The “Nancy Harts”

Another militia that survived time was formed at the LaGrange Female Institute by two of its former students: Nancy Morgan and Mary Heard, both wives of Confederate officers. One of its members, Mrs. Leila C. Morris, recalled how, at age fourteen, she had joined the other women in LaGrange, Georgia, in forming the company. In a speech before United Daughters of the Confederacy at Atlanta in 1896, she said, “Thus was organized, I believe, the only woman’s company for regular military duty ever commissioned in the continent.” Other members of the “Nancy Harts” included friends and former classmates of Morgan and Heard as well as current students at the school. They organized the military company because the ladies realized LaGrange was in a vulnerable location, halfway between Montgomery, Alabama, the early capital of the Confederacy, and Atlanta; and the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, which ran through the town, was a vital link in the Confederate supply routes. When Morgan and Heard made the decision to form the “Nancy Harts,” most of the able-bodied men, including their husbands and brothers, had already left for the war. Although these women learned to drill and fire a musket, conventional wisdom required that they still “behave like ladies.” They also participated in the more traditional female duties of sewing, knitting and nursing. Many casualties poured into the town as the war went on, filling the town’s four main Confederate hospitals. Families took the overflow and as militia member Leila Pullen recalled, “Each young woman had one or more of the sick and wounded to care for. This meant [we had] to prepare suitable food and delicacies; to see that the necessary clothing, bandages and lint were always in readiness; to write their letters; to console and comfort them by reading to them from the Bible and to divert and amuse them by reading light literature.” The “Nancy Harts” marched, drilled and continued target practice for four years, still united in the last month of the war when the Union soldiers approached the town. When the soldiers rode into the town that late Monday afternoon in April, the local citizens, including the militia-women met them, ready to defend their homes. Whether they would have used their weapons will never be known because, as one woman observed, “the officer in command of that detachment of invaders was a gentleman.” After being introduced to the commander of the “Nancy Harts,” Union Colonel Oscar LaGrange was said to have quipped, “I should think the Nancy Harts might use their eyes with better effect upon the Federal soldiers than their rusty guns.” The women “immediately abandoned military discipline and gave themselves over.” Mrs. Thaddeus Horton wrote in her article, “Nancy Harts,” for the Ladies Home Journal in 1904. “They did not fire volleys nor execute military maneuvers,” she firmly stated, “but they used methods equally effective: they stood between their homes and destruction.”

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