Tag Archive | U.S. Civil War

Object: Dog Tag








United States
San Antonio
Materials: Metal

This object is a metal identification tag also known as a dog tag. This tag was worn by Jose M. Valdespino who enlisted in  Sept 1942 at Duncan Field, in San Antonio. After training, he was assigned as the Ball Turret Gunner in a B-17 with the U.S. Army Air Corps in the the 367th Bomb Squadron, 306th Bomber Group, based in England.  He flew 24 missions with “The Clay Pigeon’s” in a B-17, his missions included the bombing France which was occupied by Germany. Joe’s combat service ended when he was injured in a jeep accident. He was discharged in October 1945. Watch the following video to hear more about his story. 

Identification tags for the military have been used since around the 1850s. The earliest known example where dog tags were used was during the Taiping Revolt in China.  The soldiers fighting in this rebellion wore wooden tags on their belt. The information on the tag included name, age, birthplace, unit and the date they were enlisted. In the days of the American Civil War more than 150,000 soldiers were unidentified. Some knew that if they were to perish in the war there was a possibility that they would not be identified. So many went to great lengths to have some sort of identification on them. Many attached notes to their bodies while others wrote their name on their belts, and some wrote their name on the bottom of their shoes.

Example of a identification tag used during the American Civil War

Example of a identification tag used during the American Civil War. Image via: http://www.ephemerasociety.org

With the high demand for some type of identification tag, merchants started selling metal disks to soldiers. In many periodicals such as Harper’s Magazine there was advertisements for tags called “soldier’s pins” which were made of silver or gold with the soldiers name and unit. By the 1890s dog tags were being issued to the U.S. Army and Navy. By the time the United States entered WWI all soldiers were required to use a identification tag.

During WWII a new type of tag was introduced, this new tag changed in style from a disk to a rectangle tag, known as the M1940. The rectangular tag had a notch at the end like the tag from our collections. It was during WWII that the tags got the nickname “dog tag.” The tags not only had the name of the soldier but also other information such as blood type, tetanus shot information, and religious preference. During WWII however, there was only 3 options for religious preference: Protestant, Catholic, and Hebrew. Since then more options have been added and soldiers even have the option to put “none” or “no religious preference.” Early versions of identification tags included the name and address of the soldier’s next of kin. During the war, the enemy used that information as a tool for psychological warfare, so the practice was discontinued by 1943. Silencers for the dog tags were also introduced during WWII. The silencers were used to prevent the dog tags from making noise when coming into contact with each other.   The M1940 tag was in use until it was replaced by the M1967 which was made of a T304 stainless steel. This type of tag has no notch and is what is used today.

Example of current dog tags issued today with silencers.

Example of current dog tags issued today with silencers. Image via: http://www.armydogtags.com

With technology being so advanced, the future of dog tags looks promising. The U.S. Army is currently developing and testing dog tags that would use RFID, microchip, or USB technology. The dog tags would hold the soldiers medical information as well as dental records, which would make it easier if in identifying them. These dog tags would be worn in addition to the current ones. The Marine Corps is developing dog tags with advanced technology also including RFID and the possibility of even being able to use GPS data to help locate wounded soldiers. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Braddock, Paul F. Dog Tags: A History of the American Military Identification Tag, 1861-2002. [United States?]: P.F. Braddock, 2003.

Cucolo, Ginger. Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification. [United States]: Allen House Pub, 2011.

Maier, Larry B., and Joseph W. Stahl. Identification Discs of Union Soldiers in the Civil War: A Complete Classification Guide and Illustrated History. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2008.


