Scout, Spy, Soldier, Civilian? The Legacy of Mary Ann Wright
With so many men on the battlefields and away from the home front, women both North and South assumed unaccustomed roles. Where traditionally women oversaw the housework, cooking, gardening,, and child rearing, during and sometimes after the War, these same women worked in more “male” positions, such as farmers, livestock managers, overseers, and business dealers. And sometimes soldiers…
Mary Ann Wright is thought to have been born around 1840, possibly the daughter of Josiah Wright of Virginia. At twenty-one years old, she was of a prime age at the outbreak of the War to be an active part of the conflict. Being one of the few women in the history of the Civil War to have Compiled Military Service Record’s (CMSR), which in reality all ten pages are Federal POW Records, Mary Ann Wright’s name is listed in Company F, 4th Kentucky Cavalry, Cosby’s Scouts (Confederate) as a 1st Sergeant, purported to have joined in spring of 1864 when the Kentucky Cavalry was headquartered near Wytheville, Virginia. However, the Federal Provost Marshal who was interrogating the POWs were at the mercy of the prisoner in obtaining correct information, so rank/unit was not always recorded accurately on paperwork of the time. Her residence is noted on the CMSRs to be “Mack Meadows Depot” (Max Meadows, Wythe County, Virginia).
When General Stoneman was heading to the Saltville, Virginia salt mines and the lead mines at Wytheville, Virginia from Knoxville, Tennessee in December 1864, a battle near Kingsport, Tennessee (December 12 and 13, 1864) occurred which was a defeat for the Confederate army and also entailed the capture of Mary Ann Wright. Mary Ann was captured on December 14, 1864, by Union troops at Bristol, Tennessee for allegations of burning bridges around Nashville with another female comrade in arms, Margaret Henry and other alleged bridge burners. At the same time in Bristol, Confederate soldiers were captured, including hospital patients and conscripts, and eventually sent to Camp Chase. Of those male soldiers sent to Camp Chase twenty-three died and are buried in the Camp Chase Cemetery.
As a prisoner of war, Mary Ann was taken from point of capture at Bristol, Tennessee and sent to Chattanooga, Tennessee on March 14, 1865. From Chattanooga, Ms. Wright appears to have been sent to Nashville, Tennessee for a short time. By April 7, 1865, we see Mary Ann forwarded to Louisville, Kentucky, a sort of central clearing house for Confederate prisoners. The Louisville Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) of April 9, 1865, reports "Miss Mary A. Wright" as being “a guest” of the Female Military Prison on Broadway, (located one block from the main Louisville Military Prison), and “will be forwarded to Camp Chase in a day or two”.
The CMSR’s remarks “to be forwarded to Camp Chase, Ohio in accordance with order from the Commissary General of Prisoners (who was Brigadier General William Hoffman) dated March 31, 1865”. The Camp Chase “Roll of Prisoners of War” has Mary Ann received in Ohio April 13, 1865, from Louisville. On the “Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865” (Camp Chase prisoner rolls), there is a “Wright, Mary A.” being housed in “2 and 14” (meaning she was housed in Prison #2, Barracks #14). While a POW at Camp Chase, Mary Ann Wright signed an Oath of Allegiance to the United States on May 11, 1865, approximately a month after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. On the Oath of Allegiance card, she is listed as having “fair complexion, light hair, grey eyes, and being five feet eight inches in height”.
So, was Mary Ann Wright a scout, a spy, a soldier, or a civilian?? We may never know the full details of her life, but what we do know is she was a Confederate woman doing what she felt she could for a just cause!