Origin of Confederate Cantiñieres©

by Gail R. Jessee, Founder

Confederate Cantiñieres Chapter #2405

Florida Division, UDC

March 26, 1976

Published January 1995

United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine Vol. 58, No. 1.

    Since the time of early history, women have been following their men to war in order to care for them.  Women performed duties as cooks, foragers, seamstresses, laundresses, nurses and even served in battle by taking up arms to defend the encampments against enemy attacks.

    As civilization began to spread, European countries started expanding their territorial borders; which meant larger armies grew in direct proportion to the enlarging boundaries and so did the number of women that traveled with the army.  Military leaders became concerned at the armies ever increasing multitude of women followers and decided that the time had come when some measure of control must be exercised and enforced.

    So when the European armies were being levied in the early 1800s, the first official Cantiñieres and Vivandieres originated within the structure of the French Army.  These women evolved from the vast ranks of sutleresses and canteen workers that had attached themselves to the numerous regiments.

    With the decision of French military leaders to give women an official army status came a ‘new regulation’. The new ordinance was promptly utilized to control the number of women permitted to accompany a military regiment on active service.

    With this ‘new status’ came specially designed feminine military uniforms in distinctive regimental colours, thereby signifying the women's affiliation with a specific unit.  Now, when the regiment went on parade, the Cantiñieres and/or Vivandieres were given the honour of marching in formation with the troops.

    As women are inclined to do, they feminized their new uniforms.  They added touches of lace and ribbon trimmings and chose an array of diverse headgear.  It ranged from plain kepis to bonnets, to large straw or felt hats bedecked with feathers, lace and ribbons and even Zouave caps.  These uniforms were quite becoming to the feminine figure with its tight-fitting tunic trimmed with rows of brass buttons;  a short full skirt worn over trousers or Turkish pantaloons and finished off with  snug-fitting gaiters over well-turned ankles.

    In 1854, the terminology ‘Cantiñiere’ (meaning one who carries a small wooden keg) officially replaced the word ‘Vivandiere’ (which meant a canteen woman or “one who sells food and drink to the troops) to distinguish the one who serves at the front lines from the one who works in the canteen.

    With the beginning of the War Between the States in 1861, the Confederate States Government adopted many uniform ideas from Imperial France.  At this time, the French army was considered to be the finest in the world.

    Southern women, being as patriotic as their French sisters, eagerly went to war with the newly formed Confederate States Army. Those who donned the ‘Confederate Cantiñiere’s uniform’ did so by reaching into their own purses for the expense of their military apparel, the small side-arms of pistols, knives and swords they would carry, the horses they rode and even their own pay allotment.  The fact the Confederate States Government had made no provision for women to serve in the military did not dampen their ardor to serve their country.

    The evidence of ‘Cantiñieres’ serving is adequately illustrated by both written and photographic documentation from the period and proves irrefutably that many Southern companies, like the French regiments they copied, recruited ‘Cantiñieres’ to accompany their units on campaign.

    One written description refers to a diary from July of 1861.  A Richmond lady recalls seeing a ‘Cantiñiere’ dressed in the uniform of her regiment with Turkish pantaloons and wearing a hat with feathers as she frisked about the Drawing room singing war songs.

    Another written account describes the ‘Cantiñiere’ who accompanied the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The boys affectionately called her the “She-Bear”, because she was said to be as true as steel and could bear the fatigue of campaign as well as any man. (emphasis added)

    It is also documented at the Battle of 1st Manassas, a ‘Cantiñiere’ was there to witness the rout of the Union Army.  At the Battle of Chancellorville, it is recorded that a ‘Cantiñiere’ on the battlefield cradled a dying Union soldier in her arms until he passed away.

    The Charleston, South Carolina artist William Aiken Walker immortalized the ‘Cantiñiere’ in a deck of playing cards he painted during the War Between the States.  The original deck depicting four (4) different illustrations of ‘Cantiñieres’ is in the collection of Jay P. Altmayer of Mobile, Alabama.

    Photographic documentation is illustrated in two (2) well known history books - EMBATTLED CONFEDERATES: An Illustrated History of Southerners at War and SHADOWS OF THE STORM: The image of War 1861-1865.  The photograph shows a ‘Cantiñiere’ with the renowned Louisiana Tiger Zouaves.   It was taken in 1861 at Pensacola, Florida where the Tigers had been stationed to help with the defense of the city.  The young woman is dressed in the typical french-style ‘Cantiñiere’ uniform and stands to the left of the troop's formation.  She is reaching for an enlisted man's cup to pour liquid from the wooden keg-type canteen she carried under her left arm.

    An eminent military history magazine - MILITARY IMAGES: Volume VII, Number 2 also published numerous pictures of ‘Cantiñieres’ as well.

    A company was considered fortunate indeed to posses a ‘Mother Courage’, who carried canteens along with medical supplies and accompanied the troops to the battlefields.  There between the ranks of fighting men, amid flying bullets and whizzing cannon balls, she cautiously ventured forth upon the field of battle administering water or spirits to the soldiers, giving such aid as was immediately possible to the seriously wounded and assisting the ambulatory wounded back to the field hospital.

    These are but a few examples of the exemplary courage displayed by Southern women who chose to go to war for the South, braving the hardships of military camp life and even facing death on the battlefield --- all for the Love of Country, Home and Family.


    Military Uniforms of the World: Preben Kannik

    European Military Uniforms: A Short History; Paul Martin

    American Civil War Armies (I): Confederate Art, Cav, Inf; Philip Katcher, Ron Volstad

    Embattled Confederates: An Illustrated History of Southerners at War

    Shadows of the War: The Images of the War 1861-1865; Volume One

    Military Images, Vol. VII, Number 2, 1985

    Military Uniforms, 1686-1918;  Rene North

    Great Battles of the Civil War; Time Incorporated

    Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Memories of Pvt. Alfred Bellard

    Civil War Times, July-August Issue 1982

    Civil War Union Zouaves; Imrie/Risley Miniatures

    Living History Magazine, Fall Issue 1984

    In Battle & Camp with the Washington Artillery of New Orleans; William Miller Owen, 1st Lt & Adj.

    Uniforms (Uniforms of the Armies of History) Part 1: “The Canteen Women of the French Army”,        

        Nicholas Powell

Copyright © 1976 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright © 1986 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright © 1996 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright © 2006 by Gail R. Jessee

                                                               Copyright © 2012 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright © 2013 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright © 2014 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright © 2015 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright © 2016 by Gail R. Jessee

Copyright pending © 2017 by Gail R. Jessee


“Keep Your Powder Dry”

from Jerry’s CW Music


Cantiniere on the Crimea War battlefield administering fluid to a wounded soldier. Photograph taken by Roger Fenton in 1855.