The First Female U.S. Army Surgeon- Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is the sole woman to have been awarded the Medal of Honor
At the beginning of the Civil War, she volunteered for the Union Army as a civilian. The U.S. Army had no female surgeons, and at first she was only allowed to practice as a nurse.
During this period, she served at the First Battle Of Bull Run (Manassas), July 21, 1861, and at the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, She worked as an unpaid field surgeon near the Union front lines, including at the Battle of Fredericksburg and in Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga.
As a suffragette, she was happy to see women serving as soldiers and alerted the press to the case of Frances Hook in Ward 2 of the Chattanooga hospital, a woman who served in the Union forces disguised as a man.
In September 1862, Walker wrote to the War Department requesting employment as a spy, but her proposal was declined.
In September 1863, she was employed as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)" becoming the first female surgeon employed by the U.S. Army Surgeon. She was later appointed assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. During her service, she frequently crossed battle lines and treated civilians.
On April 10, 1864, she was captured by Confederate troops and arrested as a spy, just after she finished helping a Confederate doctor perform an amputation. She was sent to Castle Thunder in Richmond, Virginia, and remained there until August 12, 1864, when she was released as part of a prisoner exchange. While she was imprisoned, she refused to wear the clothes provided because they were more "becoming of her sex”. Walker was exchanged for a Confederate surgeon from Tennessee on August 12, 1864.
She went on to serve during the Battle of Atlanta and later as supervisor of a female prison in Kentuck, and as the head of an orphanage in Tennessee.
Walker was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.