Frances L. Clayton was a woman who, dressing and acting as a man, served in the Union Army during the Civil War under the pseudonym of Jack Williams. Handwriting on the back of the card indicates that she served in the 4th Missouri Heavy Artillery, Company I, and the 13th Missouri Frances Clalin Clayton was a tall slim housewife with 3 children when she did the unthinkable. Frances disguised herself as a man, and using the pseudonym “Jack Williams” enlisted with the Union alongside with her husband during the fall of 1861. Both Frances and Elmer were born and lived in the North, but despite living in the state of Minnesota they enlisted in a Missouri regiment. Frances as “Jack Williams” was fighting near her husband Elmer when he was struck and killed. Reports are that she stepped over his body and continued the charge as that was the order. She drank, smoked, chewed, and gambled along with the men, none of them ever suspecting she was a woman. After being discharged Frances tried to get back to Minnesota, and then decided to collect the bounty owed her deceased husband and herself, as well as to get some of Elmer’s belongings. Some thought that she may have wanted to reenlist, but she was unable to. Her train was attacked by a Confederate guerrilla party, and she was robbed of her papers and her money.
She then went from Missouri to Minnesota, then to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and on to Quincy, Illinois. In Quincy a fund was created to aid her quest for payment by former soldiers and friends.
The morning the flu did a U-turn and came back at me with the fury of a lover spurned I was interviewed about this matter of women in combat.
Where did I stand on it?
Was I concerned that having women in combat would confuse gender roles?
What did I think as a Christian about having women in combat?
First of all, let me say I’m not all that articulate at 7 a.m. even on days when the flu isn’t in a fury. I should take my own advice and never agree to an interview until after lunch. But living on the West Coast can complicate East Coast deadlines.
That said, here’s what I told them:
- Women have long had a role in combat. As Americans we hate the reality of that because we have this mythology we cling to — one that says we are the nation that doesn’t arm its women for war. It’s an archaic myth and never was true.
- All we have done now is bring the policy in line with the reality. As long as we continue to deny that we have women in combat we are able to marginalize women. Deny them combat-related promotions, etc.
- Embedded in the question of doesn’t this muddy the lines between gender-role is a troubling bias. One that says women in combat is going to effeminate men. Insert eye role here. I don’t believe in pre-ordained gender roles. Men and women are different, yes. But if you buy into pre-ordained gender roles then you have to revert to a culture that boxes people in. I happen to believe that part of a faith is being set free from all that nonsense. I have always been thankful that my mother-in-law taught my husband how to sew, how to iron his own clothes, how to care for children. (Now if only she could have taught him to cook!) And when you grow up in a household where men are pretty much non-existent as I did after Daddy died, you come to realize that there’s no such thing as a man’s role and a woman’s role. Everything in the household fell to us girls to do.
- Instead of asking what God thinks of women in combat, shouldn’t the question be what does God think of any of us in combat? I asked the interviewer. Because I’m pretty sure our faith compels us to love our enemies, to pray for them, to turn the other cheek. Oh. Yes. I know, you are rolling your eyes and thinking how foolishly naive I am. I just don’t understand that war is necessary evil. Well, you are right about that. We have yet to go to a war in my lifetime that was necessary. We don’t even try to implement what the Bible says about our approach to our enemies. Instead we get out the black paint and write God Bless America across the side of the bombs we drop. Does that make me a pacifist? I hope so. If I am wrong I want to be on the wrong side that says Jesus meant what he said when he told us to pray for our enemies and those who do us wrong. I happen to align myself with the poet William Stafford on this issue. It was Stafford who said, Every War has Two Losers.
It matters not whether it is their mothers or their fathers who march into combat, the children of heroes have glory for breakfast.
I know that all too well.
And you? What do you think?