“HOLD YOUR HEAD UP AND DIE HARD”
Known during the Civil War as Private Bill Thompson, Lucy Matilda Thompson Gauss cut her thick hair and disguised herself by wearing a pair of her husband's suits and boarded a train for Virginia to fight alongside him during the early years of the Civil War. He never survived the war but "Private Bill" did -- bringing his body home for burial.
Lucy Matilda Thompson was born November 21, 1812 in Bladenboro, North Carolina. She was tall and masculine -- though not without feminine charm -- and she was a deft horsewoman, expert with a rifle and relished hunting.
In 1861, just as the war erupted, Thompson married Bryant Gauss who soon joined the Army of the Confederacy. Fearing he would be killed and lie unidentified, the new Mrs. Gauss oiled her squirrel musket and enlisted in Company D, 18th North Carolina Infantry, Confederate States of America. Neighbors and friends sympathized with her bravery and kept her identity secret. So did Captain Robert Tate and Lieutenant Wiley Sykes, who admired her ability with a rifle, her talent for jokes as well as her husky throated singing voice. They also prized her skill to nurse the camp's sick and wounded.
Masquerading as Private Bill Thompson, Lucy participated in a number of battles, receiving a head wound either at the First Battle of Manassas or the Siege of Richmond. In any case the wound -- an iron shell scrap tore open her scalp from forehead to crown -- sent her to a hospital for two months. Somehow she managed to conceal her identity and fled back to her unit as soon as she could.
Bryant Gauss was killed at the Seven Days Battle near Richmond. Lucy Gauss obtained permanent furlough and took him for burial. She bore her first child, Mary Caroline Gauss, on January 21, 1864.
After the war, the widow and small child moved to Savannah, where in late 1866, Lucy Gauss married union army veteran, Joseph P. Kenney. Together they had six children. Remarkably, Mrs. Kenney gave birth to their first at the age of 55 in 1868, and the last in 1881 at the age of 69!
Lucy Matilda Gauss Kenney kept her military exploits a secret until 1914, when she told her story to her pastor. Fearing nothing at the age of 102 but God, Lucy's motto was "Hold your head up and die hard."
She lived in various parts of Georgia before she died in Nicholls, Georgia at the remarkable age of 112 years, 7 months and 2 days. Lucy Gauss Kenney is buried in the Meeks Cemetery near Nicholls. Joseph Kenney died September 7, 1913 at the age of 107 years 5 months and I day.