Marie Brose Tepe Leonard | Pennsylvania Civil War 150
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Pennsylvania Civil War 150

Pennsylvania Civil War 150

Soldiers

Marie Brose Tepe Leonard

Pretty in a skirt. Pretty fierce on the battlefield.

Marie Tepe’s patriotism and dedication as a woman soldier in the Union Army never wavered—even when her husband and fellow soldiers broke into her tent and stole $1,600 or when the Paymaster’s Department canceled her soldier’s salary because she was a woman.

Born in France in 1834, Marie Brose moved to Philadelphia as a teen where she later married Bernhard Tepe, a local tailor. When the Civil War broke out, Bernhard enlisted in Company I, 27th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Despite urging Marie to stay home and tend to the tailor shop, Bernhard’s determined and stubborn wife decided to join him and follow his regiment as a “vivandiere.”

Vivandieres, a French term from  the Napoleonic Wars, described women who accompanied their husbands’ regiments in action, ministering to thirsty or wounded troops. Marie fully embraced this role, putting herself within range of the enemy’s fire to tend to her wounded comrades, until one evening in 1861 when Marie quit the 27th Pennsylvania after Bernhard and some soldiers broke into her tent and stole her money. She immediately left her husband and his regiment, a bold move for a woman of her time.

In 1862, she joined the 114th Pennsylvania at the request of Colonel Collis where she became known as “French Mary” and adopted a Zouave style vivandiere uniform, sporting a blue jacket, a skirt trimmed with red braid, red trousers over a pair of boots and a man’s sailor hat turned down.

Marie supported herself by selling non-government issued goods to the soldiers such as tobacco, cigars, hams and contraband whiskey. She carried the whiskey in a small oval keg strapped to her shoulder, which became an iconic mark of “French Mary.” Marie earned the salary of a soldier plus 25 cents extra per day for hospital and headquarters services, bringing in a handsome sum of $21.45 per month for two years until the Paymaster’s Department ceased her pay because of animosity toward enlisted women. This didn’t deter Marie, and she continued selling goods to the soldiers of 114th Pennsylvania and joining them in combat.

A bullet to her ankle at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 didn’t stop her either. Marie became a decorated soldier of the war, receiving gratitude and recognition for her service through personal expressions of thanks from military leaders, awards and high honors. She received the Kearny Cross after the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 for helping organize one of the field hospitals. She was also awarded a silver cup by Lt. Col. Cavada that was inscribed “To Marie, for noble conduct on the field of battle.”

After the war, Marie moved to the Pittsburgh area and married Richard Leonard, a veteran of Company K, 1st Maryland Cavalry. In 1893, she traveled to Philadelphia for a reunion of the 114th Pennsylvania where she carried the same iconic whiskey keg strapped around her shoulder.

Sadly, the last years of her life were less glorious as she suffered from rheumatism and the lingering pain of the bullet she still carried in her left ankle. Marie took her own life in May 1901 by drinking “Paris green,” a pesticide and paint pigment. She was laid to rest in a forgotten, unmarked grave.

Only recently did members of Davis Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Pittsburgh find Marie’s final resting place at St. Paul’s Cemetery on Lafferty Hill in Carrick, Pennsylvania. They marked her gravesite with a military stone and dedicated it in a proper ceremony. Marie’s gravesite can be visited today.

 

Information for this section was contributed by Andy Waskie.

Image courtesy of U.S. Army.

Secondary Sources
  • Revised United States Army Regulations of 1861. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1863.
  • Women in the U.S. Military. U.S. Army History: Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia.
  • Jane Johnson Lewis, Vivandieres - Civil War, Encyclopedia of Women's History.
  • Michael J McAfee, Zouaves, the First and the Bravest, Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA.
  • Robin Smith, American Civil War - Zouaves, Osprey Publications 1996.
  • Rauscher, Frank. Music on the March 1862-1865 with the Army of the Potomac. Philadelphia: Press of William F. Fell & Co., 1892.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer, May 18, 30, 1863.
  • The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the Official Records of the Union Vol. LXIII p. 1276.
  • Hagerty, Edward J. Collis' Zouaves. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. 320.
  • Gladstone, William. "Gettysburg Mystery Photo. . . more answers." Military Images (March-April 1982): 16-19.
  • Rauscher, Frank. Music on the March 1862-1865 with the Army of the Potomac. Philadelphia: Press of William F. Fell & Co., 1892.
  • John Haley, Ruth L. Silliker (Editor) The Rebel Yell & the Yankee Hurrah: The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer. 1987 Down East Books.
  • Life & Letters of General Meade. Geo. G. Meade, Jr. 1913.
  • Conklin, Eileen F. Women at Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA, Thomas Publications, 1993.
  • She Feared Not War." New York Sunday World. 18 April 1897.
  • Death Of French Mary." Pittsburgh Dispatch. 15 May 1901.
  • Melchiori, Marie V. "The Death of French Mary." Military Images (July-August 1983): 14-15.
  • Collis, Mrs. Genl. A Woman's War Record: The Women of Collis' Zouaves. 1889. Marinos Co. Publishing, Reprinted 1998.
  • Mills, H. Sinclair, Jr. The Vivandiere: History, Tradition, Uniform and Service. Collinswood, NJ: C.W.

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