Women in the Civil War:
How they Shaped America’s Most Important War
Caroline Janney / University of Virginia
In the decades after the American Civil War, white southerners repeatedly lauded their loyal and sacrificing women for standing by the Confederate cause–even in defeat. Accounts of their devotion filled Memorial Day addresses and newspaper columns. By the 1930s, this romanticized version of Confederate women had infiltrated popular culture in the North and South, most prominently in Gone with the Wind. But postwar mythologizing aside, how important were women – Black and white, Unionist and Confederate, freed and enslaved, immigrant or native born – to their respective war efforts?
The Civil War required the mass mobilization of not only nearly three million soldiers, but also the home fronts of both sides. This lecture explores the stories of women on the home front–examining those who supported their respective war efforts, and those who did not always do so. It recounts the efforts of white northern women who organized on behalf of the United States Sanitary Commission, as well as the nurses in both the Union and Confederate hospitals. But it also explores the contributions of women that have proven to be less visible: immigrants who cooked and cleaned for northern households, those who labored to manufacture uniforms and munitions, African American women who organized aid societies for Black soldiers, non-slaveholding white women in the South who struggled to feed their families, and the enslaved women who made their way to Union lines in a quest for freedom.
The Women’s Fight: The Civil War’s Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation, by Thavolia Glymph
Gender and the Sectional Conflict, by Nina Silber
Women and the American Civil War: North-South Counterpoints, by Judith Giesberg and Randall M. Miller
1. How would you characterize the role of women in relief efforts during the war?
2. What challenges did women face in their efforts to support their respective war efforts?
3. What do we learn when examining women’s role during the war across sections, loyalty, race, and status? What experiences did they share? How did their experiences differ?
University of Virginia
Caroline E. Janney is the John L. Nau III Professor of the American Civil War and Director of the John L. Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia. She has appeared on numerous television programs, including the History Channel’s Grant and Lincoln. Professor Janney serves as a co-editor of the University of North Carolina Press’s Civil War America Series and is the past president of the Society of Civil War Historians. She has published seven books, including: Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation, and Ends of War: The Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattox, which won the 2022 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.
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