Civil War Wiki
Advertisement

Bridget Divers was also known as "Irish Biddy." She was with her husband in the American Civil War. She was a watch guard and when she saw wounded soldiers, she would bring them into a cabin and nurse them. Her husband was in the First Michigan Cavalry. She had two government horses carried in battle. The Yankees cheered for her. She was known from her fearfulness. She died in October 1915.

Michigan Bridget is a name often applied to a woman whose last name has been spelled in several ways by a series of authors who have written about her. This literature began during the Civil War, and continues to appear today. Variations of her surname include Diver, Divers, Deaver, Deavers, Devens, and Devan. Unfortunately, none of the accounts of her combat activities come from a verifiable eye-witness. Much of the literature from the middle of the 19th century is written in an idealized and highly stylized form, conforming to the standards of propriety in that era. Nonetheless, careful analysis of surviving records show Michigan Bridget to have been a fascinating, real person, especially after removing the almost mythological language frequently used to describe her exploits.

At the very end of the war, a letter written by Rebecca Usher to her home in Maine stated that "A few days ago I saw Bridget, who came out with the First Michigan Cavalry, and has been with the regiment ever since. She had just come in with the body of a captain who was killed in a cavalry skirmish. She had the body lashed to her horse, and carried him fifteen miles, where she procured a coffin, and sent him home. She says that this is the hardest battle they have had, and the ground was covered with the wounded. She had not slept for 48 hours, having worked incessantly with the wouned. She is brave, heroic, and a perfect enthusiast in her work . . ." [1]

In 1890, Mary A. Livermore authored a book containing a stirring visual image of Bridget carrying the American flag, and leading cavalrymen into an engagement. The engraving was titled "A Woman in Battle - Michigan Bridget Carrying the Flag".[2]

At the time she clearly was associated with the First Michigan Cavalry, her name was always spelled "Bridget Deavers" and she appeared to represent herself as unmarried. Mrs. C. E. McKay wrote "March 28 (1865) - Visited in company with Miss Bridget Deavers, two large camps of dismounted cavalrymen lying along the James River, a few miles from City Point. Bridget - or, as the men call her, Biddy, - has probably seen more of hardship and danger than any other woman during the war. She has been with the cavalry all the time, going out with them on their cavalry raids - always ready to succor the wounded on the field - often getting men off who, but for her, would be left to die, and, fearless of shell or bullet, among the last to leave."[3]

Bridget's actual combat experience probably ended in 1864 when General Grant banished women from military operations. She subsequently worked with the United States Sanitary Commission. Most of her time during the last year of the war was spent in the Cavalry Corps Hospital at City Point, Virginia. There she cared for wounded soldiers and was a tentmate of Cornelia Hancock, a famous Quaker hospital worker for the Union cause.

She is first mentioned in reference #1 (above) where she was said to have been present at the Battle of Fair Oaks on 31 May 1862. This engagement took place immediately east of Richmond, Virginia. The same book declares that she was also present at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, which occurred 19 October 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley south of Winchester, Virginia. At Cedar Creek ". . . She found herself at one time cut off and surrounded by the enemy, but managed, by an adroit movement, to escape capture." Her presence at City Point, Virginia, in March 1865, has already been noted.

The historical record is consistent with much of the above letter by Rebecca Usher. The slain officer was Captain George C. Whitney of Hadley, Lapeer County, Michigan. He commanded Company B of the First Michigan Cavalry. He was severely wounded at the Battle of Five Forks near Petersburg, Virginia on 1 April 1865. His military record indicates that he died 4 April 1865 "on the road to the Cavalry Corps Hospital" at City Point, Virginia. His body was returned to Michigan and he was buried in the Hadley Cemetery.

L. P. Brockett, M. D. wrote that "In one of Sheriden's grand railds, during the latter days of the rebellion, she, as usual, rode with the troops night and day, wearing out several horses, until they dropped from exhaustion. In a severe cavalry engagement, in which her regiment took a prominent part, her colonel was wounded, and her captain killed."

"She accompanied the former to the rear, where she ministered to his needs, and when placed in the cars, bound for City Point Hospital, she remained with him, giving all the relief in her power, on that fatiguing journey, although herself almost exhausted, having been without sleep four days and nights. After seeing her colonel safely and comfortably lodged in the hospital, she took one night's rest, and returned to the front. Finding that her captain's body had not been recovered, it being hazardous to make the attempt, she resolved to rescue it, as 'it should never be left on rebel soil.' So, with her orderly for sole companion, she rode fifteen miles to the scene of the late conflict, found the body she sought, strapped it on her horse, rode back seven miles to an embalmers, where she waited whilst the body was embalmed, then again strapping it on her horse, she rode seveeral miles farther to the cars in which, with her precious burden she proceeded to City Point, where she obtained a rough coffin and forwarded the whole to Michigan . . ."[4]

The colonel mentioned in the above account was George R. Maxwell of Grafton, Monroe County, Michigan. Although this man sustained several wounds earlier in the war, the injury to his left leg, received at the Battle of Five Forks, resulted in amputation of this leg later in April 1865. By that time, the war was essentially over. George returned to Monroe County and married Emma Belle Turner in September of that same year. He was struck by tragedy again when Emma died in January 1866. Subsequently George moved to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, where he married Mary Ann Sprague in 1872. He died in Salt lake City 2 July 1889, reportedly of late effects of his many war wounds. As the First Michigan Cavalry was stationed at Camp Douglas (three miles east of Salt Lake City) immediately after the Civil War, certain possibilities are suggested that will be explored after additional material is examined.

Although several sources state that her husband served as a private soldier in that regiment, an exhaustive study of the rolls of that organization, carried out at the Michigan State Archives, failed to turn up any man named Deaver, or any variant spelling. Examination of the rolls of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Michigan Cavalry (other components of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade) produced similar results. Bridget could not have been married to a trooper from Michigan.

On the other hand, there is evidence that Bridget had at one time been married, just not to a man from Michigan. In reference #1 (above), Moore spoke again of Michigan Bridget: "The Battle of Fair Oaks commenced by a vigorous charge of an overwhelming rebel force upon a single division of McClellan's army, which had advanced across the Chickahominy. As Casey's Division, thus attacked, gave way, there was danger that the panic might spread and infect the troops that were hastening to the support. Among these was the Seventh Massachusetts, that, having advanced to within range of the rebel artillery, had just received the order 'forward', that would in a few moments plunge them into the heat of the contest. They obeyed the command but slowly, for the enemy's fire was growing every moment more terrific. Just then 'Irish Biddy" came along, supporting her husband, who had a ball through his leg. Swinging her soldier's cap over her head she shouted 'Arrah! Go in boys, and bate the bloody spalpeens, and revinge me husband, and God be wid ye."

"The effect was instantaneous and declisive. The regiment gave three cheers for 'Irish Biddy' and three for the Seventh. Then, joining the Tenth Massachusetts, and other troops, they made a gallant and sucessful charge on the enemy's center."

Since the First Michigan Cavalry was in the Shenandoah Valley on 31 May 1862, it did not participate in the Battle of Fair Oakes. Bridget must have been associated with some other organization at that time. By using a process of elimination, it is possible to determine all the Union regiments engaged in that battle and, more importantly, which ones were in a position in front of the Seventh Massachusetts Infantry. Within these forces, any name that fit the pattern of Diver, Divers, Deaver, Deavers, or Devins, would be of interest. Private George Devins was found on the rolls of the 104th Pennsylvania Infantry. Official government accounts [5] of the Battle of fair Oaks document that this Pennsylvania regiment was driven back through the Seventh Massachuttes. George Devins died of wounds received on the day of the battle.

The 140th Pennsylvania Infantry was recruited from Bucks County (near Philadelphia) where George Devins had a wife, Elizabeth, and several children. As the next paragraph will show, Philadelphia is likely the place where Bridget entered the United States. Apparently Bridget was representing herself as married to Private Devins, before he was killed, but his prior marriage in Bucks County would have made that impossible.

In reference #3 (above), McKay mentions that "She is an Irish woman, has been in the country 16 years, and is now 26 years of age." This places her date of birth about 1839 and the year of her immigration around 1849. A detailed review of relevant immigration indexes reveals that a "Biddy Diver" arrived in Philadelphia on 14 July 1849 from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, aboard the ship Afton. She was described as 11 years old and no other Diver names appeared on the ship's passenger list. The surname Diver is found almost exclusively in County Donegal, Ireland, which borders on Londonderry. It seems likely that she was one of the large number of Irish immigrants who came to America as a result of the potato famine. It is also true that there is no evidencfde that Bridget ever resided in Michigan.

