No woman attached to a regiment, as vivandiére, cantiniére, or fille du regiment (we use the French terms because we have no English ones which fully correspond to them), during the recent war, has won so high and pure a renown as Annie Etheridge. Placed in circumstances of peculiar moral peril, her goodness and purity of character were so strongly marked that she was respected and beloved not only by all her own regiment, but by the brigade division and corps to which that regiment belonged, and so fully convinced were the officers from the corps commander down, of her usefulness and faithfulness in the care of the wounded, that at a time when a peremptory order was issued from the headquarters of the army that all women, whatever their position or services should leave the camp, all the principal field officers of the corps to which her regiment was attached united in a petition to the general-in-chief, that an exception might be made in her favor.
The greater part of Annie Etheridge's childhood was passed in Wisconsin. Her father was a man of considerable property, and her girlhood was passed in ease and luxury; but as she drew near the age of womanhood, he met with misfortunes by which he lost nearly all he had possessed, and returned to her former home in Michigan. Annie remained in Wisconsin, where she had married, but was on a visit to her father in Detroit at the outbreak of the war, and joined the Second Michigan Regiment when they departed for the seat of war, to fulfil the office of a daughter of the regiment, in attending to its sick and wounded. When that regiment was sent to Tennessee she went to the Third Regiment in which she had many friends, and was with them in every battle in which they were engaged. When their three years' service was completed, she with the re-enlisted veterans joined the Fifth Michigan. Through this whole period of more than four years' service she conducted herself with such modesty and propriety, and was at the same time so full of patriotism and courage, that she was a universal favorite with the soldiers as well as officers.
She was in the skirmish of Blackburn's Ford, and subsequently in the first battle of Bull Run, where she manifested the same courage and presence of mind which characterized her in all her subsequent career in the army. She never carried a musket, though she had a pair of pistols in her holsters, but seldom or never used them. She was for a time during the winter following engaged in hospital service, and when the Army of the Potomac went to the Peninsula, during the Chickahominy campaign she was on a hospital transport with Miss Amy M. Bradley, and rendered excellent service there. She was a very tender and careful nurse, and seemed to know instinctively what to do for the sick and wounded. She returned to Alexandria with her regiment, and was with them at the second battle of Bull Run, on the 29th of August, 1862. Early in this battle she was on a portion of the battle-field which had been warmly contested, where there was a rocky ledge, under shelter of which, some of the wounded had crawled. Annie lingered behind the troops, as they changed position, assisted several poor helpless fellows to this cover and dressed their wounds. One of these was William —— of the Seventh New York Infantry, a noble-looking boy, to whose parched lips she had held the cooling draught, and had bound up his wounds, receiving in return a look of unutterable gratitude from his bright blue eyes, and his faintly murmured "God's blessing on you," when a shot from the rebel battery tore him to pieces under her very hands. She discovered at the same moment that the rebels were near, and almost upon her, and she was forced to follow in the direction taken by her regiment. On another portion of that bloody field, Annie was kneeling by the side of a soldier binding up his wounds, when hearing a gruff voice above her, she looked up and to her astonishment saw General Kearny checking his horse beside her. He said, "That is right; I am glad to see you here helping these poor fellows, and when this is over, I will have you made a regimental sergeant;" meaning of course that she should receive a sergeant's pay and rations. But two days later the gallant Kearny was killed at Chantilly, and Annie never received the appointment, as has been erroneously asserted.
At Chancellorsville on the 2d of May, 1863, when the Third Corps were in such extreme peril, in consequence of the panic by which the Eleventh Corps were broken up, one company of the Third Michigan, and one of the sharp-shooters were detailed as skirmishers. Annie, although advised to remain in the rear accompanied them, taking the lead; meeting her colonel however, he told her to go back, as the enemy was near, and he was every moment expecting an attack. Very loth to fall back, she turned and rode along the front of a line of shallow trenches filled with our men; she called to them, "Boys, do your duty and whip the rebels." The men partially rose and cheered her, shouting "Hurrah for Annie," "Bully for you." This revealed their position to the rebels, who immediately fired a volley in the direction of the cheering; Annie rode to the rear of the line, then turned to see the result; as she did so, an officer pushed his horse between her and a large tree by which she was waiting, thus sheltering himself behind her. She looked round at him with surprise, when a second volley was fired, and a Minié ball whizzing by her, entered the officer's body, and he fell a corpse, against her and then to the ground. At the same moment another ball grazed her hand, (the only wound she received during the war), pierced her dress, the skirt of which she was holding, and slightly wounded her horse. Frightened by the pain, he set off on a run through a dense wood, winding in and out among the trees so rapidly that Annie feared being torn from her saddle by the branches, or having her brains dashed out by violent contact with the trunks. She raised herself upon the saddle, and crouching on her knees clung to the pommel. The frightened animal as he emerged from the woods plunged into the midst of the Eleventh Corps, when his course was soon checked. Many of the men, recognizing Annie, received her with cheers. As she was now at a distance from her regiment, she felt a strong impulse to see and speak with General Berry, the commander of her division, with whom she was well acquainted. Meeting an aid, she asked where the General was. "He is not here," replied the aid. "He is here," replied Annie; "He is my Division General, and has command on the right to-day. I must see him." The aid turned his horse and rode up to the General, who was near at hand, and told him that a woman was coming up who insisted on seeing him. "It is Annie," said General Berry, "let her come; let her come, I would risk my life for Annie, any time." As she approached from one side, a prisoner was brought up on the other, said to be an aid of General Hill's. After some words with him, and receiving his sword, the General sent him to the rear; and after giving Annie a cordial greeting and some kind words, he put the prisoner under her charge, directing him to walk by her horse. It was her last interview with the brave General. Early the next morning he was slain, in the desperate fight for the possession of the plank road past the Chancellor House. In the neighborhood of the hospital, Annie, working as usual among the wounded, discovered an artillery man badly injured and very much in need of her assistance. She bound up his wounds and succeeded in having him brought to the hospital. The batteries were not usually accompanied by surgeons, and their men were often very much neglected, when wounded, as the Infantry Surgeons with their hands full with their own wounded would not, and perhaps could not, always render them speedy assistance. A year later Annie received the following letter, which was found on the body of a Lieutenant Strachan, of her division, who was killed in one of the early battles of Grant's campaign.
