Book Review: I’ll Pass for Your Comrade

November 8, 2009

I’ll tie back my hair, men’s clothing I’ll put on. / I’ll pass for your comrade as we march along. / I’ll pass for your comrade, no one will ever know– / Won’t you let me come with you?  No, my love, no.

I’ll Pass for Your Comrade:  Women Soldiers in the Civil War by Anita Silvey is the untold history of women who passed as men to fight in the Civil War.

ill_pass_for_your_comradeWhat I Liked

– The subject matter.  I don’t know why it never occurred to me that women would do this, but it didn’t.  (Irony alert:  We were watching Mulan as I was reading this.)  I love the stories of women, especially when they’re underestimated and never seen coming.  So this book absolutely captures that type of underestimated woman.

– The format.  The book is set up so that there are excerpts of diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and memoirs along with posters, illustrations, and pictures.  Each chapter is named after a major question the reader would have (reasons for enlisting, how they enlisted, life in the military, after the war) and is chock full of information.  Silvey explains why women enlist, how they did/didn’t get caught, what happened if they did get caught, and why we never hear about these women. I also love that she frequently referred directly to the memoirs that have been published, which basically screams for the reader to check them out.

– What I learned.  There was lots to learn in the book!

Nurses were lauded because women who dressed as men offended Victorian sensibilities; just like Mulan, it was easy to pass because women and men dressed so differently that if you were dressed as a man, it was understood/assumed that you were a man; lots of men helped their women join and stay hidden; less men were offended than you might think; the women rarely, if ever, talked about their experiences in the military once they left; the money was a big draw in the later years of the war.

There’s more, of course, but that’s just some stuff off the top of my head.

What I Didn’t Like

– The length.  I wanted more.  I mean, yes, it’s the perfect length and amount of information for the intended audience, but I wanted more.  Of course, that’s where the fabulous bibliography comes into play.

All in all, an excellent way to get an overview of these fascinating women.

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1 Comment

  1. Sarah Kelley

    Did you ever read The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich? She won the Nobel Prize. It’s an account of Soviet women during WW2. I really found it quite moving. I am ordering the Silvey book now.


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