Though dozens of Army officers' wives followed their husbands to large and small posts on the Great Plains, only a few left letters, journals, or memoirs. Some of the officers' wives published books about their experiences with the hope of adding to their income, or to secure a proud history of their husband's service. Others wrote memoirs for their families, or scholars discovered their diaries years later and published them.
The women listed in these pages are those whose memoirs and letters contain elegant descriptions of Army life, the Plains environment, and their opinions of military policy and relations with Indians. Most of these women were married to men who served as officers of the Union Army during the Civil War. Some of the officers gained their military experience and rank in the War, while others were graduates of West Point. Many, such as George Armstrong Custer, had received brevet or field promotions during the war. Custer, a brevet Major General, ultimately achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel, but was usually addressed as General, though that rank did not prevail after the U.S. Army was re-constituted after the war.
Eveline Throop Martin Alexander.
b. 1843, Utica, New York. Evy Martin was born into the well-to-do family of a lawyer. She met tall, blond and handsome Andrew Alexander while he was serving in the Union Army and married him in 1864. He remained in the Army after the war, and they were eventually posted to several western forts. They had two children, a daughter, Midge, who died at the age of six, and a son, Upton. As a young Army wife, Evy enjoyed riding, camp life, and hunting. Andrew attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and successively commanded several garrisons. The Alexanders retired from the Army after Andrew's health began to fail in 1885. He died in 1886 and she supplemented her widow's pension with a baking and canning business. She died in 1922. Her diary was edited for publication by Sandra Myres and published as Cavalry Wife: The Diary of Eveline M. Alexander, 1866–1867 (College Station: Texas A & M Press, 1977).
Alice Blackwood Baldwin.
b. around 1843, Ann Arbor, Michigan. She traveled to California with her parents and sister in 1854, but after her mother died, her father sent the girls back to Michigan. His death left them orphans dependent on relatives for their care. She married Frank Baldwin, an officer honored for distinguished service in the Civil War in 1867. He had re-enlisted after the Civil War as a First Lieutenant in 1866, and the early years of their marriage were marked by the difficulties of living uncomfortably on a lieutenant's pay. Their only child, Juanita, was born late in 1867. Allie and Nita often lived in Michigan with relatives because Frank's pay could not support them as well as she wished. Frank retired from the Army in 1906 and died in 1923. Allie tried to publish his memoirs, but did not find a publisher until 1929. Her own memoir is titled An Army Wife on the Frontier: The Memoirs of Alice Blackwood Baldwin, 1867–1877 (Salt Lake City: Tanner Trust Fund, University of Utah Library, 1975). She died around 1930.
Jennie Platt Barnitz.
b. 1841 in Ohio. Jennie met Albert Barnitz, a highly decorated Union Army officer shortly after the Civil War. A widower, he had been a lawyer in civil life, and an accomplished poet. He re-enlisted and served in the campaigns of 1867 and 1868 in Kansas where he was severely wounded. In 1870, he retired from the Army. Jennie was an intelligent woman who loved to read. She preferred quiet evenings at home rather than the usual social whirl of Army life. She and Albert raised three daughters. She died in 1926. Some of the letters and diary entries of Albert and Jennie have been published in Robert M. Utley, Life in Custer's Cavalry: Diaries and Letters of Albert and Jennie Barnitz, 1867–1868 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977).
Ellen McGowan Biddle.
b. 1847. Ellen McGowan was born into the large family of a Navy officer. She was raised in New Jersey. In 1864, when she was 17, she married James Biddle who was fifteen years older. He was a Union Army officer from a good Philadelphia family. He was strong and athletic, she was small and frail, and often ill during their years at frontier posts. They had six children (and one miscarriage) born between 1866 and 1885. Two of the children died in childhood. The family was often separated for months or years due to her ill health, to matters of caring for the children, or because he was on campaigns against Indians. By 1894, James was Commanding Officer at Fort Robinson in Nebraska where Ellen lived contentedly. He retired in 1896 and died in 1910. She died in 1922 after writing her memoir for her grandchildren, Reminiscences of a Soldier's Wife (J. B. Lippincott, 1907).
Frances Anne Mullen Boyd.
b. 1848, New York City. Frances Mullen's father was a well-to-do baker. She grew up in New York City, and was educated in New York. Orsemus Bronson Boyd was appointed to West Point after two years of distinguished service in the Civil War. They met while she was in school, and married in 1867 shortly after his graduation from the academy. Orsemus Boyd asked for a western post because of his unhappy years at West Point where he had been accused of theft. Lacking close association with other officers, he spent fourteen years as a lieutenant. He was promoted to captain shortly before his death from illness while on a campaign in New Mexico. During their eighteen years of marriage, Fannie gave birth to a daughter and two sons. Though they spent months apart while she tended to her children in New York, Fannie loved the West and Army life. She told her story in Cavalry Life in Tent and Field (by Mrs. Orsemus Boyd, University of Nebraska Press, 1982) which she published in 1894. Frances Boyd died in 1926.
