One of the most inspirational, yet most commonly forgotten aspects of American military history is the contribution that was made by women. Much of this neglect is due to the fact that the vast majority of the participants in these conflicts, as well as the historians who recorded it, were men.
Fortunately, as more and more women became respected in the academic community, so did the narratives of their female ancestors. One period-study in particular that has benefited greatly by this equality is that of the American Civil War.
Although women were typically prevented from taking up arms with their husbands, they were able to come closer to the battlefield than ever before. This newfound freedom opened up an entirely new world of opportunities and allowed women to contribute to their respective causes in a variety of ways.
One such avenue that opened for these female patriots came in the form of spying. Therefore, many women acted in this capacity, gathering information and insights from (and for) their male counterparts. One of the most revered of these undercover agents was a North Carolinian named Emeline Pigott.
On the farm where she lived, ran a creek and just on the opposite side from the bank camped the soldiers of the 26th North Carolina Division, whose duty was to defend Carolina's coastline. It was here that young Emeline volunteered her services to the Confederate States of America, helping the sick and at times nursing the wounded back to health in her home. She also forwarded mail for the soldiers and stashed food, medical supplies and clothing in hollow trees designated for this purpose.
As the conflict continued, Emeline began to gather intelligence information from Union soldiers that were sometimes entertained in (or near) her home. Legend has it that she would conceal as much as thirty pounds of supplies and documents while wearing an oversized hoop skirt.
In 1862, the troops of the 26th North Carolina departed for the battlefields of Virginia, but Pigott stayed behind and continued to spy on the occupying Federal forces.
Three years later, she and her brother-in-law, Rufus Bell were accused of espionage and arrested by the United States Army, who prosecuted them as spies. Both were taken to the Federal prison in New Bern, where they were put on trial, summarily convicted and finally sentenced to death.
Mercifully, a short time later, her sentence was mysteriously suspended and she was released on parole.
Following the end of the War Between the States, Emeline spent countless hours sharing the “cloak and dagger” tales of her exciting exploits as a spy for the Southern Cause.
Like many of her peers, who include Belle Boyd, Nancy Hart and Laura Ratcliffe, she will be forever embraced in the annals of Confederate history. More importantly, Emeline has remained in the hearts and minds of believers everywhere and is still celebrated to this day as a true Christian soldier.
According to an essay from the Elizabeth Moore Collection entitled 'Heroines of the Confederacy', Emeline’s legacy is one of a woman with tremendous faith, courage, and character.
It states, “At the beginning of the war Miss Pigott, then a young girl, had given her whole heart to the cause of the South, nursing the sick and wounded soldiers, who were brought in from the attacks on our coasts. Her soldier sweetheart fell in the Battle of Gettysburg, and after that Emeline Pigott felt that she must do even more for the Confederacy. She made many dangerous journeys, and she narrowly escaped capture very often, going through great danger to fulfill her mission. At one time she was seized and while being searched, she swallowed the important message she was carrying.”
It concludes with the memory that, “Her name is held in the highest venerations.”
Passing away in 1916 at the age of 80, Emeline never revealed, nor verified the circumstances surrounding her miraculous release. Instead, she continued to give credit to the Lord above for blessing both her and her captors with mercy.
Even today, she remains as an inspirational role model for Christian women everywhere who refuse to lose faith, or allow gender-biases to hold them down.
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