Washington, D. C., January 14th, 1864.
Annie—Dearest Friend: I am not long for this world, and I wish to thank you for your kindness ere I go.
You were the only one who was ever kind to me, since I entered the Army. At Chancellorsville, I was shot through the body, the ball entering my side, and coming out through the shoulder. I was also hit in the arm, and was carried to the hospital in the woods, where I lay for hours, and not a surgeon would touch me; when you came along and gave me water, and bound up my wounds. I do not know what regiment you belong to, and I don't know if this will ever reach you. There is only one man in your division that I know. I will try and send this to him; his name is Strachan, orderly sergeant in Sixty-third Pennsylvania volunteers.
But should you get this, please accept my heartfelt gratitude; and may God bless you, and protect you from all dangers; may you be eminently successful in your present pursuit. I enclose a flower, a present from a sainted mother; it is the only gift I have to send you. Had I a picture, I would send you one; but I never had but two, one my sister has; the other, the sergeant I told you of; he would give it you, if you should tell him it is my desire. I know nothing of your history, but I hope you always have, and always may be happy; and, since I will be unable to see you in this world, I hope I may meet you in that better world, where there is no war. May God bless you, both now and forever, is the wish of your grateful friend,
George H. Hill,
During the battle of Spottsylvania, Annie met a number of soldiers retreating. She expostulated with them, and at last shamed them into doing their duty, by offering to lead them back into the fight, which she did under a heavy fire from the enemy. She had done the same thing more than once on other battle-fields, not by flourishing a sword or rifle, for she carried neither: nor by waving a flag, for she was never color-bearer; but by inspiring the men to deeds of valor by her own example, her courage, and her presence of mind. On the 1st or 2nd of June, when the Second Corps attacked the enemy at Deep Bottom, Annie became separated from her regiment, and with her usual attendant, the surgeon's orderly, who carried the "pill box" (the medicine chest), she started in search of it, and before long, without being aware of the fact, she had passed beyond the line of Union pickets. Here she met an officer, apparently reconnoitering, who told her she must turn back, as the enemy was near; and hardly were the words spoken, when their skirmishers suddenly appeared. The officer struck his spurs into his horse and fled, Annie and the orderly following with all speed, and arrived safe within our lines. As the Rebels hoped to surprise our troops, they did not fire lest they should give the alarm; and to this fact Annie probably owed her escape unscathed.
On the 27th of October, 1864, in one of the battles for the possession of Hatcher's Run and the Boydtown Plank Road, a portion of the Third Division of the Second Corps, was nearly surrounded by the enemy, in what the soldiers called the "Bull Ring." The regiment to which Annie was attached was sorely pressed, the balls flying thick and fast, so that the surgeon advised her to accompany him to safer quarters; but she lingered, watching for an opportunity to render assistance. A little drummer boy stopped to speak to her, when a ball struck him, and he fell against her, and then to the ground, dead. This so startled her, that she ran towards the line of battle. But to her surprise, she found that the enemy occupied every part of the ground held a few moments before by Union troops. She did not pause, however, but dashed through their line unhurt, though several of the chivalry fired at her.
So strong was the confidence of the soldiers in her courage and fidelity to her voluntarily assumed duties, that whenever a battle was to be fought it was regarded as absolutely certain that "Gentle Annie" (so the soldiers named her) would be at hand to render assistance to any in need. General Birney never performed an act more heartily approved by his entire command, than when in the presence of his troops, he presented her with the Kearny cross.
At the close of the war, though her health had been somewhat shaken by her varied and trying experiences, she felt the necessity of engaging in some employment, by which she could maintain herself, and aid her aged father, and accepted an appointment in one of the Government departments, where she labors assiduously for twelve hours daily. Her army experiences have not robbed her of that charming modesty and diffidence of demeanor, which are so attractive in a woman, or made her boastful of her adventures. To these she seldom alludes, and never in such a way as to indicate that she thinks herself in the least a heroine.
Woman's Work in the Civil War
A Record of Heroism, Patriotism, and Patience
Author: Linus Pierpont Brockett
Mary C. Vaughan