Rowena Harris (aka Nicholas Brody), CSA (Jul. 1861 – Dec. 1862); USA (Mar. – Jul. 1863)

Teenaged prostitute, regimental drummer (and de facto commander) of the 13th R.I. during the three months leading up to its spectacular victory against the Richmond Special Legionnaires at The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek.

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b: April 15, 1846, Chillwater, AR
d: ????

(Scroll down to watch video!)

The person known to History variously as Rowena Harris, Rowena Oaks, Candie Apple, “Poison” Apple, and Nick Brody, was the only child of subsistence farmers Stanford and Imogene Harris.

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Imogene, Rowena, & Stanford Harris, circa 1857

Rowena’s father died tragically when she was 11 years old, after which her mother remarried to a Mississippian named Plug Oaks. Oaks moved the family to his home state, but whether he legally adopted Rowena remains unclear.

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After Imogene’s own death from malaria in 1858, Oaks became Rowena’s sole guardian. This arrangement did not last long; by age 13 Rowena had changed her name to Candie Apple and was working as a prostitute for a Mr. Beauregarde Ridge in Blackgum, Arkansas.

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Candie/”Poison” Apple

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All reference to Candie Apple disappears as of autumn, 1859, to be replaced by the name “Poison” Apple. Whether this revision was Rowena’s own idea or not remains ambiguous. With Arkansas’ secession from the Union in the spring of 1861, Beauregarde Ridge enlisted with the Blackgum Rifles and departed for Lynchburg, VA, where he was assigned to the 49th Arkansas Infantry.

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Private Beauregarde Ridge, CSA

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Regimental standard of the 49th AR

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It appears that Rowena followed him there, ostensibly over a money issue.  The dispute evidently did not get resolved at this time, and the specific details of what followed remain vague. It is known, however, that shortly thereafter the identity of one Nicholas Brody, drummer boy to the 66th Virginia, was assumed by Miss Harris.

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Rowena (last on left) as “Nick Brody”, with some fellow members of Co. G, 66th VA

This new Nicholas Brody went on to take part in the battles of Bull Run, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Gaines’ Mill, Frayser’s Farm, Malvern Hill, 2nd Bull Run, and Shepardstown Ford.

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It is theorized that Rowena spent this interim plotting to murder Beau Ridge in a feigned incident of friendly fire should their regiments end up on the field together. Although this potentially could have been achieved in December of ‘62 during the Battle of Fredericksburg (where the 66th Virginia and the 49th Arkansas are known to have fought side by side), early in the action Rowena was badly wounded. The result was the loss an arm, the discovery that she was a girl, and her ejection from the Confederate military.

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Amputation at a field hospital

Despite these setbacks, Rowena returned to battle (again under the name Nick Brody) several months later, this time fighting on the side of the Union with Jonathan Hale’s 13th Rhode Island. Here she wielded undue influence by pretending to receive messages from God instructing the regiment as to its next moves. Her goal, it must be assumed, was again to find and murder Beau Ridge. It was by pure chance that her irresponsible maneuvering helped place the 13th Rhode Island at Pussy Willow Creek in July of 1863, where it achieved its remarkable victory.

Watch an excerpt from the documentary about the economics of the brothel where Rowena (aka Candie, aka “Poison”) worked.

 

SIDEBAR: Who Was the Real Nicholas Brody?

It is well known that in 1861 the person born as Rowena Harris assumed the identity of a drummer boy named Nick Brody in order to fight – first for the Confederacy and then for the Union – in the Civil War. But who did she replace? Who was the real Nick Brody?

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The boy believed to be the real Nicholas Brody, date unknown

Nicholas Lawrence Brody was born in 1848 in Pleasant Meadow, Smith County, Virginia. An artistic and by all accounts sweet boy, at age eleven he was fostered to the Travis family of Bedford in order to learn the glassblowing trade. His apprenticeship would be interrupted just two years in by the outbreak of the Civil War.transparentspacerAlthough he was only 13 years old and had no interest in politics, when an edict was issued requiring the citizenry to furnish men to fill the ranks of Virginia’s fighting forces, the Travises volunteered Nicholas. From what we know of Nicholas’ mild temperament, very notion of going to war would have no doubt been an anathema. It is unlikely, however, that he simply ran away. He had always demonstrated obedience to authority and there are eyewitness accounts of his arrival at the Lynchburg troop encampment. However as we now know, the person who reported to his regiment, the 66th Virginia Infantry, was Rowena Harris, disguised as Nicholas and wearing his drummer boy uniform.

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The “Nick Brody” who reported to the 66th Virginia in 1861

What became of the actual Nick has never been definitively explained. Witnesses reportedly saw him walking along the James River – a locale at which Rowena Harris was also spotted. Whether the two met there and came to some arrangement, or whether, as some have claimed, Rowena stole Nick’s uniform and drowned him, remains open for debate.

The body of a boy roughly Nicholas’ age was reportedly fished out of the James several weeks later, but according to a newspaper report it was too decomposed to be conclusively identified with the methods then available. Additionally, drowning deaths of random youngsters was unfortunately far from uncommon during the time period, so it would be irresponsible to state definitively who that particular boy might or might not have been.

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