Object: Lithograph

I-0608a (2)

“I am Woman”
Frank Spivey
Materials: Paint/Cloth


Cathay Williams via Wikimedia Commons

This is a lithograph of a painting by Frank Spivey entitled “I am Woman.” It depicts Civil War soldier Cathay Williamsthe first documented African-American woman to have served as a solider in the U.S. Army. Because U.S. Army regulations prohibited the enlistment of women into military service, Cathay Williams enlisted with the United States Regular Army on November 15, 1886 in St. Louis, Missouri as Private William Cathay. Disguised as a man, records give her age at the time of enlistment as 22 years old. She was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry, one of four segregated African-American units under the command of white officers. While the Union is historically portrayed as anti-slavery, officials at the time were concerned that integrating white and African-American soldiers would offend Northern conservatives. Lincoln eventually allowed for African-Americans to enlist, yet kept them segregated. During her time of service, the 38th Infantry spent time training and scouting for signs of hostiles in such locations as the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Fort Harker in Kansas, and Fort Bayard in New Mexico. On October 14, 1868 she was discharged from military service with a certificate of disability. A certificate of disability allowed soldiers to end their military service due to injury. Later, the certificate could be used to obtain pension. Little else is known about Cathay, her life after the military, or her death. In June of 1891 she filed an application for invalid pension claiming she had gone deaf due to her military service. Only after she filed the claim was it revealed she was a woman. The Pension Bureau eventually rejected her claim. It is presumed Cathay Williams died between 1892 and 1900.

During the Civil War, women found several ways to contribute to the war effort on both the Union and Confederate sides as everything from spies to vivandieres – women that followed the troops and provided support. Occasionally, like Cathay, women would disguise themselves as men in order to enlist for military service. The estimated number of women who did so are somewhere between four hundred and seven hundred and fifty. It was not hard for women to pass as men during the Civil War. Men were required to pass an initial examination in order to enlist, but the exam was often very basic and women were not found out. In 1861 United States Sanitary Commission reviewed the sanitary and medical conditions of two hundred federal regiments. The commission found that 59 percent of the regiments failed to sufficiently examining their recruits at the time of enlistment. Even though soldiers lived in close proximity, they rarely removed their clothing and due to the constant movement of their regiments, the outdoors provided ample cover for bodily functions. Additionally, a number large number of young men and children enlisted, allowing women to go undetected with their higher voices and lack of facial hair. On occasion women were discovered during service when they became pregnant or during the treatment of certain wounds. When they were discovered, they were immediately discharged, though records indicate some women went to other regiments and reenlisted. When the enemy captured a female soldier, many times she was exchanged or returned to her army and then discharged.

Sarah Edmonds as Frank Thompson

Sarah Edmonds as Frank Thompson via Wikimedia Commons

At least five women are known to have fought at the battle of Gettysburg and ten at the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg. A survey conducted of over two hundred and forty known female soldiers provides some information regarding their lives during service. It found that twice as many women served in the Union army compared to the Confederate army. It also showed that 15% of those female soldiers suffered wounds and they were more likely to have died on the battlefield, or from wounds received during battle, rather than from disease. The study found their term of service lasted on average 16 months and they were often promoted at a rate 14% higher than their male compatriots. Besides Cathay Williams, a few famous female soldiers during the Civil War include Sarah Edmonds who served as Franklin Thompson, Jennie Hodgers who served as Albert D. J. Cashier, and Sarah Rosetta Wakeman who served as Lyons Wakeman.

Today women who fought in the Civil War are getting more attention. There have been a good amount of books published on these women.  J.R. Hardman decided to participate in Civil War reenactments and made a documentary called Reenactress about her experience. A Civil War reenactment is when individuals act out a famous battle of the civil war with fake artillery and weapons but dressed in the clothing of that period. In a effort to get the story of these women out there filmmaker Maria Agui Carter made a film about Loreta Velasquez who also fought in the Civil War. [Ashton Meade, Edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. 2002.

Glasrud, Bruce A., and Michael N. Searles. Buffalo Soldiers in the West: A Black Soldiers Anthology. College Station, Tex: Texas A & M University Press, 2007.

Leonard, Elizabeth D. All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1999.

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