1st Kansas Regiment
For years, researchers have been aware of a small blurb that appeared in an 1863 edition of the Poughkeepsie (NY)Telegraph. No author was given and while it raised periodic interest, without any author or secondary source, little merit was given to the possibility. The article.....
"The 1st Kansas regiment, of which I have spoken before, is encamped near us. One of the members of that regiment, a sergeant, died in the hospital two weeks ago. (disease was small pox) After death his comrades discovered that their companion, by the side of whom they had marched and fought for almost two years, was a woman. You may imagine their surprise at the discovery. I went to the hospital and saw the body after it was prepared for burial, and made some inquiries about her. She was of rather more than average size for a woman, with rather strongly marked features, so that with the aid of a man's attire she had quite a masculine look. She enlisted in the regiment after they went to Missouri and consequently they knew nothing of her early history. She probably served under an assumed name. She was in the battle of Springfield, where Gen. Lyon was killed, and has fought in a dozen battles and skirmishes. She always sustained an excellent reputation, both as a man and a soldier, and the men all speak of her in terms of respect and admiration. She was as brave as a lion in battle and never flinched from any duty or hardships that fell to her lot. She must have been very shrewd to have lived in the regiment so long and preserved her secret so well. Poor girl! She was worthy of a better fate. Who knows what grief, trouble or persecution induced her to embrace such a life?"
What gave this segment legitimacy to some, was the nature of the article. As can be seen above, the author shows sympathy and admiration, without judgment to her or her fellow male soldiers. For years, the article remained forgotten.
Among the many incidents which are constantly occurring in our camp there is one of more than ordinary interest and I will relate it to you. One of the members of the 1st Kansas Regt. died in the hospital yesterday after a very short illness. After death the somewhat startling discovery was made by those who were preparing the body for burial, that their companion, besides whom they had marched and fought for nearly two years, was a woman.
“You can imagine their astonishment. The Regt is camped near us, and I went to the hospital and saw her. She was of pretty good size for a woman, with rather masculine features. She must have been very shrewd to have kept her secret so long when she was surrounded by several hundred men. The 1st Kansas was one of the first regiments tt entered the service two years ago. This girl enlisted after they went to Missouri, so they knew nothing of her early history. She doubtless served under an assumed name. Poor girl! Who knows what trouble, grief, or persecution drove her to embrace all the hardship's of a soldiers life. She had always sustained an excellent reputation in the Regiment. She was brave as a lion in battle and never flinched from the severest fatigues or the hardship duties. She had been in more than a dozen battles and skirmishes. She was a sergeant when she died. The men in the company all speak of her in terms of respect and affection. She would have been promoted to a Lieutenancy in few days if she had lived."
From this letter, dated April 6, 1863, Blanton and Cook had identified the woman soldier as Sgt Alfred J Luther, who records showed died of disease in Providence, LA 22 March 1863. The author, who is obviously the Poughkeepsie Telegraph's correspondent, was Lt Frederick Haywood, section leader for the First Minnesota Artillery. Military records show the following. Alfred J Luther joined the 1st Kansas Infantry 30 May 1861, and reached the rank of Corporal before the Wilson's Creek battle. Newspaper accounts list Corporal Luther among the wounded (slightly) of this battle. On 1 May 1862, Luther was promoted to sergeant. According to National Archive records, no member of Luther's family ever filed for a military pension after the war. Update - 8/21/2007 - Thanks to Pat Millett of the Vicksburg National Battlefield Convention and Visitors Center - "Sgt. Alfred J. Luther, who enlisted in Co. A, 1st Kansas, is buried in the Vicksburg National Military Cemetery in Section K, grave # 5971".