No one has presented convincing evidence of what Bridget did after the war. Reference #4 (above), declared that: "when the war ended, Bridget accompanied her regiment to Texas, from whence she returned with them to Michigan, but the attractions of army life were to strong to be overcome, and she has since joined one of the regiments of the regular army, stationed on the plains in the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains." A slightly different picture is painted by Minnie Dubbs Millbrook who wrote that "Bridget went out to the western plains with her regiment after the war. She must have liked the life, for, after the First Michigan Cavalry was disbanded, she joined a Regular Army cavalry unit and coninued in the West."[6]

It seems likely that Bridget went to Washington, D. C. for the Grand Review of the troops which took place in late May 1865. Following this victory parade, most volunteer regiments went home, except for cavalry. Mounted forces had an important role to play on the frontier of the United States. In June 1865, General Custer took a number of volunteer and regular cavalry regiments to Texas in order to maintain order and guard against possible intrusion by Mexican soldiers during the unrest following the collapse of the southern Confederacy. However, no Michigan cavalry went with Custer on that expedition. On the other hand, the First Michigan Cavalry left in June that same year for service in the western territories. It travelled by way of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, arriving finally in the fall at Camp Douglas, Utah Territory. This regiment was mustered out of Federal service at Camp Douglas in March 1866. The men received their final pay there, and most returned to Michigan.

Bridget's prior association with the 104th Pennsylvania Infantry suggests an early and continuing interest in the military, although not necessarily with any particular regiment. Therefore, she could have gone to Texas, but it seems more likely that she did go to Camp Douglas with the First Michigan Cavalry. Perhaps she remained in that region after the Michigan men left. Civilian records of Camp Douglas, from that time frame, are obviously less than complete, and Bridget's name did not appear in them. It is tempting to speculate that Colonel Maxwell may have known of Bridget's presence in the Salt Lake City region, and that he was influenced in his decision to move there before 1872.

Other references of possible interest are:

  • The Women and the Crisis, by Agatha Young, New York:McDowell, Obolesky, 1959
  • Three Years in Field Hospitals of the Army of the Potomac, Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott and Company, 1867
  • The Red Book of Michigan, A Civil, Military, and Biographical History, by Charles Lannan, Detroit: E. B. Smith Company, 1871
  • The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1870–1878
  • Hospital Life in the Army of the Potomac, by William Howard Reed, Boston: William V. Spencer, 1866
  • Michigan in the War, by John Robertson, lansing: W. S. George and Company, 1882
  • Bonnet Brides, by Mary E. Massey, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966
  • Lincoln's Daughters of Mercy, by Marjory Barstow Greenbie, New York: Putnam Publishers, 1944
  • History of Ionia and Montcalm Counties, Michigan, by John Schenck, Philadelphia: D. W. Ensign and Company, 1881
  • Index of Passengers Arriving at other (besides New York) Atlantic and Gulf Coast Ports, 1820–74, microfilm, Washington, D. C., National Archives
  • Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861–1865, Adjutant General's Office, Kalamazoo: Ihling Brothers and Everard, 1905

References[]

  1. Women of the War. Their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice, by Frank Moore, Hartford, Conn.: S. S. Scranton and Company, 1867
  2. My Story of the War. A Woman's Narrative of Four Years' Personal Experience, by Mary A. Livermore, Hartford, Conn.: 1890
  3. Stories of Hospital and Camp, by C. E. McKay, Philadelphia, Penn.: Claxton, Remson, and Haffelfinger, 1876
  4. Women's Work in the Civil War. A Record of Herois, Patriotism and Patience, by L. P. Brockett, M. D. and Mrs; Mary C. Vaughn, Philadelphia, Penn.: Zeigler, McCurdy and Company, 1967
  5. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894
  6. Michigan Women in the Civil War, "Michigan Women Who Went To War," by Minnie Dubbs Millbrook, published by the Michigan Civil War Centennial Observation Commission, 1963
Advertisement