome, Ga., resulting in his capture through the intrepidity of a Miss Emma Sanson, was an instance of female prowess long to be remembered. Amidst the flying bullets, thrilled with patriotism, she jumped on behind Gen. Forrest and piloted him across the Black Warrior. The Legislature of Alabama granted her land, and the people lauded her to the skies. When Hood's Army, on the Nashville campaign, passed Gadsden, this young lady stood on her porch and the army went wild with cheers in her honor.

Another heroine in General Morgan's cavalry tramp, on the line of Kentucky and Tennessee, grew to be terror in her section. She was as expert in horsemanship as a Cossack, dressed in men's clothes and handled a gun with the skill of a cracksman. She bore the name of "Sue Munday," had many encounters and her career was exceedingly romantic.

The old scouts in the West will remember two other heroines through whose aid we were often saved from attack and told when and where to strike. Miss Kate Patterson, now Mrs. Kyle, of Lavergne, Tenn., and Miss Robbie Woodruff, who lived ten miles from Nashville. They would go into Nashville, get what information was needed and place it in a designated tree, stump or log to be conveyed to us by our secret scouts. I have often wondered if the diagram of works around Nashville found on the person of Sam Davis was not gotten through them, notwithstanding the impression received that it was stolen from Gen. Dodge's table by a Negro boy. Miss Woodruff thrilled the scouts by her many perilous achievements.

But I have a heroine of the mountains who developed in war times, yet on account of her obscure habitation and the bitter heart burnings existing between the two factions, so nearly divided in her section, that history has not yet given her name merited fame. I got her record from the Rev. J. H. Nichols, who lived in her section of Putnam County, three miles from Cookeville, Tenn. Her name was Miss Marina Gunter, now Mrs. Joe Harris. Her father, Larkin Gunter, was a Southern man, and some bushwhackers, claiming to belong to the Federal Army, resolved to kill him. One night three of them, Maxwell, Miller and Patton, visited his home and told him, in the presence of his family, that his time had come to die. They took him out from the house and in a short time this maiden of seventeen heard the licks and her old father's groans, when she rushed to the wood-pile, got an axe and hurriedly approached the scene. The night was dark and drizzly, and the men were standing by a log, on which they had placed her father and he was pleading for his life. She killed two with the axe and broke the third one's arm. He got away at lightning speed, but afterwards died from the wound. She lifted up her father and helped him home. Soon she sought and obtained protection from the Federal General at Nashville. She said afterwards, that upon hearing her father's groans she grew frantic and does not know, to this good day, how she managed it, nor did she know anything until she had cleaned out the platter. This is the greatest achievement of female heroism of its kind that has ever been recorded, and places Miss Gunter on the pinnacle of glory that belongs not alone to patriotism, but to the grandeur of filial affection "the tie that stretches from the cradle to the grave, spans the Heavens and is riveted through eternity to the throne of God on high."

They talk about Sheridan's ride but let me tell of one that strips it of its grandeur the famous run of Miss Antoinette Polk, displaying a heroism worthy of imperishable record. She was on the Hampshire Turnpike, a few miles from Columbia, Tenn., when some one informed her of the Federals contemplated visit to her father's home on the Mt. Pleasant Pike five miles across—said pikes forming an obtuse angle from Columbia. She knew that some soldier friends at her father's would be captured unless they had notice, and in order to inform them, she had to go across the angle that was barricaded many times with high rail and rock fences. There was no more superb equestrienne in the valley of the Tennessee and she was of magnificent physique. She had a thoroughbred horse trained to her bidding. The young lady started, leaping the fences like a reindeer, and came out on the pike just in front of the troopers, four miles from home. They took after her, but her foaming steed was so fleet of foot, that she got away from them in the twinkling of an eye, and saved her friends from capture.

[Supplemental to the above the following is furnished by a lady who has known the Countess since their girlhood.]

Antoinette Wayne Van Leer Polk is the full name of this brave girl, given in honor of her maternal grandfather, who was a nephew of Major General Anthony Wayne, of Revolutionary fame, and who was Commander-in-Chief of the army at the time of his death, and whose father was a son of a brave officer in the French and Indian war, while his direct ancestor was a distinguished soldier in the Battle of the Boyne, so that on both sides she was of heroic blood.

She was not fully grown when she took this famous ride. After the war she went abroad with her father and mother and finished her education in Europe. The health of her father, Andrew Jackson Polk, having failed when in the Confederate Army, he grew worse and died in Switzerland.

Miss Polk had a most brilliant young ladyhood abroad, principally in Rome, where she was beloved by the Princess Margarite, and universally admired. She married a distinguished French soldier of the old regime, the Marquis de Charette de la Contrie, like herself, of heroic stock, and has her home in France. She has one son, a youth of great promise. I recollect another heroine, a Lieut. Buford of an Arkansas regiment. She stepped and walked the personification of a soldier boy; had won her spurs on the battlefield at Bull Run, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, and was promoted for gallantry. One evening she came to General Stewart's headquarters, at Tyner's Station, with an order from Maj. Kinloch Falconer to report for duty as scout, but upon his finding that "he" was a woman, she was sent back and the order revoked. She has written a book.

