New Book Published on Violence Against Women in the Civil War

Author Kim Murphy, has written a new book  titled “I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War” which takes a rare look at violence against women during the Civil War, according to the Fairfax Times:

“In her book, Murphy contends that in many cases, the judicial system worked against these women: overturning guilty verdicts, reducing sentences to the equivalent of a wrist slap, and in many cases, denying even the possibility of truth in their accusations.

An Illinois native, Murphy said her interest in the Civil War began when she moved to the Charlottesville area in 1990. ‘I have always loved history, but I didn’t get interested in the Civil War until I moved to Virginia and realized that I was sometimes standing right where a battle had happened,’ she said. ‘That was inspiring.’

In 2001, she wrote a fiction trilogy about a Civil War-era Fredericksburg woman who was a smuggler. From there, she continued her Civil War writing with a fictitious ghost story.

While researching for her books, she said she became interested in the way women were treated by soldiers, a topic she said was rarely published.I'd rather die kim murphy book cover

‘What I discovered was that the few historians who bothered to mention violence against women during the Civil War consistently referred to it as a ‘low-rape’ conflict,’ she said. ‘In general, historians contended that although they perpetrated all sorts of pillaging and other wrongdoing, Civil War soldiers maintained ‘gentlemanly restraint’ when it came to the treatment of women. I began to seriously question that, and began researching it for myself.’

Utilizing trial records from the National Archives’ Courts-Martial, Murphy said she accumulated about 400 cases of rape and attempted rape during the war that she used as the basis for her new nonfiction book. Because Confederate records are more difficult to come by, most are cases of Union soldiers attacking southern women, she said, but not all.”

Murphy has written a number of fiction books, including Civil War ghost stories and a book about witch trials in 17th century Virginia, but this is her first nonfiction book.

Murphy will be making appearances to promote the book at several festivals this spring and summer, including the 150th Battle of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania re-enactment in Virginia in May and the 150th Battle of Trevilian Station re-enactment in Virginia in June.


Fairfax Times; Virginia Author’s Book Outlines Civil War Sexual Atrocities; Gregg MacDonald; February 7 2014:

Boston Corbett on John Wilkes Booth’s Death

Boston Corbett was the sergeant who shot and killed John Wilkes Booth on April 26, 1865 in Port Royal, Va.

Corbett, whose real name was Thomas P. Corbett, was a London immigrant and a deeply religious man who changed his first name to “Boston” after experiencing a religious conversion at a church revival in Boston.

Corbett later joined the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War and eventually became a sergeant in the 16th New York Cavalry. On April 24th, Corbett was one of the selected cavalrymen from his unit sent to hunt down John Wilkes Booth, who was still at large.

Corbett’s detachment unit tracked down Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, at Garrett Farm in Port Royal, Va and found them hiding in a tobacco barn. The troops set the barn on fire and ordered them to surrender. Herold complied but Booth refused, saying they would never take him alive. Corbett said that he approached the barn and when he saw Booth through a gap in the wall, he fired. He was quickly arrested for disobeying orders but was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

Boston Corbett photographed by Mathew Brady 1865 - 300 x 495

Boston Corbett photographed by Mathew Brady in 1865

Since the day of the shooting, many sources have stated that Corbett deliberately ignored orders to take Booth alive and fired upon him out of revenge for Lincoln’s assassination. Frustrated by these reports, Corbett wrote a letter, in May of 1865, in an attempt to clear his name. The letter was published a few days later in the New York Times. Although he denied disobeying orders, he suggested that God willed him to shoot Booth:


DEAR RROTHER BROUGHTON: I thought it high time to keep my promise and send you a letter and at this time I thought it might be desirable, as there are many false reports in the papers charging me with violation of order, &c., in shooting BOOTH, but my commanding officer of the expedition not only clears me from all blame, but recommended me to the attention of the Commanding-General, for my untiring exertion to bring the murderer to justice. He was a desperate man, and fully determined to die rather than to be taken alive; and it was only when it was actually necessary that I shot him. When I first saw him by the light of the burning hay, he turned toward the fire, either for the purpose of putting it out or else of shooting the one who set it on fire.

I was on that side, and then he was quite near to him, and I had a full front-breast view of him, and it would have been much easier to have hit him then than when I did, but I waited till I was satisfied his purpose was to use his arms and try and fight his way out of the door that HARROLD had just been taken out of. I then fired on him, and he fell, and when I saw where the ball had struck him — in the neck, near the ear — it seemed to me that God had directed it, for apparently it was just where he had shot the President.

H. HARROLD’s trial is now going on. I do not know how long it will be before I may be allowed to return home, but I should like to do so soon by furlough, if I cannot obtain my discharge.

Inclosed please find one of the photographs made by BRADY, of me, after we returned. Yours, &c.,


Sergeant Company L, 16th, N.Y. Cavalry,

Washington, D.C.”


Kansas Historical Society: Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett:

The New York Times; May 15 1865: The Manner of Booth’s Death Letter from Boston Corbett: