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Behind the Rifle - Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi

Behind the Rifle

Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi

By Shelby Harriel-Hidlebaugh
Paperback : 9781496843388, 224 pages, 30 b&w illustrations; 2 maps, August 2022

The first study with a regional focus of the role women soldiers played in the Civil War


During the Civil War, Mississippi’s strategic location bordering the Mississippi River and the state’s system of railroads drew the attention of opposing forces who clashed in major battles for control over these resources. The names of these engagements—Vicksburg, Jackson, Port Gibson, Corinth, Iuka, Tupelo, and Brice’s Crossroads—along with the narratives of the men who fought there resonate in Civil War literature. However, Mississippi’s chronicle of military involvement in the Civil War is not one of men alone. Surprisingly, there were a number of female soldiers disguised as males who stood shoulder to shoulder with them on the firing lines across the state.

Behind the Rifle: Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi is a groundbreaking study that discusses women soldiers with a connection to Mississippi—either those who hailed from the Magnolia State or those from elsewhere who fought in Mississippi battles. Readers will learn who they were, why they chose to fight at a time when military service for women was banned, and the horrors they experienced. Included are two maps and over twenty period photographs of locations relative to the stories of these female fighters along with images of some of the women themselves.

The product of over ten years of research, this work provides new details of formerly recorded female fighters, debunks some cases, and introduces over twenty previously undocumented ones. Among these are women soldiers who were involved in such battles beyond Mississippi as Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Readers will also find new documentation regarding female fighters held as prisoners of war in such notorious prisons as Andersonville.


"Behind the Rifle is notably precise. . . . The care with which Harriel approaches the significance of the presence of these female soldiers, and how we should make sense of them today, is also notable and welcome."

- Lyde Cullen Sizer, Sarah Lawrence College, The Journal of American History

"The old argument that there is nothing new to write about the Civil War is obviously wrong, as illustrated by Shelby Harriel’s Behind the Rifle: Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi. Full of new research and insightful analysis, Behind the Rifle provides a wonderful overview of the important role of fighting women in Mississippi’s Civil War history."

- Timothy B. Smith, author of Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front; Shiloh: Conquer or Perish; and The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi

"Harriel offers fresh evidence and cogent insight into the phenomenon of women soldiers fighting and dying in the American Civil War. Her exhaustive research brings to light stories previously undocumented and is presented in an engaging narrative that crucially places these women in their social and historical context. Behind the Rifle is a welcome addition to both Civil War and women’s history. I couldn’t be more pleased to recommend it."

- DeAnne Blanton, coauthor of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

"This is a fascinating book – careful and confident when dealing with facts, shrewd when judging conflicts and choices, eloquent when speaking for those whose voices are lost to history."

- Allen Boyer,

"Harriel compiles rich information from newspapers, personal and official correspondence, service and pension records, the census, and memoirs. . . . Readers with a particular interest in female soldiers will admire Harriel’s dogged detective work."

- Carol Sheriff, Journal of Women's History Volume 33, Number 4, Winter 2021

"In addition to identifying new examples, [Harriel] succeeds in shedding fresh light on old stories or, indeed, debunking and clarifying previous misunderstandings. Her work raises interesting and pertinent questions about how we define who is, and who is remembered as, a soldier."

- Rachel Williams, Journal of American Studies

"Readers with a particular interest in female soldiers will admire and benefit from Harriel’s dogged detective work. . ."

- Carol Sheriff, Journal of Women's History