A Woman in Battle: Michigan Bridget Carrying the Flag

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A Woman in Battle: Michigan Bridget Carrying the Flag
1887
Felix Octavius Carr Darley and John J. Cade
page 117
Mary A. Livermore My Story of the War: A Woman's Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience. Hartford: A.D. Worthingon and Company, 1889.
Engraving from a sketch
F 8344.51
Newberry Library

In this drawing, Felix Octavius Carr Darley depicts Bridget Devens, also known as “Michigan Bridget,” courageously carrying the Union flag amidst a violent battle. The Union flag appears slightly worn, but the Union cavalry fights with clean uniforms and weapons.  In contrast, the Confederate soldiers wear mismatched and tattered uniforms.

Devens and her husband joined the First Michigan Calvary, an army regiment. Though she spent most of the time behind the front lines tending the wounded, author Mary Livermore claimed that "sometimes when a soldier fell, she [Devens] took his place, fighting in his stead with unquailing [determined] courage. Sometimes she rallied the troops—sometimes she brought off the wounded from the field—always fearless and daring, always doing good service as a soldier.” Even after the Civil War, Devens and her husband served together in a regiment of the soldiers stationed in the Plains. This sort of arrangement was certainly rare, but not unique. Other women also accompanied their husbands’ regiments, and officers in winter camp frequently brought their wives, and sometimes their children, to stay with them for periods of time. Other women went on their own, as did Georgina Peterman, who joined as the Seventh Wisconsin regiment as a drummer. She served for two years and returned home, wearing “soldier clothes.”

Questions:
1. The artist of this picture, Felix Octavius Carr Darley, was one of the best known book illustrators in America at this time. Look closely at how he portrays Devens. Note the canteen on her waist, and the color bearer’s belt that she wears to hold onto the flag. What other details does he include to help convey the intensity of battle?

2. Describe the action in the scene depicted in this drawing. How are the male soldiers portrayed? Look at the woman in the center of the scene. What is she doing? Compare her portrayal to that of the soldiers. How is she set apart?

Further reading:
Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice. My Story of the War: A Woman’s Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience as Nurse in the Union army, and in Relief Work at Home, in Hospitals, Camps, and at the Front, During the War of Rebellion. Hartford, Conn: A.D. Worthington, 1889.

Wagner, Margaret E., Gary W. Gallagher, and James M. McPherson. The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference. Simon and Schuster, 2009.


Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago

Collection