by Nancy K. Loane
Washington: Potomac Books Inc., 2009. Pp. x, 204.
Illus., appends. notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1597973858
A look at one of the most neglected aspects of the American Revolution, the role of women in the armies.
Until well into the nineteenth century, armies in the field were usually accompanied by women, who performed numerous functions, some with official sanction, such as laundresses and nurses, and others quite unofficial. The Continental Army was no different. In Following the Drum, independent scholar Loane, who has worked as a guide at Valley Forge, examines the role of women in the Revolutionary armies by looking at those who accompanied Washington’s army during its eight winter encampments. These women fell into three categories; officers’ “Ladies,” most famously Martha Washington, who spent every winter with the army (and besides knitting socks for the troops lent a hand with the paperwork), what might be termed 'enrolled women', free, indentured, or slave, who worked as officers’ servants, laundresses, cooks, and such, and finally women less formally connected to the army, but no less a part of it, from soldiers’ wives to prostitutes.
While focused on Washington winter encampment at Valley Forge, Following the Drum opens a window on the role of women in the Continental Army, and is an interesting, informative read for anyone interested in the Revolutionary War, the eighteenth century, or women at war.