Kady Brownell, pictured above, was one of 250 women who fought in the Civil War.
Brownell was born Kady Southwell in Kaffraria, South Africa, to a French mother and Scottish father. Shortly after her birth, Brownell moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where she would become a weaver in textile mills. When the Civil War began, Brownell’s soon-to-be husband, Robert Brownell, enlisted in the 1st Rhode Island Infantry; Brownell was determined to join him. Rhode Island Governor William Sprague accepted her into his unit.
Once in Washington, Colonel Ambrose Burnside made Brownell a Color Bearer and Daughter of the Regiment. She was charged with carrying the flag into battle (considered a great honor), and was an active participant in several battles—both as soldier and nurse. Brownell won the admiration of her contemporaries, lauded as a “skillful sharpshooter and expert swordsman.”
When her husband was wounded and discharged, she, too, returned home.
This portrait, taken after the war’s conclusion, was featured in Frank Moore’s Women of the War: Their Heroism and Self Sacrifice, published in 1866. Brownell posed for the photograph, which was subsequently transformed into a steel engraving.