Civil War Women

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by Drew Gilpin Faust , University of North Carolina Press, 326 pages, $29.95. CODE: UNC-7

“I HAINT GOT THE MONEY TO TAKE US of[f] so we will hafter stand the test,” wrote a Georgia woman in a letter to her husband in the Confederate Army, explaining her fear of the encroaching Yankees. Drew Gilpin Faust uses journals, letters, essays, poetry, and fiction left behind by the women of the Civil War South to create a collage of female perspectives on the war’s impact on the domestic front. She finds that women tended to become disillusioned with their traditional roles once they found themselves forced to take on responsibilities that Southern convention had previously denied them and began fending for themselves as slaveholders, providers, and mothers. One woman wrote to a friend that “anxiety, responsibility, and independence of thought or action are what are peculiarly abhorrent to my nature, and what has been so often required of me.”

Faust’s masterly portrayal of these women makes vivid the difficulties they faced, which left one describing herself as “nothing but a poor contemptible piece of multiplying human flesh tied to the house by a crying young one, looked upon as belonging to a race of inferior beings.” The growing sense that “men went off to worship at the altar of ambition while women were relegated to the altars of sacrifice,” Faust claims, culminated in a feeling of betrayal and a goad to greater independence. Ultimately, these Southern women’s experiences became one of the causes of the rising women’s movement of the late nineteenth century.