Wisconsin women in the military today follow in the footsteps of some dedicated — and clever — predecessors. During the Civil War, women were forbidden from serving, but that didn’t stop a few from disguising themselves as men and joining up.
In March 1864, the Platteville newspaper reported, as if it were nothing odd, “the return from the army of Miss Georgianna Peterman.” It goes on to say that “Miss Peterman has been for two years a drummer in the Seventh Wisconsin [Infantry]. She lives in Ellenboro, Wis., is about twenty years old, wears soldier clothes, and is quiet and reserved.”
She may be the woman called Belle Peterson who was described many years later in Ethel Hurn’s book “Wisconsin Women in the War Between the States.”
“A soldier who saw her at that time, says that she was ‘just an ordinary girl, neither good nor bad looking,’ ” Hurn wrote. “But she was adventurous, and one day surprised her father by telling him that she was going away from home for some time.
“Her family learned later that she had enlisted in a Wisconsin regiment. The date of her enlistment is not certain, but it was probably late in 1862; she served in the army for some time, possibly as a spy or a scout. Those who saw her in her uniform, say that she made a fair-looking soldier, and that no one would have suspected that she was a woman.”
During the months she served, the Seventh Infantry fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.— Wisconsin Historical Society