Bullets, Baggages and Ballads Revisited: Forgotten Sources for the Experience of British Women in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars Revised and Expanded

Charles J. Esdaile

Abstract


For many years ‘women’s history’ has been a considerable growth area and with this has come an increasing interest in the role women have played in times of war. For the period prior to the mid-nineteenth century, however, interest in this subject has been confronted by a major problem in that large numbers of women were illiterate. In consequence, the few female voices that we have are voices from the elites, one effect of this having been that a tiny handful of semi-mythologised heroines - Agustina Zaragoza in Spain, Molly Pitcher in the States - have been acquired a privileged position that far outweighs their actual importance. How, then, can one best approach the most characteristic female figure in the panorama of ‘horse and musket’ warfare, namely the ‘baggage’, the soldier’s wife who tramped to war in the wake of her husband and carried out a whole range of auxiliary roles in barrack and bivouac alike? In this article, it is argued that one possible source is the ballad, dozens of such works not only discussing the issue of women at war but also doing so in a voice that almost certainly in part comes to us from the otherwise silent lips of the women themselves.

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