Prostitutes, mistresses and other "ladies" of the evening

Vienna, VA

Mistresses, prostitutes and other questionable ladies.

 When you wake up at 3:00 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep, you channel surf and discover….mistresses and prostitutes.   No, it wasn’t the Golf Channel with the latest exploits of Tiger Woods, nor HLN with Jesse James.  It was a civil war program on ladies of the evening, civil war style.

The oldest profession was alive and well in 1861-1865, and while the best stories extant are of officers, doubtless the enlisted men fared as well.

 A Union Colonel from New York was said to have put together a rather wild “party” for his men, which went on for three days of loud, lewd, and lascivious behavior, proving that North or South, the boys will be boys.

 Confederate General Earl VanDorn pursued one lovely lady, with all the amour of the hour, here and there, and was definitely besotted with her. Unfortunately she was the wife of  Dr. George B. Peters, of Spring Hill, TN, who dispatched VanDorn to the great maiden field in the sky with a gun shot on May 7, 1863.  Thus ending his career.

 Another Confederate ladies man was General John Bell Hood of Kentucky, he of Texas troops fame, who had the misfortune to fall head over heels for Sally Buchanan (“Buck”) Preston, who at 18 was quite a bit younger than Hood.  He overlooked the fact that several of her suitors had ended up dead,  and pursued her through and around numerous battles, during which he lost a leg and later an arm, but was still in hot pursuit of the lovely aristocratic lady of his dreams.  Obviously she was a “decent lady” and not one of the aforesaid nighttime ladies.

 Hood had great military skills, but his social ones were rough around the edges.  It is said that upon first seeing the object of his affections, he announced  “she stands like a thoroughbred,” doubtless with his Kentucky roots showing.

 His persistence failed him when he approached her about marriage and her family absolutely refused to entertain the idea, whereupon he gave up.  Persistence might have won him the fair lady, but he didn’t carry through.

 Union General R. S. Granger was faced with a distinct problem when too many men ended up very ill with venereal diseases.  He took it upon himself to solve the problem by legalizing prostitution – requiring the girls to be checked routinely, obtain medical treatment if necessary, and the VD rate dropped from 25% to 4% under this program.

 It was not a popular decision, but doubtless the men’s wives appreciated his efforts when they received their playful husbands back home.

 Probably the biggest rake,  or scamp of a man who could doubtless beat Tiger at his game of women, was Union General Judson Kilpatrick.  Shortly before he left for the fighting, he had married his sweetheart, Alice Statter, and as he would learn later, she had become immediately pregnant. However, the bridegroom  seemed to take his husbandly vows less than seriously, and  willing ladies appeared wherever he went, from camp to camp or skirmish to skirmish.

While a reasonable person would think that learning of the death of  his wife and baby would, perhaps, quiet his libido, it does not seem to be the case. Or perhaps he had a different way of handling the grief which had to have affected even an Army general.   Apparently he did return home for the funeral services of Alice and the baby, and then  came back to his command.  With barely a break in his amorous activities, he still burned the candle of sex brightly at both ends.  Again there was no dearth of willing participants.  He must have been quite a guy with the ladies! Whether it was the camp Asian laundry woman, who did more than iron his uniform, or a simple harlot of the time, Kilpatrick was never alone.

It seems a shame when one considers his training and military ability that his personal life on the battlefront made him a subject of concern and embarrassment to the military’s brass, and his star seemed to burn less brightly. The brass simply could no longer overlook his extra curricular activities, which brought dishonor upon the uniform,   it was felt, and he received no further promotion. 

Interestingly enough in the light of today, Kilpatrick  has a modern connection.  When he went to Chile as its Minister in 1865, he later married  Luisa de Valdivieso, and  began a second family. His great granddaughter is the well known Gloria Vanderbilt, which makes her son, CNN commentator  Anderson Cooper, his great great grandson!  His later life was more exemplary than his early one.

 Stories of homosexual liaisons were widespread as well, in addition to women masquerading as men and joining up with the boys.  One way or another, most were discovered eventually.

 A couple of years ago, Dr. Thomas Lowry published a book called “Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War” which brought many interesting situations to light, it seems.  It obviously didn’t begin there; research has indicated that the problem of venereal disease was known as far back as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. And   prostitution is not known as the world’s oldest profession inaccurately!

 And eventually, I went back to sleep.

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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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