SALT LAKE CITY — During the Civil War, many African-American women volunteered their services and several are well-known, said Angela Y. Walton-Raji, a genealogist who specializes in African-American and Native American history, on Thursday.
There's Harriet Tubman, who worked as a nurse and ran the Underground Railroad, and Sojourner Truth, who recruited African-American men to join the Union army, Walton-Raji said during her "Nurses, Matrons, Laundresses and Cooks: Black Women of the Civil War" class at RootsTech at the Salt Palace. Susie King Taylor served in the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment alongside her husband and went onto write a memoir of her experiences.
Of equal importance though, said Walton-Raji, are the women people don't know much about.
"There are thousands of African-American women who contributed," she said. "These women are gone and their stories are gone, but not totally out of our grasp. And we need to grasp them."
In a recent visit to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Walton-Raji found a collection of records detailing the service of thousands of women.
"I had been studying this subject for years and never knew that was there," she said.
Through studying records, which have not yet been digitized, Walton-Raji discovered many stories of the African-American community during the Civil War, such as women who fled slavery, joined the Union army as nurses and received pensions after the war.
"We're not just collecting names," Walton-Raji said. "We're telling the stories of these women, many of whom started as slaves, yet went onto be vital parts of the Civil War."
Walton-Raji has been researching the lives of Civil War soldiers since the mid-1990s. One of her blogs, The USCT Chronicle at usctchronicle.blogspot.com, is about the United States Colored Troops. There, she shares stories of the women and men who fought during the Civil War.
"Nursing was a very new profession before the beginning of the Civil War and it was dominated by men," she told conference attendees. "For example, a lot of people don't know that the poet, Walt Whitman, was a nurse during the Civil War."
As the war intensified and casualties mounted, the need for nurses grew until the army was forced to go against its previous policy of not allowing women at the front, Walton-Raji said.
During her search at the National Archives, Walton-Raji also found records of small hospitals that cared exclusively for African-American soldiers, hospitals she had not previously known had existed. One such hospital was the L'Ouverture Hospital in Virginia, named after Toussaint L'Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian rebellion against France. Walton-Raji believes it is the first hospital in the United States to be named after a non-Caucasian.