While doing research this week I came across a primary source, a letter, that fascinated me. It was written by a woman named Mary Ann Clark to two female friends. The first time I read the pencil scribbles, I didn't know what to make of it. I was really confused...and then it hit me...this is a woman soldier. The situation became even clearer when I read an accompanying letter that was in the file from Clark's mother. Here is part of Clark's letter. I will explain the situation from Clark's mother's letter below.
"I have to ask a favor of you and it is this - I wish you would write to Mrs. E.A.W. Burbage for me and tell her all you know about me - how -where and when I was taken prisoner & tell her what a good rebel soldier I have been. She is my mother. She lives near Hardinsburg Breckenridge Co. Ky. tell her about me getting wounded and my detection. Tell her that Caroline Elizabeth and Gideon P. Walker [Clark's children] are in the care of Rev. Father Brady in Louisville the little girl is at the asylum. I don't know where Father Brady has placed the little boy. Tell her that I never expect to see her again - as I may get killed in battle - there is a battle impending at Vicksburg and I expect to be in it - our officers here tell me that they will exchanger me for a man. If you will be so kind as to do this for me I will be a thousand times obliged to you - I would write to her myself but I cannot, I get so filled with tears whenever I attempt it that I cannot write. You will find her one of the most uncompromising rebels in Kentucky. I expect to start to Vicksburg in the morning give my love to all of my friends in Louisville. Farewell and if I should ever come to L[ouisville] I will certainly call to see you both
Mary Ann Clark
Wow! See what i mean? What an interesting letter! Well, the story that Clark's mother paints makes it all that more interesting. Mary Ann Clark apparently married a Mr. Walker in the 1850s and they had the two children. One day Walker decided he was going to go to California and told Clark he would be back in two years. This event threw Clark into a state of depression and derangement according to her mother. While in California Walker wrote to Clark that he had married another woman out there. If Clark was not mentally unbalanced by being abandoned, she certainly was by this news. Then Walker wrote again that he was bringing his new wife back to Kentucky with him. According to Clark's mother this made her have another nervous breakdown. Clark's friends suggested she ask for a divorce due to abandonment and mistreatment, and after some extra encouragement, she finally petitioned and was given a divorce in 1860.
If all of this trauma was not enough, in 1861, Clark's brother-in-law a Confederate sympathizer and store owner was killed by Unionist home guards in his storeroom. Clark's mother believed that this was the final event that totally unhinged Clark and created her desire to enter the army. I was unable to find out from the letters when, how, and where Clark was wounded and captured, but some secondary source research indicated that she was wounded at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky (August 29-30, 1862) and was taken prisoner there as well. Most certainly she was detected at this time too.
What is amazing to me is that after being wounded, captured and detected as a woman soldier, she was still willing and ready to go back for more. Certainly her mother saw her trauma as the cause to her behaving in an unfemale-like manner for 19th century women. Maybe she was mentally unbalanced. I don't think it was normal to leave two small children at an orphanage and go off to fight in the war. But, she certainly sounds fine in her letter. She writes as if her actions couldn't be more normal.
Such is the wonder of primary sources. There are great stories are out there, some waiting to be told; others are just looking to be read and wondered about.