Marie Tepe

Marie Tepe

Frassanito says that the woman standing in the picture on E. Cemetery Hill was known as "French Mary." Her name was Marie Tepe and was born in France. The picture shows her wearing a zouave shell jacket over a dark blouse. She is gird with a zouave sash and army belt and wears a knee length skirt over what looks to be a baggy pair of zouave pantaloons. Her feet are shod with shoes that look like a pair of soldiers brogans. Frassanito estimates thepicture of her on Cemetery Hill was taken 6 - 8 days after the battle. Her unit, the 114 Pa, didn't fight there, but with the III Corps by the Peach Orchard

There is also another posed picture of her that was taken around the same time in the Tyson Brothers studio in Gettysburg. It is in this picture that she can be seen to be wearing the Kearny Cross. He says only that she was decorated for gallantry on the field of Fredricksburg.

My question was if anyone knew the particulars of what she did to earn that medal. The word gallantry certainly suggests to me that she did something "above and beyond" while under fire. Hope someone can answer this one.


Guy M. Greeneltch

Esteemed member Tonia Smith Hi All,

There is a nice one page bio. of "French" Mary on the Collis Zouaves page. She really was quite the heroine.

Hi, Guy & GDG,

This only doesn't really answer your question, but adds some information. Boatner quoted Frank Rauscher's history of the 114th Pa "Music on the March, 1862-65, with the AOP" p.68...... "even Marie, the vivandiere, received... [a medal], but she would not wear it, remarking that Gen. Birney could keep it, as she did not want the present. Had it been made of gold, instead of copper, Marie wouldhave set a higher value upon the souvenir. 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. After that admonition she kept well out of danger."

Esteemed member contributes:

In a message dated 97-03-18 14:39:07 EST, Esteemed Member Tom Clemens writes:

<< rasanito is essentially correct on this. The presence of women in uniform withthe French Zouaves ws not uncommon. They carried water to the men and provided laundry and sewing and other services. In America they were pretty rare, a lot of reenactment units allow them even though there is no documentation of their existence in that particular regiment. Mary Tepe is, of course, well documented. A photo of Coppin's LA Zouaves exists which show two vivandierres in uniform standing wit the soldiers. The vivandierres usually wore a short zouave-style jacket over a vest and blouse or chemise and a pair of trousers covered by a long skirt. Frequently these were decorated with braid, etc. Sometimes they were even armed, I believe the photo of Mary shows a pistol. Brian Pohanka or Don Troiani can tell you a lot more about them than I can.

Since the time of the French Revolutionary Armies, the French service had a Vivandiere, or Cantiniere, attached to each Battalion. Originally the Vivandieres carried foodstuffs, and the Cantinieres water, wine, brandy or other drinkables, generally in a small keg they wore slung across their body. Many of those French women were in the thick of action in the Crimea, in Italy, in Africa, and several were decorated with the Legion Of Honor. Keeping in mind French battalions were generally the size of a CW Regiment, or larger, one or two women per company meant that even in French service there were not all that many Vivandieres/Cantinieres. In the Civil War some units, generally either Zouaves like Collis' and Coppens', or those affecting a European-style uniform (like the 39th NY, Garibaldi Guard) did have one, sometimes two Vivandieres (the term Cantiniere was not used in US outfits for some reason). "French Mary" Tepe (or Tebe as her name is sometimes spelled) was certainly the most famous of those ladies -- she earned her Kearny Cross for bravery at Fredericksburg, where she was wounded. I do agree with Tom Clemens that you see many more Vivandieres on the re-enactment field than there ever were in Civil War service -- but they certainly did exist, and play their part in supporting their respective causes.

Brian Pohanka

Esteemed member "Theresa Stimson" Guy:

Mary/Marie Tebe, or 'French Mary,' was initially part of the 27th Pennsylvania Infantry (Washington Brigade), where it is said that she came under fire thirteen times. She sold goods (including contraband whiskey, which she carried in a small oval keg strapped to her shoulder) to the soldiers, served hospital duty, and helped the men with sewing, cooking, and washing. (Hall)

In late 1862, Mary left the 27th for the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry. In December, at the Battle of Fredericksburg, she caught a bullet in her left ankle, where she helped to establish a field hospital and care for the wounded. In May, 1863, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Mary circulated among the thirsty troops with her canteen , braving heavy fire, "her skirts riddled with bullets." It was for this "meritorious conduct in battle" (Conklin) that she was awarded the Kearny Cross. She was seen marching with her unit in the campaign up to Gettysburg, as well as at Brandy Station and Spotsylvania. Mary mustered out with her regiment in May, 1865.

According to Conklin (p. 108), she was married in 1872, filed for divorce in 1897 (never followed through), and made a will in 1900, leaving her husband all of her possessions, valued at $31.35. An invalid, suffering from rheumatism, Mary committed suicide in the spring of 1901.

"Hers was the only face in the vicinity which seemed in any way gay. She was laughing and pointing very unconcernedly, as she stumbled over axes, spades, and other obstacles, on her way to the trench! ...She was wonderfully courageous..." (Military images/Conklin)