BY MRS. GENERAL CHARLES H. T. COLLIS.
Her struggles to reconcile being the sister of a Confederate soldier and the wife of a Union officer.
Septima Levy Collis was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1842. She married Charles H. T. Collis of Philadelphia in 1861. He joined the 18th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment at the start of the war and returned to Philadelphia to form a company known as the Zouaves D’ Afrique.
"I have no hesitation in calling what I am about to write a "war record," for my life was "twice in jeopardy," as will be seen later on, and I served faithfully as a volunteer, though without compensation, during the entire war of the Rebellion. It is true I was not in the ranks, but I was at the front, and perhaps had a more continuous experience of army life during those four terribly eventful years than any other woman of the North. Born in Charleston, S. C., my sympathies were naturally with the South, but on December 9, 1861, I became a Union woman by marrying a Northern soldier in Philadelphia. The romance which resulted in this desertion to the enemy would perhaps interest the reader, yet I do not propose to tell it; for I am sure sure the very realistic life which it enabled me to experience for three winters in camp at army headquarters will interest him more. My first commander was Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, to whom I reported on December 11, 1861, at Frederick, Md., where my bridegroom was then a captain of an independent company, which he named and equipped as "Zouaves d’Afrique."
Despite her southern sympathies, Collis supported her husband and accompanied him throughout the war. Her memoir, A Woman’s War Record, recounts her experiences at the front lines as well as social life away from camp, including the time she met President Abraham Lincoln. Of particular note are her struggles to reconcile being the sister of a Confederate soldier and the wife of a Union officer. She wrote:
"My brother, David Cardoza Levy … was about this time killed at the battle of Murfreesborough …This was the horrible episode of the civil war to me, and although I had many relatives and hosts of friends serving under the Confederate flag all the time, I never fully realized the fratricidal character of the conflict until I lost my idolized brother Dave of the Southern army one day, and was nursing my Northern husband back to life the next."
Collis’ experiences were far from unique. During the war, families were divided from loved ones for a myriad of reasons – whether ideological disagreements, geographical separations, or the strain of war itself. Numerous accounts, both published and private, document the distress, helplessness, and emotional turmoil that families often felt as the result of these challenging circumstances.