14 Jun 2021

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: More on Gentle Annie

Linus P. Brockett

Last week, we met Annie Etheridge and learned about some of her exploits. These were known because they were published starting during the war. For instance, in early 1863, an article in the Bangor Whig and Courier told her story for the first time to a wider audience and described her:

Anna is of Dutch descent, about five feet three inches in hight [sic] fair complexion, (now somewhat browned by exposure) brown hair, vigorous constitution, and decidedly good looking. Her dress, on entering into battle, is a riding dress, so arranged as to be looped up when she dismounts. Her demeanor is perfectly modest, quiet and retiring, and her habits and conduct correct and exemplary; yet on the battlefield she seems alone to be possessed and animated with a desire to save the lives of the wounded soldiers. No vulgar word was ever known to be uttered by her, and she is held in the highest veneration and esteem by the soldiers as an angel of mercy. She is indeed the idol of the brigade, every man of which would submit to almost any sacrifice in her behalf.

Even as this piece was being written, back in Michigan, her husband, James Etheridge, was rejoining the Union Army, this time in the 7th Michigan Cavalry. Two weeks after he was mustered in, the regiment was sent to Washington, and in late June of that year found themselves in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the played a crucial role on the third day of that battle.

While Mr. Etheridge was not among the many casualties that day, a few months later, he decided unilaterally that fighting was no longer for him, and left the army while in Hartwood Church, Virginia. He is listed as a deserter in the records of the time, though the army seems not to have followed up on this, and, in fact, he disappears entirely from this historic record at this point.

Meanwhile, Gentle Annie, as she had become known to the troops, remained true to the army, and her fame only grew over time. Two years after the war ended, a book entitled Women’s Work in the Civil War, by Linus P. Brockett [that’s him above] and Mary C. Vaughan had a whole chapter on her and her exploits, ending with the statement that she had “accepted an appointment in one of the Government departments, where she labors assiduously twelve hours daily.”

Detail of Carte de Visite picture of Gentle Annie, showing her wearing the Kearny Cross. (LOC)

The records of the time back up much of this statement, as the 1867 Washington City Directory lists her as working at the National Currency Bureau of the Treasury and living on 10th Street west, about a block south of Ford’s Theatre. It is silent on her diligence.

Two small articles the following year cast a very different light on Gentle Annie, as she appeared in Equity Court asking to divorce James Etheridge. The reason given was not, as one might expect, that he was a deserter, but rather that her first love – David Kellogg – had reappeared after she was convinced he had been killed in battle in 1861. Since Kellogg never served in the army, one can only assume that this was entirely fictitious, although, according to the Alexandria Gazette, he was not only alive but appeared in the court. Etheridge, whose whereabouts were as uncertain then as now, failed to appear in court, and the divorce was granted. The Gazette ends their short precis of the case: “She left the Court Room with her first love.”


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