Chenango in the Civil War: Women's involvement

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the Chenango County Civil War Commemoration Project Team, The Evening Sun will present a monthly series chronicling items of local interest during the war between the states, compiled and written by a number of local history enthusiasts.

By Bruce W. Scott


When the Civil War is discussed, there are usually many discussions and thoughts of the brave men who fought so valiantly and endured the hardships and many times death. However, there were also several women involved in the execution of this war. Some of these women who were intimately involved were from Chenango County.

One of these women is Mary Ann Ireland Gilmore. She was born in the Town of Bainbridge in February1833, the daughter of John and Cynthia Parsons Ireland. Nearly 20 years later, she married Samuel Gilmore. Mary Ann died on Feb. 27, 1920 and is buried in the West Bainbridge Cemetery.

The Bainbridge Republican reported her death in the March 18, 1920 edition. They also reported that “Mr. Gilmore entered service in the Civil War in 1863 with Company G Volunteers, 5th NY Heavy Artillery. Mrs. Gilmore soon joined him and took an active part in caring for the soldiers. Her little home was a refuge for the sick and disheartened soldiers and many of them owed their lives to Mrs. Gilmore’s tender care and nursing. Her dauntless courage was an incentive to the soldiers and although she braved many dangers; being twice driven from Harpers Ferry; by dodging bullets, several of which went through her house and having all her supplies and home confiscated; yet she never thought of giving up or returning North until the war was over.”

Another similar story is told of Mary J. Hunt Loomis. She was born in Sherburne, on Aug. 25, 1828 to Milo and Harriet Lind Hunt. On Aug. 20, 1849 she married John Mason Loomis of Connecticut and Wisconsin. After the wedding the couple moved to Chicago where he was in the lumber business. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the 26th Illinois Infantry as a Colonel. He died in 1900.

Mary Hunt Loomis died Oct. 7, 1910 in Chicago and newspapers around the country reported her death and the fortune left to the Loomis Institute in Windsor, Ct. They also reported “At the outbreak of the Civil War she accompanied her husband to the front on the Union side and became head of a company of Red Cross nurses.”

The Loomises are buried in the Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum in Chicago.

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman is perhaps Chenango County’s greatest Civil War heroine. Sarah was born to Harvey and Emily Wakeman on January 16, 1843 in what was then Bainbridge, but is now Afton. She was the eldest of 9 children and had left home while still a teenager to increase the family’s income and went to work as a boatman on the Chenango Canal. It was on one of these trips up the Canal that she met up with some soldiers who told of the financial benefit of enlisting to fight in the Civil War. The money was much greater than working on the Canal so Sarah assumed a masculine name of Lyons Wakeman and enlisted as a private in the 153rd NYS Infantry Regiment at Root, Montgomery County, NY.

Her regiment first went to Alexandria, Virginia where they performed guard at garrison duty at the nation’s capital. They were then transferred to Louisiana and participated in the Red River campaign. It was here that Private Wakeman, like so many other soldiers who drank contaminated water, contracted chronic diarrhea and was hospitalized. She died on June 19, 1864 at a Federal hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana and is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery there. Her parents are buried in the Wakeman-Steadman Cemetery in Afton.

Many years later, letters that Private Wakeman wrote home, while in the war, were discovered in the house in which she had grown up in Afton. They were published as a book in 1994 entitled “An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864.” Check with your local library to read this first-hand account of a civil war soldier.

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