Elizabeth Reynolds Burt.
b. 1839, Cincinnati, Ohio. When the Civil War broke out, Lizzie Reynolds engaged in the war effort. Her brother, a cousin, and her suitor, Andrew Sheridan Burt, enlisted in the Army, and Lizzie volunteered with the Sanitary Commission doing work she had not done before: knitting socks and mittens, tending the wounded in Army hospitals, and preparing bandages. When Andrew's regiment was ordered out of Cincinnati, he suggested they marry right away. They were married in 1862 in Cincinnati which was governed by martial law. After the War, the Burts were stationed at many posts in the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Pacific coast, and the Philippines while Andrew rose in the ranks to General. Elizabeth always took her wedding silver, packed in a wooden box, with her to every post. The Burts raised two sons and a daughter and remained in the Army until 1902. She wrote about her experiences for her family in a memoir titled "An Army Wife's Forty Years in the Service 1862–1902" (available on microfilm from the Library of Congress.) Elizabeth Burt died in 1926.
Frances Courtney Grummond Carrington.
b. 1840s? Unlike most of the other Army officers' wives of the time, Frances Grummond was raised in a slave-owning household. She followed her husband, Lieutenant George Grummond west to Fort Laramie and Fort Phil Kearny in the Great Plains. She was late in pregnancy when Grummond was killed in the Fetterman Massacre. As a widow, she had no place in a military fort and had to leave the fort in a bitter cold January traveling with General and Margaret Carrington to Fort Casper. In 1871, she married the widowed Henry Beebee Carrington. In 1910, she published My Army Life: A Soldiers' Wife at Fort Phil Kearny (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Company, 1990).
Margaret Irvin Carrington.
b. 1831. Margaret Irvin Carrington was the first wife of General Henry Beebee Carrington. In 1866, she and her two sons accompanied him as he marched his troops to Wyoming to build Fort Phil Kearny in the troubled Powder River country where the Sioux opposed gold miners and merchants invading their homeland. Margaret accepted General Sherman's suggestion that officers' wives keep journals. Her journal of two years at Fort Phil Kearny contains the record of the Fetterman Massacre (December 1866) and her life at a rough post in hostile territory. She published it in 1868 as Absaraka: Home of the Crows (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983). Henry retired in 1869 having suffered serious wounds and an inquiry concerning his leadership at Fort Phil Kearny. Margaret died in 1870. Henry, who became an historian in retirement, re-published Margaret's journal several times adding material from his own service records in subsequent editions.
Fanny Dunbar Corbusier.
b. 1839. Fanny Dunbar was born in Maryland, but raised in Amite, Louisiana where her father worked with railroads. During the Civil War, Fanny's mother briefly ran a hospital at Amite with the help of her two daughters. Fanny married William Henry Corbusier, a physician under contract to the US Army, in 1869. They were stationed at more than a dozen posts in every corner of the US as well as the Philippines until William's retirement in 1908. Fanny and William raised five sons and attended carefully to their education. She died in 1918. She wrote her memoir for her children in 1908, and it remained in family hands and archives until recently. (Fanny Dunbar Corbusier: Recollections of her Army Life, 1869–1908, ed. Patricia Y. Stallard (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003).
Elizabeth Bacon Custer. Photograph by Hill, 1876. Courtesy Nebraska Historical Society Photograph Collection RG 3126 PH.0.0.
Elizabeth Bacon Custer.
b. 1842, Monroe, Michigan. Elizabeth Bacon's father was a judge and businessman. The death of her siblings left her an only child, and her mother died when she was twelve. She was well-educated and graduated valedictorian of her class in 1862. Shortly thereafter, she met George Armstrong Custer, soon to become famous as the "boy general" of the Union Army. They married in 1864. After a couple of years of Reconstruction duty in the South, the Custers traveled to posts in Kansas and Dakota. She had no children and spent as much time with Armstrong (often called Autie) as possible, even riding horseback with him and his command en route to Fort Abraham Lincoln. After his death at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, she moved to New York where she sought work that would supplement her tiny widow's pension. She wrote three books about their life at frontier posts in order to ensure that his memory would always be honored. The first book, Boots and Saddles: Life in Dakota with General Custer was published in 1885, followed by three volumes titled, Tenting on the Plains: General Custer in Kansas and Texas (1887). She published the last book Following the Guidon in 1890. She died in 1933, having succeeded in having her version of his years of military service take precedence over other histories. PICTURE
Katherine Garrett Gibson.
b. 1853. As a young woman from a close-knit, and properly raised family of sisters, Katie Garrett journeyed to Dakota Territory to visit her sister Mollie McIntosh who was married to Lieutenant Donald McIntosh of the 7th Cavalry. There Katie met and married Lieutenant Francis Gibson in 1875. They became part of the Custer social circle at Fort Abraham Lincoln where Katie was known for her musical ability with the guitar and piano. Her husband was not with Custer at the Little Big Horn and they continued to serve in the Army until Francis retired in 1891 with the rank of Captain. They had one daughter, Katherine Gibson Fougera, who edited her mother's memoirs and published them as With Custer's Cavalry (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986) in 1942.
