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?