Women in the Civil War: Vivandieres

Vivandieres, sometimes known as cantinieres, were women who followed the army to provide support for the troops. Ideally, a vivandiere would have been a young woman—the daughter of an officer or wife of a non-commissioned officer—who wore a uniform and braved battles to provide care for wounded soldiers on the battlefield. 

Vivandiere from the 12th Regiment, ca. 1861-1865. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)The history of vivandieres can be traced to the French Zouave regiments in the Crimean War. By 1859, many local militia regiments in the United States had adopted the name "Zouave," wore colorful uniforms, and adopted the practice of having a "daughter of the regiment" in their ranks. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, these regiments—in both the North and the South—answered the call for troops. Vivandieres saw most of their service during the early years of the war. By September 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all women be removed from military camps in his theater.

Vivandieres did not fight in battles but were often armed, earned honors, and were sometimes captured by the enemy. Their most important contribution was the essential medical care they provided as field nurses. As battles raged, vivandieres made their way through the wounded offering immediate medical care. Calculating the exact number of women who served as vivandieres is nearly impossible. Neither North nor South recognized the service of vivandieres and they are rarely mentioned in official records. Their courage and brave deeds are recorded in personal accounts and post-war regimental histories. While we cannot put a name to the young woman in this photograph, there are a few vivandieres whose names have become symbolic of all those who served: 

  • Sarah Taylor  – 1st Tennessee (US) – prisoner of war
  • Marie Tepe  – Collis’ Zouaves – awarded the Kearny Cross
  • Eliza Wilson – 5th Wisconsin
  • Ella Gibson – 49th Ohio
  • Lucy Ann Cox – 13th Virginia
  • Kady Brownell  –1st and 5th Rhode Island
  • Bridget Divers  – 1st Michigan Cavalry
  • Annie Etheridge  – 3rd and 5th Michigan – awarded the Kearny Cross

Discover the experiences of women during the Civil War with selected materials available in the Gilder Lehrman Collection.