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Women have been serving in the military since the Revolutionary War in one capacity or another. In 1775, women followed their husbands to serve as laundresses, cooks and nurses, as long as the commanding officers decided they were proving themselves to be helpful to the soldiers.



From 1782 to 1783, Deborah Sampson served in General Washington’s Army disguised as a man. When she was wounded, they discovered she was a woman and they allowed her to be honorably discharged from the Army.



During the American Civil War, women served as administrators of hospitals, and cooks for the Union and Confederate Armies. Women were also spies, and others disguised themselves as men so that they could fight beside their male counterparts.



In WWI, women were allowed to join the military. 33,000 women served as nurses and support staff. More than 400 nurses died in the line of duty. The first woman to enlist in the military was Loretta Walsh in 1917.



In WWII, more than 400,000 women served at home and overseas as mechanics, ambulance drivers, pilots, administrators, nurses and other non-combat roles. 88 women were captured and held as prisoners of war (POWs)



Not until 1948, when a law was passed by Congress called the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, were women granted permanent status in the military and subject to military authority and regulations, which entitled them to veteran’s benefits.



During the Korean War, over 50,000 women served at home and abroad. 500 Army nurses served in combat zones and many Navy nurses served on hospital ships.



In Vietnam, approximately 7,000 or more women served as nurses in all five divisions of the military, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines and Coast Guard. All were volunteers.



1973 is the year the draft ended and the all-volunteer military was created, which opened the door for numerous military opportunities for women.



In 1976, West Point welcomed their first female cadets and the Air Force also allowed women to be trained in military science.



1978 was the year women in the Navy and Marines were allowed to serve on non-combat ships as technicians, nurses and officers.



In 1991, an act of Congress allowed women to fly in combat missions.



During the Persian Gulf War in 1991 to 1992, more than 41,000 women were deployed to a combat zone. Two were actually taken captive.



1993 is the year that women were allowed to serve on combat ships by another Act of Congress.



In the year 2000, Captain Kathleen McGrath becomes the first woman to command a U.S. Navy warship.



In 2003, during the Iraq War, three Army women were taken as prisoners of war (POWs) in the first few days of the invasion.



In 2004, Colonel Linda McTague became the first woman commander of a fighter squadron in the history of the Air Force.



In 2005, during the “War on Terror,” Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman awarded the Silver Star for combat action.

The National Archives holds many records from the Civil War era and also offers many resources to help researchers make the most of those records. You can start your Civil War research with the National Archives here:


Not all Civil War records are held at the federal level, though, and there are many institutions that hold complementary collections. The National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC - has awarded digitization grants to several institutions across the United States that hold records related to the Civil War, and many of those digital collections are freely available online.


Here are some of the digital collections related to the Civil War that were made possible by NHPRC grant funding:


  • The Archives of Michigan, along with the University of Michigan Digital Library, has digitized their Civil War Regimental Service Records. From their website: “The records in this collection document the history of Michigan soldiers in the form of muster rolls, letters, lists of dead, monthly returns and other materials sent to the state Adjutant General during the war.” Find out more by exploring their site:


  • The University of Alabama, has digitized the papers of Septimus D. Cabaniss (1820-1937), who was a southern attorney during the Civil War era. According to the University, “Cabaniss is renowned for his role as litigator and executor for the estate of a wealthy plantation owner who sought to manumit and leave property to a selection of his slaves, many of whom were his children, after his death in the antebellum south.” Check out the collection here:


  • The Missouri State Archives has digitized case files of the Supreme Court of Missouri (1821-1865). In this collection, you can find “transcripts from lower courts, briefs filed by attorneys or interested parties, depositions, summonses, and opinions of the Court addressing matters as diverse as land disputes, the Civil War, women's suffrage, civil rights, and anti-trust laws.” You can access the case files here:


  • The University of North Texas has digitized several 19th century collections, most relate to the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. The collection includes a variety of records, for example “the papers of a Confederate physician, a North Texas sheriff and tax collector, a Unionist craftsman who fled to Illinois, a woman who experienced the war in Kansas, and Confederate and Union soldiers who served throughout the United States.” Cooke County ledger books from 1857-1919, which document “violence and crime during the Reconstruction era” are also available. To see the collection, visit this site:




For further information, please see the previous post:

Digitization Projects Made Possible by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)