Hamline News

MFAC Alum Book Release: Melinda R. Cordell


Courageous Women of the Civil War:
Soldiers, Spies, Medics, and More
by Melinda R. Cordell (MFAC ’12)

Published by Chicago Review Press
Release: August 2016
Juvenile Nonfiction, 256 pages
Order the book here: Chicago Review Press
Visit the author here: Author Site



Part of the Women of Action series, Melinda R. Cordell's lively collection of biographical profiles includes 16 remarkable women from the Civil War era. 

At the outbreak of the Civil War, nearly everybody was caught up in patriotic fervor—men and women, Union and Confederate. Many women supported soldiers through knitting and sewing needed items, growing food, making bandages, gathering medical supplies, and more. But others wished they could be closer to the fight. These women defied society's expectations and bravely chose to take on more dangerous, unconventional roles. Courageous Women of the Civil War reveals the exploits of 16 of these remarkable women who served as medics, spies, battlefield helpers, and even soldiers on the front lines.

Meet fascinating figures such as Maria Lewis, a former slave who fought with the Union cavalry as it swept through Virginia. Disguised as a white male soldier, she "put the fear of Hell" into Confederate enemies. Kady Brownell supported her husband's Rhode Island regiment as a vivandière, training with the soldiers, fighting in battle, and helping the injured. Mary Carroll, a Missouri rebel, forged a copy of a jail cell key to break her brother out before his scheduled execution.

These and other little-known stories are told through gripping narrative, primary source documents, and contextualizing sidebars. Civil War history is woven throughout, offering readers a clear overview of the era and the war. Also including numerous historic photos, source notes, and a bibliography, Courageous Women of the Civil War is an invaluable resource for any student's or history buff's bookshelf. 

From Publisher's Weekly: 
This addition to the Women of Action series tells the stories of 16 women who served as soldiers, nurses, spies, and vivandières (hired laundresses and cooks) during the Civil War. Among the women first-time author Cordell introduces are Maria Lewis, a slave who disguised herself as a white man and joined a cavalry; Susie King Taylor, an educated black woman who taught the black soldiers of the First South regiment how to read and write, as well as tended to their wounds; and Loreta Janeta Velazquez, whose life (under numerous aliases) as a mustachioed soldier, spy, and thief reads like a picaresque narrative. Cordell provides both a general understanding of the varied roles of women at the time and how the individuals she profiles (photographs of whom appear throughout) relied on their ingenuity, bravery, and integrity to survive and even thrive during a turbulent chapter in American history. Source notes and suggestions for supplemental reading are provided.



"Cordell gives a rousing account of 16 women who defied traditional roles to serve as soldiers, spies, medics, and vivandières during the American Civil War."  

"The biographies include photos of some of the women and provide a fascinating and engaging look at their activities, motivations, trials, and later lives. Excellent, detailed back matter adds to the volume's usefulness. A solid resource.”
—Kirkus Reviews (full review is here)

"[A] book which is sure to be popular among young history students, but is also satisfying for those older readers who want an easy-to-read, general overview of the subjects covered in Cordell's fine work.”
—Cannonball (we recommend reading the full review)

"These women faced down the guns of the enemy, or the disdain of the surgeons, at the same time they were facing down the racial and gender prejudices of their society. The research in this book is very good, and the selection of biographies is excellent—a nice mix of both well-known and obscure heroines.”
—DeAnne Blanton, coauthor of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War

"The impressive research and impeccable storytelling brings these amazing women to life on every page. I loved so many things about this new volume in the Women of Action series, the sidebars, the thorough background information, and most especially the riveting stories of the female soldiers, spies, and nurses so rarely written about in Civil War history accounts. What a contribution to women's history and an inspiration to young and older women today." 

—Claire Rudolf Murphy, author of My Country Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights  



Melinda R. Cordell earned a master’s in writing for children from Hamline University in 2012. She has contributed to Cicada, Cricket, Highlights, Read, The Horn Book, and more. 

From the author's bio:

Horticulturist, rose fiend, book nut, and small-time chicken wrangler. I live in northwest Missouri with the best little family that ever walked, as well as a fluffy white dog and a cat that's laid back to the point of coma.

Three weeks after graduating from Hamline I had my second kiddo. It was quite a time. I write for young adults and middle readers. Courageous Women of the Civil War is my first published book (but I'm working on a couple of follow-ups).

Follow Melinda on twitter @rosefiend