The Girl Soldiers of Nancy Harts Militia
Good morning! Today’s Women’s History Month themed post honors Nancy Harts militia—an oft-ignored group of brave women from LaGrange, Georgia.
Formed early in the war, Nancy Harts militia was actually an all-female military unit comprised of Confederate soldiers’ wives who sought to defend their homes. Named after Nancy Hart—a Patriot spy who killed a group of Tories at her northeast Georgia cabin—this all female unit was led by Nancy Hill Morgan and Mary Alfred Heard and was comprised of nearly 40 women. The “Nancies” learned how to shoot and handle firearms from local physician A.C. Ware and William J. Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics (1861). Later, Nancy Morgan reflected,
I am sure this company presented a curious, odd, and singular spectacle as it met in Harris Grove, a beautiful and picturesque spot, with its magnificent trees to shelter them from the glare of light or sultry heat of the midsummer days, where they went often for target practice or drill…They met twice a week at the grove in the day, and at night on the courthouse square, with the moon and stars looking down with their majestic and glorious illumination to light the earth with their radiancy; while the captain could be heard in clear voice giving commands: “Shoulder arms, right face, forward, march!”
Despite their regular combat training, the Nancy Harts primarily served as nurses—especially after LaGrange became a medical and refugee center courtesy of its proximity to the rail line and key battlegrounds.
What made the Nancy Harts militia unique was the fact that the members continued to drill and practice until the war’s end. According to Mrs. Morgan’s recollection,
The Nancy Harts did not have uniforms, as all the gray cloth and brass buttons available were bestowed upon their fathers and brothers; but in feminine dress of ruffled skirts and flowered or feathered heats, their hearts beat in unison to the captain’s command as they boldly marched, “Hep, hep, hep,” to the time of the battered drum, guns on their shoulders, banners flying, ready and anxious for combat or to be called to field duty. In a modest way they made many conquests, for they were watched with adoring eyes of women and children, and black as well as white were proudly envious of the military genius they displayed and the achievement they wrought. They patrolled the town for four long years, their reputation as expert marks-women becoming widespread…
Even more surprising was the fact that this female unit actually faced Union troops in military “action.” In April of 1865, Major General James H. Wilson led a Union raid throughout west Georgia. As Wilson’s raiders neared LaGrange, the Nancy Harts stepped forward to protect the town. On April 17th, the Nancies marched to the edge of town to meet the enemy forces. Once there, they peacefully surrendered the town to Union colonel Oscar H. LaGrange (ironically named) and organized efforts to feed the invading soldiers. In return, the Union troops spared most of the private homes and property in LaGrange—although they did destroy any facilities vital to the Confederate war effort or economy. For such brave actions Nancy Morgan declared:
Thus it was that the girl soldiers rendered the Southern cause valuable service. They were never called to field duty, it is true, but they stood ever in readiness and rendered a service equally effective as guards over the defenseless and their homes.