In point of devotion and of nursing our soldiers in distress, the sick, the wounded, the women of the South were all "Florence Nightingales." It would be invidious to discriminate, but I will mention some of the other noteworthy deeds. I have another heroine—bless her sweet soul. I have forgotten her name. One day General Morgan sent a squad of us on a scout and we were pursued by Col. Funkerhauser's Regiment in Denny's Bend of Cumberland River, near Rome, Tenn. My heroine, a little girl of fourteen, directed us to Bradley Island for safety-a place of some sixty acres in cultivation, but on the river side it was encircled by a sandbar. with drift wood lodged on an occasional stubby sycamore. This sweet, animated little girl brought us a "square" meal, and watched for our safety like a hawk during the day. Thinking it was a foraging expedition, and that they were gone, we ventured to leave late in the afternoon, but ran into them and a running fire ensued. After eluding pursuit, we concluded to go back. In a short time a company of Federals appeared on the island, evidently having tracked our horses. We left the horses behind the driftwood, without hitching, and took shelter under a big fallen tree. The troopers were in ten steps of us at times. We could hear them distinctly, and one fellow said: "If we catch 'em boys, this is a good place to hang'em." Another said, "Let's go down in the driftwood on the sandbar and bag 'em." Hearts thumped and legs trembled! We thought we were gone. One of our squad said, “Let's give up," but the rest of us were too badly scared to reply. A frightened rabbit stopped near us, panting, watching and trembling with fear, producing a mimetic effect on our feelings. Ah, if a painter could have pictured that scene, and if a pen could describe that occasions We lay there until nightfall. They did not happen to see our horses and, through a kind Providence, we escaped. Our heroine came to us after nightfall, signaled and we answered. She was so happy over our escape; told us that she saw them leave and that they had no prisoners. She mounted her horse, followed on behind them to the tollgate, two miles away. and learned that they had returned to Lebanon, after which she returned to us, brought our supper and put us on a safe road.

Such heroines the Southern soldiers met with often in the disputed territory of contending armies. They evidenced a devotion to country that only might and not right could subdue.

There was another class more nearly comporting with female character; sock knitters, clothes makers, needle pliers, God servers, reveling in sentiment in touch with the times. From wealth they drank the dregs of poverty's cup. until now, for over thirty years, by frugality and dint of perseverance, they have been instrumental in our Southland's blessed resurrection. Female clerks, teachers, Graph, phone and type machine operators, and other callings. From authoresses to cooks they attest a courage and praiseworthiness that exceeds bellicose valor. To the old stranded Southern craft they have been mariners that make the world pause to see us moving again amid the councils of our common country, resuscitated, regenerated and disenthralled. Posterity will do them justice, historians, poets and dramatists will chronicle their praises. Charlotte Corday's epitaph was "Greater than Brutus," but that of the Southern women will be, "Greater than Jackson, the Johnstons or Lee, greater than Jefferson Davis, greater than any other heroines of time."

To impress more forcibly my idea of our women, I have a friend who has risen as a poet—Albert Sidney Morton, St. Paul, Minnesota, who has written, to go with this tribute, a poem on "The Women of the South.” It is beautiful, thrilling and true. I give it through the VETERAN to the public, to be handed down to posterity.


Albert Sidney Morton, St. Paul, Minn.

Not Homer dreamt, nor Milton sung
Through his heroic verse,
Nor Prentiss did with wondrous tongue,
In silver tones, rehearse
The grandest theme that ever yet
Moved brush. or tongue, or pen—
A theme in radiant glory set
To stir the souls of men—

Of nascent charms that thrall the gaze,
Of love's most pleasing pain,
Ten thousand tuneful. lyric lays
Have sung and sung again;
But I would sing of souls, of hearts
Within those forms of clay,
Of lives whose lustre yet imparts
Fresh radiance to our day—

When battle's fierce and lurid glare
Lit up our shady glens;
When slaughter, agony, despair,
Or Northern prison pens,
Were portion of the sturdy son
Of Southern mother true,
Who prayed the battle might be won
Of grey against the blue?—

Our lads were true, our lads were brave,
Nor feared the foemen's steel,
And thousands in a bloody grave
Did true devotion seal;
But brightest star upon our shield ,
Undimmed without a stain.
Is she who still refused to yield
Refused, alas, in vain—

We had no choice but to fight,
While she was left to grieve;
We battled for the truth and right
Our freedom to achieve—
Assured death we could embrace—
But there is not yet born
The Southern man who dares to face
The silent withering scorn

Who bade us go with smiling tears?
Who scorned the renegade?
Who, silencing their trembling fears,
Watched, cheered, then wept and prayed?
Who nursed our wounds with tender care,
And then. when all was lost,
Who lifted us from our despair
And counted not the cost?

Then glory to the Lord of Hosts,—
Yes, glory to the Lord,
To Father, Son and Holy Ghost
And glory to His Word;
To us is giv'n creation's prize—
The masterpiece of Him
Who made the earth, the stars, the skies,
The war cloud's golden rim:—

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