African American women have played a part in the military since the American Revolution, not only as nurses and administrators, but as frontline troops, whether officially in recent years or incognito in the past…
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Notable among them was Susan King Taylor of Georgia, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. In April 1861, when Maj. Gen. David Hunter attacked Fort Pulaski, he freed all of the slaves in the area, including King. The new found freedom became a spring board through which King was to serve in the Civil War with profound effect3. Much of the reliable information on King’s roles and engagements before, during and after the Civil War are self written in her memoir, “A black woman’s Civil War memoirs: Reminiscences of my life in camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers”. Susan King Taylor was born in slavery on August 8, 1848, on Grest Farm, Isle of Wight in Georgia. As a seven year old, King moved to Savannah where she lived with her maternal grandmother, it is while here that she was first encouraged to enroll in school and she eventually attended clandestine school4. She continued with her education until she was 14 when she escaped with her uncle’s family to the Union-controlled St. Catherine Island. The escape was enabled by the successful occupation of Fort Pulaski by the Union. Following the occupation, US Gen. David Hunter released all slaves and granted them freedom allowing Susie’s uncle to take the entire family to St Catherine’s island5. ...
King married Sergeant Edward King of the South Carolina Volunteers, later known as the 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry. At around the same time, she was hired as the regiment’s laundress. This was her first opportunity to serve in the Civil War as she extensively travelled with the regiment a factor that provided her with great insight into the intricacies of the War7. This factor is especially brought out in her memoir where she describes activities and engagements during the War in great detail. Though initially a laundress, King was later to become a nurse as the number of injured soldiers soared and greater need for specialized care arose, she would also serve as a cook for the regiment8. The extent of her involvement in the Civil War is intense, at least this is the impression one gets on reading through her memoir. Apart from the first few pages of the close to a hundred page memoir, the rest of it focuses on military life. Her military life evolves through two parties, self and the work and engagements of her husband’s regiment, which she served in9. The first recount of her military involvement occurs in 1862 when she was relocated to Beaufort, South Carolina where she served as a laundress. It is here that she first witnessed the full extent of the War, she narrates of frequent battles and intersperses giving an account of both personal experience and the regiment’s activities. Although initially hired as a laundress, King did very little of this, this was majorly due to the immediate needs of the soldiers who required tutoring and medical care10. While serving in the War, she made use of every skill and knowledge she had gathered in her then tender life, she would spend time teaching the soldiers and
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