Harpers Weekly

American Civil War Correspondent and Special Artist
James Allen Davis

 

Mary Tepe*

Click here for information on Jill Forbath portraying Mary Tepe.

  • Marie Tepe - Vivandière
  • Served with: 27th Pennsylvania Infantry, Co. I and 114th Pennsylvania Infantry.
  • Present at: First Bull Run, Campaigned near Richmond, Fair Oaks, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, Gettysburg.
  • Weapon/Action: Pistol, wounded in ankle, received Kearney Cross.
  • Other names in reference books: Mrs. Marie, French Mary, Mary Tebe, Tepe, Tippee, Tippie.
  • Age: 25

Marie Brose Tepe, also known as French Mary or Mary Tepe was born August 24, 1834 in Brest, France and immigrated to the US with her mother, shortly after her Turkish father's death in 1844. At twenty, she married Bernardo Tepe, a Philadelphia tailor. Seven years later when he enlisted in Company I of the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Marie joined his regiment as a vivandiere.

Marie left her husband and the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteers under unfortunate circumstances. A veteran's account has it that, "One night some soldiers, among whom was her husband, broke into the vivandiere's tent and stole $1,600. The men were afterwards punished, but the vivandiere decided to quit the regiment. She refused to have anything to do with her husband. [She was] requested to continue with the regiment, but her indignation was so great that she left."

The following year French Mary joined the 114th Pennsylvania, Collis' Zouaves, and with this regiment she adopted her famous uniform of blue Zouave jacket, red trimmed skirt, and red trousers over a pair of boots. On her head she wore a man's sailor hat with the brim turned down and she armed herself with a pistol. (See photograph above.)

Mary traded in contraband whiskey; which she also carried in a large keg onto the battlefield to assist the wounded, and tobacco, cigars, hams and items not issued by the government. When the regiment was inactive she would cook, wash, mend, and write letters for the soldiers drawing a payment of a soldier and allowed 25 cents extra per day for hospital and headquarters work. Her pay came to $21.45/month for over two years.

An enterprising woman, Mary was noted by a member of the 114th on October 27, 1862 at a difficult fording of the Potomac River. He wrote, "All were in the same predicament, excepting the staff officers, who were on horseback and Marie, the vivandiere, who had the forethought to pick up an old mule, on which she safely crossed the river."

On December 13, 1862 at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Mary took a bullet in her left ankle and after the battle was said to have received a silver cup presented to her by Lt. Col. Cavada inscribed with the words, " To Marie, for noble conduct on the field of battle."

She received the Kearny Cross after the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863 for her help in organizing the field hospitals. "She was a courageous woman and often got within range of the enemy's fire whilst parting with the contents of her canteen among our wounded men. Her skirts were riddled by bullets during the Battle of Chancellorsville." (Mary Tepe, seen above in an 1893 photograph, wears her Kearney Cross and whiskey keg for an event honoring the Battle of Fredericksburg.)

Spotted again on march with her regiment in the campaign up to Gettysburg, one soldier wrote, "One June 12th [1863] the entire 3rd Corps passed us and a good opportunity was had for watching this command pass in review. On foot and marching with the 114th Pennsylvania we saw 'French Mary.'" For weeks after the battle, Mary volunteered her services as a nurse in the field hospital located on Taneytown Road, behind the Round Tops. (During this time the famous photograph, left, on East Cemetery Hill was taken of her.)

In the Spring of 1864, Mary was seen at the Bloody Angle during Spotsylvania by a soldier who wrote, "I looked around, [and] sure enough there was a woman! She was about 25 years of age, square featured and sunburnt, and dressed in Zouave uniform in the vivandiere style. She was with two men and they seemed to be looking for their regiment, the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry."

After the War, on April 9, 1872, Mary moved to the Pittsburgh area and married Richard Leonard, a veteran of Company K, 1st Maryland Cavalry. Twenty-five years later she filed for divorce but never followed through and nine years later, in 1901, she wrote out a will leaving all of her possessions valued at $31.35 to her husband.

In May of 1901, Mary took her own life, drinking "paris green" a pesticide and paint pigment. It was said that "for many years the aged woman had been an invalid and was lately a great sufferer from rheumatism and a rebel bullet which she still carried in her left ankle."

This tireless and courageous vivandiere's grave lay unmarked for eighty-seven years, until in 1988 a stone was erected and then dedicated in a ceremony at St. Paul's Cemetery on Lafferty Hill in Carrick, Pennsylvania.

* SOURCES

  • Arendt, Britta, webmaster Female Nurses of the Civil War.
  • Bauer, Cricket. "Viva la Vivandieres: A Short History of Women in Pseudo-Military Costumes." Military Images (May-June 2000): 20-24.
  • Collis, Mrs. Genl. A Woman's War Record: The Women of Collis' Zouaves. 1889. Marinos Co. Publishing, Reprinted 1998.
  • Conklin, Eileen F. Women at Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA, Thomas Publications, 1993.
  • "Death Of French Mary." Pittsburgh Dispatch. 15 May 1901,
  • Gladstone, William. "Gettysburg Mystery Photo. . . more answers." Military Images (March-April 1982): 16-19.
  • Hagerty, Edward J. Collis' Zouaves. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.
  • Melchiori, Marie V. "The Death of French Mary." Military Images (July-August 1983): 14-15.
  • Mills, H. Sinclair, Jr. The Vivandiere: History, Tradition, Uniform and Service. Collinswood, NJ: C.W. Historicals, 1988.
  • Rauscher, Frank. Music on the March 1862-1865 with the Army of the Potomac. Philadelphia: Press of William F. Fell & Co., 1892.
  • "She Feared Not War." New York Sunday World. 18 April 1897.

Click here for information on Jill Forbath portraying Mary Tepe.

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