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Frances Clalin known by her married name of Frances Clayton, was a woman who disguised herself as a man named Jack Williams in order to fight for Union forces during the American Civil War. She served in the Missouri artillery and cavalry units for several months.
Civil War involvementEdit
Clalin' story as a woman who disguised herself as man to fight in the American Civil War was the subject of several newspaper reports, and several contained conflicting information. Most agreed that Clalin, disguised as a man, and using the pseudonym "Jack Williams" enlisted with the Union alongside with her husband during the fall of 1861. Both Clalin and Elmer were born and lived in the North, but despite living in the state of Minnesota they enlisted in a Missouri regiment. It is unknown which units specifically they fought in, but Clalin is said to have served in both cavalry and artillery units.
Elmer and Clalin served side by side until he died in battle in 1862. Frances is known to have fought in the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee, February 13, 1862, where the Union won after three days of fighting. During this battle Frances was wounded, but was not discovered because of her injury.
Clalin was engaged in seventeen battles other than Fort Donelson. Reports say she was wounded a total of three times for her country, and even taken prisoner once.
It was during the Battle of Stones River (or Murfreesboro), on December 31, 1862, that her husband died. Elmer was only a few feet in front of Clalin when he died, but it is said that she didn’t stop fighting - she stepped over his body and charged when the commands came.
It was not that hard for Clalin to convincingly play the part of Jack Williams. She was tall and masculine, and had tan skin. She had also worked on perfecting manly activities such as smoking, drinking, chewing tobacco, swearing and gambling. Clalin was quite fond of cigars as well. By doing these things, Clalin increased her manly character so that she would fit in and others wouldn’t see past her disguise. This plan was clever and effective, as some news reports state that Clalin was never discovered to be a woman, but instead was discharged when she confronted her superiors.
|“||Frances Clayton took up all the manly vices. To better conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew, and swear. She was especially fond of cigars. She even gambled, and a fellow soldier declared that he had played poker with her on a number of occasions.||”|
–DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook, They Fought Like Demons
Clalin was also reported to be a good ‘horse-man’ and ‘swordsman’, and the way she carried herself in stride was soldierly, erect, and masculine. She was well trained and knew her duties well, but was also a respected person who commanded attention in the way she acted. It was said of Clalin in one report that she did her duties at all times and was considered to be a fighting man.
There are two stories about how Clalin was discovered to be a woman. One is that after this battle at Stones River, Clalin decided to let her true identity become known and she was discharged a few days later in Louisville, 1863. The other is that Clalin was wounded in the hip at Stones River, and was discharged after being discovered that way. Clalin did fix the mistakes, but this error creates doubts about what really happened.
After being discharged Clalin tried to get back to Minnesota, and then decided to collect the bounty owed her deceased husband and herself, as well as to get some of Elmer’s belongings. It is also speculated that she wanted to reenlist, but she was unable to. Her train was attacked by a Confederate guerrilla party, and she was robbed of her papers and her money. Clalin then went from Missouri to Minnesota, then to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and on to Quincy, Illinois. In Quincy a fund was created to aid her quest for payment by former soldiers and friends. Frances was last reported to be headed for Washington, D.C.
Popularity in the pressEdit
Clalin became popular with the newspapers of the time. Her story was published in about six different papers, but they got her story jumbled up. In some articles it was stated that Clalin had been wounded and discovered at Stones River where her husband died, but others said she was wounded at Fort Donelson, and was able to keep her identity a secret until her husband died and she went to her superiors with her secret.
According to Clalin, she was actually wounded at Donelson and was able to keep her secret unknown, and she corrected these misunderstandings in her last interview but she never stated what specific regiment she had served in. This was probably never asked of Clalin, because the reporters were more interested in the story of a devoted wife, rather than the actual details of Jack Williams’ soldier life.
- Crossdressing during wartime
- Deborah Sampson, impersonated a man to fight during the American War of Independence
- Women Soldiers of the Civil War at Outlaw Women
- Disguised as a man Frances Clalin served many months in Missouri artillery and cavalry units, slide in a slideshow "Revolutionary War" part of Issues in Violence and Aggression for Health Professionals course at University Of Washington
- Women in The Civil War, Charity Post