Cathay Williams

  • American Civil War
  • 2 mins

By Crusader1307

There have been many examples throughout History of Women who went to War quite literally – dressed as Men. Prior to the 20th Century, Women were forbidden to serve in Combat or in any role which by nature, exposed them to hostile Enemy actions. Those who, for whatever reasons – served as a Man, more often than not – provides quite interesting stories in the annals of History. One such was Cathay Williams. Williams served with The Union Army (briefly) during The American Civil War as ''Private William Cathay'', of The 38th Infantry (USCT).


Born in Missouri in 1844, Her Father was a ''Freeman'' and Her Mother was a Slave. As such, Cathay's status was too – Slave. In 1861, at the start of The Civil War – Federal Forces moved through Missouri and freed Plantation Slaves. However, while no longer a ''Slave'', She was designated ''Contraband'' and pressed into Service as an Army Cook. With The Emancipation Proclamation (which cleared the way for Free African-American's to finally serve in The Union Army (1863), Cathay conceived the idea to Enlist (as did a Cousin). Her features were outwardly ''masculine'' and Her Enlistment ''physical'' was a series of questions only (owing to the part that most former Slaves were simply ''passed thru'' without such).


As ''Pvt. Williams'', Cathay fought at The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas – where afterwards ''She'' contracted Smallpox. This time, Medical Authorities found out ''Pvt. Williams'', and She was discharged. Cathay still wished to serve and wound up in New Mexico for the rest of The War as again, an Army Cook. Saving her money, She would marry. However, Cathay's ''Husband'' absconded with her money and a ''Team of Horses''. He was captured and imprisoned (but had spent all Her money).


In the late 1880s, Cathay ended up in Colorado, as a Boarding House Owner – when a local Reporter had heard of her ''Story'' in The War. Writing an Article for the Newspaper – prompted Cathay to apply for a Service Pension. However, little of her claims could be proven (with sketchy Service Records found). Her claim was denied.


Dying in 1893 and afford a simple wooden Headstone (which eroded away), Her exact burial location is unknown. However, Her story did not remain so,. A Bronze Bust of Williams was erected at Ft. Leveanworth, Kansas. Also a Memorial Bench was placed in Her Honor at The National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia.