Queer Civil War buffs have been arguing for some time that the deafening silence around LGBT Confederate and Union soldiers suggests their very presence.
And with this month commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, I went combing through Civil War annals to finds our queer brethren - and did!
When shots were fired from Fort Sumter, a fortification near Charleston, S.C., signaling the warâs beginning, its gay Confederate and Union soldiers werenât battling former President Bill Clintonâs infamous 1993 âDonât Ask, Donât Tell (DADT)â policy, which blatantly discriminates against LGBT servicemembers.
And those soldiers, unlike ours today, neither had to bear their souls to disproved that military readiness is a heterosexual calling, nor did they have to prove that their patriotism to the cause was somewhat diminished because of their sexual orientation.
Gays served in the American Civil War.
And it is estimated that approximately 325,000 of us out of 3,250,000 were on the battlefield, if we go with our present-day queer census that one Confederate or Union soldier in ten fall in our camp.
Some queer Civil War buffs would argue that none were dishonorably discharged, albeit there is record of three pairs of Navy sailors court-martialed for âimproper and indecent intercourse with each other.â And âunit cohesion,â the big battleground issue in todayâs military, believing that the âhomosexual gazeâ would be the root cause for the disruption - that was totally debunked by a 2002 study - was not an issue.
Before DADT our LGBT servicemembers were discharged under âhonorable conditionsâ called âFraudulent Enlistment. With DADT, an intended temporary law to help the military transition integrate LGBT servicemembers, more than 13,500 military personnel have been discharged under this policy, particularly Black lesbians who have been discharged at three times the rate at which they serve.
But the question, some would argue, of who were LGBT servicemembers and who werenât in the American Civil War, is a disingenuous query, since the words âhomosexualâ and âheterosexualâ werenât part of the American lexicon until 30 years after the war ended.
However, many would also argue that not having an âofficialâ word like âhomosexualâ back in the day of the Civil War to depict same-sex attraction among soldiers does not negate our use of it to describe them in this present day.
And in combing through Civil War battle records of Confederate and Union soldiers, I find, they were not only slaughtering each other - many were also loving each other.
Learning about same-sex love among soldiers wasnât âs focus when he sat out to pen, The Story the Soldiers Wouldnât Tell: Sex in the Civil War, the first scholarly study of the sex lives of soldiers in the Civil War.
This physician and medical historian reminds me of Alfred Kinsey in his research on human sexuality. Using archival documents such as courts-martial and medical records, newspaper articles, pornographic books and cards, and letters and diaries of the soldiers, Lowryâs focus was to address the problem of prostitution - straight and gay - and why both the Union and Confederate Armies had to stop STDs diseases from crippling their soldiers, because STDs was costing more soldiersâ health and lives than the battlefield.
Chapter 11 opens the closet to gender-bending and same-sex trysts. And Lowry reveals that during the Civil War, conventional gender roles and sexual behavior could not be strictly tethered to a heterosexual paradigm. With men outnumbering women, especially at social events like balls, drummer boys, children as young as 9 and 10 years old, dressed in drag. And on some occasions, the intimacy between soldiers and drummer boys were more than a public waltz.
For example, Lowry references a ball put on by a Massachusetts regiment stationed in Virginia in 1864 about young drummer boys dressed as women. One man wrote to his wife: âSome of the real women went, but the boy girls were so much better looking that they leftâŠ. We had some little drummer boys dressed up, and Iâll bet you could not tell them from girls if you did not know themâŠ. Some of [the drummer boys] looked good enough to lay with, and I guess some of them did get laid withâŠ I know I slept with mine.â
LGBT servicemembers have been proudly and openly putting our lives on the line for their countries since antiquity.
The Greeks favored gay and bisexual young men in their military. Since gay and bisexual men were considered a family unit, the Greeks knew that paired male lovers assigned to the same battalions were a military asset. They would fights courageously, side by side, and would die heroically together in battle.
Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), who was king of Macedonia and noted as one of the greatest military conquerors, was openly bisexual. When his lover Hephaestion died in battle, Alexander the Great not only mourned openly for his lover, but he staged an extravagant funeral, which took six months to prepare.
Lowry is not the first to write about Confederate and Union soldiers in the Civil War, but he is the first to recognize our presence in it.