Alice Kirk Grierson.
b. 1828, Youngstown, Ohio. Alice's father, a well-to-do merchant and real estate developer, was an abolitionist who participated in the Underground Railroad. She was the oldest of thirteen children. She had the advantage of a good education at a female academy and taught school before her marriage. She married Benjamin Grierson in 1854, and spent the first several years of their marriage trying unsuccessfully to convert him to Christian faith. He joined the Union Army in 1861 and rose quickly to the rank of colonel. By war's end, they had four children and she asked him to continue his Army career. He was made commanding officer of the 10th Cavalry — a division of African American troops who distinguished themselves in Western combat as the Buffalo Soldiers. Three more children were born to them, though one died in infancy. The difficulty of educating their children and other family responsibilities kept them apart for many months at a time. Alice died after a long illness in 1888, a few months before Benjamin was promoted to general. Her letters have been published by Shirley Anne Leckie, ed., The Colonel's Lady on the Western Frontier: The Correspondence of Alice Kirk Grierson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).
Angeline Hankins Johnson.
b. Hankins, New York, 1838. Angie married Lieutenant Charles Johnson, an Infantry officer, in 1873. She accompanied him to his assignments including the three years he spent at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. Angie gave birth in 1877 to one child who died shortly after birth. Charles retired from the Army in 1893 having attained the rank of Captain. Angeline returned to New York and died on February 1, 1903. While stationed at Fort Robinson, the Johnsons were witness to the death of Crazy Horse and the escape of the Cheyenne from the Fort Robinson prison. Angie's letters about these events were preserved by her family and later published by her grandnephew. Phillip G. Twichell, ed. "Camp Robinson Letters of Ageline Johnson 1876–1879," Nebraska History 77 (Summer 1996): 89–95.
Frances Marie Antoinette Mack Roe.
b. in New York, around 1850. Frances Mack was the daughter of a farmer, and grew up in Orleans, New York with a good education. She married West Point graduate Fayette Roe (pronounced "ray") in 1871. They were immediately posted to Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado where she learned how to live happily in a remote Army post and to co-exist with other Army families. Faye's promotions came slowly and his career was undistinguished, but their marriage was a happy one, and she accompanied him to most of his posts. Like many Army couples, they had no children, but Frances kept pets — a much loved greyhound Hal, and a squirrel named Billie. Shortly after his last promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 1898, he retired in ill health. Faye committed suicide in 1916; Frances lived until 1920. Her book, Army Letters from an Officer's Wife was originally published in 1909. It is now available through University of Nebraska Press (1981) and as an e-book at www.gutenberg.org.
Linda Warfel Slaughter.
b. 1843, Cadiz, Ohio. Malinda Warfel's father was a merchant and miller who was probably involved with the Underground Railroad. She enjoyed an excellent education which included a few terms at Oberlin College. After the Civil War, she spent several months as a supervisor of missionary schools for freed people in Western Kentucky and Tennessee. There she met Frank Slaughter, a physician and officer in the Union Army, whom she married in 1868. They were posted to Fort Rice in Dakota Territory in 1870 and served two and one-half years at Missouri River posts before Frank retired in 1873. Linda gave birth to three daughters and a son. She wrote a fictional account about her life as an officer's wife at Fort Rice titled "The Amazonian Corps: A Romance of Army Life" which was published in 1874 in the Bismarck Tribune. In 1892, she published a memoir of her early life in Dakota Territory titled From Fortress to Farm, or Twenty-three Years on the Frontier (New York: Exposition Press, 1972). Though she twice divorced Frank Slaughter, they were married for a third time before he died in 1896. She died in 1911, having published more history of Indians and military activity on the northern plains.
Caroline Frey Winne.
b. 1841, Palatine Ridge, New York. Caroline Frey married Grotius R. Giddings in 1861. He died in 1867, after serving the Union in the Civil War and in the post-war Army. In 1874, Caroline married Army surgeon Charles Winne and went to Nebraska where they were stationed at Sidney Barracks (Fort Sidney) and Fort McPherson. Caroline suffered a miscarriage at Sidney Barracks, but later gave birth to a healthy son. Her letters from Nebraska to her family in New York are collected in the New York Historical Society. They have been published by Thomas R. Buecker, "Letters of Caroline Frey Winne from Sidney Barracks and Fort McPherson, Nebraska 1874–1878" in Nebraska History 62 (Spring 1981):1–46.