Many readers of Shades of Gray have said they didn’t know women took such an active role in the Civil War. There are actually many documented cases of women dressing as men and taking part in the fighting. I had never heard, however, that there was an entire cavalry company made up exclusively of women. I have to thank a contributor to Southern Heritage News and Views for bringing this special cavalry unit to my attention.
During the War Between the States, Rhea County was one of the counties in eastern Tennessee that was the most sympathetic to the cause of the Confederate States of America.
Rhea raised seven companies for the Confederate military, compared to just one company for the Union. One of those companies was made up of young women (in their teens and twenties) from prominent Tennessee families, most of whom had fathers or brothers in the Confederate army. This company was the only all-female cavalry unit on either side during the Civil War.
Formed in 1862, the company was named the Rhea County Spartans. Until 1863, the Spartans simply visited loved ones in the military and delivered the equivalent of modern-day care packages.
When Union troops entered Rhea in 1863, the Spartans may have engaged in some scouting for Confederate forces, though there is no record of specific action. The members of the Spartans were later arrested in April 1865 under orders of a Rhea County Unionist and were forced to march to the Tennessee River. From there they were transported to Chattanooga aboard the USS Chattanooga.
Once in Chattanooga, Union officers realized the women were not a threat and ordered them released and returned to Rhea County. They were first required to take the oath of allegiance to the United States government. The Spartans were not an officially recognized unit of the Confederate Army.