Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Missouri's Women in Battle

As most Iowans are aware, only one Civil War battle touched our state, and it is not listed as an official battle of the Civil War. Missourians were scrappy, representing both the Sesesh (Secessionists) and Union sympathizers in a divided world.

The Battle of Athens took place in the summer of 1861. Athens was a tiny town on the Des Moines River a few miles south of the Iowa-Missouri border, across from Croton where the railroad had a depot. Union forces, under the command of Col. David Moore, occupied the village of Athens and held a recruiting and training camp nearby.

In August of that year, about 2,000 Missouri State Guard under the command of Col. Martin Green attacked Moore's forces at Athens, which numbered fewer than 500 men. Although they came from three directions, Moore was prepared for them and took battle positions. When the first shots were fired, the Missouri men who were not trained for actual battle, were surprised and scattered in all directions.

Although a report of the Battle of Athens was drawn up and sent to Worthington's command headquarters in Keokuk, and although accounts of the battle appeared in major newspapers out of Chicago and other cities, the US Army has no official records of it. For one thing, Green's State Guard troops were not members of the military nor were the recruits training with Moore at his camp.

Be that as it may, there were a number of women who fought bravely in the Civil War. Most of these scrappy females did so disguised as men. Francis Clalin is one woman known to serve with Missouri troops. Photos exist of her in military gear, looking like any other soldier. She later posed for a portrait in typical women's garb of the period. Actually born in Illinois, Clalin served in the Missouri Artillery and Calvary units as Jack Williams.

Another Missouri woman who was a veteran soldier is Cathey Williams, whose enlistment document dated November 15, 1866 gives her name as William Cathey, age 22, of St. Louis, born in Independence, Missouri. She might have been as young as 16 since nothing else is known about her, except that she served three years in the army as a buffalo soldier. A military doctor examined her and declared her fit for duty upon enlistment, but it is not clear whether or not he realized she was female. After all, her enlistment (as a female) would have been against military regulations.

Probably the most famous is the outlaw queen Belle Starr, who was born in Cathage, Missouri and served in the war under the name of Belle Shirley. Her family supported William Clarke Quantrill and his guerilla band. Her brother joined the group of bushwhackers in several border conflicts, while his teenage sister Belle secretly reported the positions of Union troops to the Confederates. She was once caught and imprisoned, but managed to escape.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick