Abraham Lincoln spoke of “The brave men living and dead who struggled here...” in his famous Gettysburg Address. But in honoring those who sacrificed so much during the Civil War’s largest battle, he overlooked its forgotten and unsung heroines.
Some were civilians such as Gettysburg’s own Elizabeth Thorn, ‘The angel of Gettysburg’ who provided critical reconnaissance under fire for the Union Army while abandoning her home. Elizabeth ran the town cemetery, which became the apex of severe fighting during the battle. She also had to care for her three young children while her husband served in the war. Then, while six months pregnant Elizabeth single handedly buried more than a hundred Union soldiers after the battle.
There were also women who actually served in combat as members of regiments. They served in many capacities, some of them even going so far as to disguise themselves as men to enlist. Estimates of such women enlistees range from 400 to 700.
I recently took a personal interest in learning more about one of them, Marie Tepe of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers. The regiment was known as a Zouave unit, fashioned after a famous French force known for their flamboyant uniforms of red pantaloons and distinguished jackets.
Born in France, she became known as ‘fearless French Mary.’ Marie joined her regiment as a Vivandiere. Vivandieres were typically a combination nurse, cook, seamstress, and laundress who travelled with the Zouaves. But Mary also carried a pistol and was known to use it. She is said to have come under fire 13 times during the war.
Marie fought through tremendous adversity during and after the war. She was wounded during the Battle of Fredericksburg; the bullet remained in her ankle until her death years later. In May 1863, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Mary circulated among the thirsty troops with her canteen, braving heavy fire as her skirt became riddled with bullets. It was for this meritorious conduct in battle that she was awarded the Kearny Cross.
One of her comrades in the regiment proclaimed that she was “Worth a dozen men.” She was also called out in a story by the Harrisburg Patriot newspaper describing the battle of Bull Run, “the young woman showed she was a better soldier than many of the men. She alternately fought and ministered to the needs of the wounded. She apparently cared nothing for the singing of scores of bullets around her.”
She first served in the 27th Pennsylvania volunteers with her husband who was a soldier in the regiment. One night he and others stole $1600 from her. She left him and subsequently enlisted in a new unit, the 114th Pennsylvania. The regiment fought at Gettysburg, where they were engaged in the hotly contested struggle in the famous Peach Orchard. Mary survived, and in fact stayed behind after the battle to care for the wounded, which numbered in the thousands. It is difficult to estimate how many lives Marie may have saved through this gesture.
After the war, when the regiment returned to Gettysburg to dedicate their monument on the battlefield, the men insisted that Marie be included in the ceremony.
Marie moved to Pittsburgh after the war and sadly, she committed suicide in 1901. She was destitute, and was buried in an unmarked grave in a small cemetery outside of Pittsburgh. (Carrick) She lay unnoticed for nearly 80 years until a local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans learned of her situation and raised money for a proper headstone.
Recently, I decided to visit Marie’s grave to personally show the respect she deserves. I assumed I would be her first visitor in some time. When I arrived, I was surprised to see two different flowers planted and an American flag stuck in the ground next to her grave. Perhaps Marie is not forgotten after all.
She was an inspiration to the troops of her regiment, as she braved 13 major battles during the war. In my Leadership Lessons and Legends course, I speak of the characteristics of courageous leaders: intelligent, strong and passionate. Marie is a great example of such leadership. I have attempted to capture her story along with other extraordinary examples in my Heroines and Legends leadership course.
Thanks for reading.
To comment on this or learn more about inspiring examples of leadership at Gettysburg, contact the author, Jack Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack Carroll is Founder and lead presenter at Battle Ready Leadership – a firm dedicated to leadership training, strategic planning and brand development for organizations of all sizes.