Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Civil War Style Icons: The Freedom Fighter

This is the last of my three-part civil war style icon series.

I hope you've enjoyed this little journey into history.

You can see part one here and part two here.

For now, let me introduce you to our third heroine, Cathay Williams, who was a slave on a wealthy plantation in Independence, Missouri.

When the Civil War broke out, her master died and Union soldiers descended upon the plantation and liberated Cathay. She became a paid cook for the army, traveling to various destinations.

Although she was free, Cathay didn't like being a cook. But her only other option was to either remain in her current position, or be completely unemployed and stranded in the midwest. After all, as a female ex-slave, her prospects for finding another job in 1866 were slim.

The 22-year-old decided she wanted to make her own money, and not be a burden to friends or family, so she cut her hair, bound her breasts, and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a man. With her staggering height and plain face, Cathay slipped under the radar. She was immediately given clearance without even a physical exam.

Using the name, William Cathay, she fought in the war for two years. Only a close friend and a cousin, who served in her regiment, knew the truth.

In 1868, Cathay grew ill. When the doctor examined her body, he discovered the shocking truth. Cathay was immediately discharged.

Afterwards, she moved to Colorado and became a laundress. She got married to a lowlife who stole her jewelry and her savings ($100, huge sum for that time period), and her team of horses and wagons. He was later arrested.

The rest of her life remains murky, as there was no proper documentation. Historians do know that some time in the 1890s, Cathay filed a disability claim, but was denied for unknown reasons. Medical records state that she suffered from diabetes, and had most of her toes amputated as a result.

She died of the condition around 1900.

Cathay was not the only woman to secretly serve in the Civil War. There are more than 400 cases where white women followed their husbands, fiances, and brothers into battle, disguised as men. But, Cathay is the only documented African American woman to have done so.

Without trying, Cathay became a legend, a symbol, of American history. Even though she may not have felt it, she was brave. Even though she may not have cared, she was a pioneer.

Her story is one of millions which have made the United States what it is today.

Here is an outfit inspired by the true Civil War hero:

Cathay Williams

What do you think of Cathay?


Josie said...

Oh, my gosh. She's amazing!
xo Josie

Meri said...

she sounds like a number one ass kicker! nice feature!

Couture Carrie said...

Incredible bio!


Loved this series.


David Macaulay said...

Nice story Jen - I never imagined the Civil War really happened in Missouri being Virginia-centric etc but I suppose it did - thx for all the blogging comments mate.

Ocean Dreams said...

What a powerful and strong woman. It's sad what happened to her but I guess that is how life used to be back then. I applaud her for living her life and doing what she believed in!

bridechic said...

Amazing story and a big Yes to the jeans and white tank top!

oxoxoxo from San Francisco

The Dainty Dolls House said...

That was amazing, really enjoyed that!! x

Sarah said...

Amazing story!

The Grande Dame said...

What a great story, thanks for sharing these. Loved reading them! x

Sherin said...

I love that she fought in the war, disguised as a man. That's pretty inspirational.

Also, in reply to the Arabic comment you left: I think it might be similar to Spanish. I'm pretty sure that the Arabs had control of Spain for hundreds of years.

Lyosha said...

great story! what a brave woman!

Inside and Outside Blog

Lyosha said...

she's amazing! great story! very happy to know now

Inside and Outside Blog

Cafe Fashionista said...

Cathay is such an inspirational woman to be admired. I love reading stories (true ones, of course) about women who have done things so out-of-the-ordinary - such as pose as men to fight for their country. It's such an admirable thing! :)

Rebekah said...

It's a shame schools don't really teach kids about these secret female soldiers. They're amazing and very inspiring women. I never learned about them until I was well out of college.

Tights Lover said...

That is quite the heroic story. It's very inspirational that she went to such lengths to help the cause that initially freed her. Sad that they just discharged her after they found out...

Anonymous said...

I feel like such an idiot because the first thing I saw when I opened this post was the picture of her in the blue jacket and I thought it was Michael Jackson :/

Mabel Time

Kim (A Very Sweet Blog) said...

Hey Jennifer! What a heroic and amazing woman. When you look back in history, women did so much when it came time for war both on and off the field (manufacturing plants etc.) Thanks for sharing her story. You hate to hear the life she led after serving. There are scoundrels for every period. I caught the chocolate sales today too. HAHAHA Have a great evening girl. ((HUG))

Audrey Allure said...

Wow, incredible and so brave!

when BABI speaks said...

what a story! she's so brave!


Arielle-HumblePieVintage said...

That's straight up Mulan style! That's cool that so many women did that. I loved this little series you did! Thanks for the little history lessons :)