During the volatile decade preceding the Civil War, Louisa Cheves McCord was fully engaged as a political and social essayist, respected scholar and intellectual, poet and dramatist, plantation mistress, slaveholder, and mother of three. By the time the first shot was fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, she had abandoned her intellectual life to dedicate herself to supporting the Confederacy.
Born to wealth and privilege in Charleston, South Carolina, Louisa Susanna Cheves was the daughter of a plantation owner and politician who served as a president of the Bank of the United States from 1819 to 1829. Her father recognized her quicksilver intellect at a young age and permitted her to receive instruction in mathematics and the classical languages in addition to the standard “female curriculum. ” In 1840, she married David James McCord, a former state legislator, attorney, and president of the Bank of the State of South Carolina.
Cheves McCord was an anomaly among Southern women. Although she staunchly defended her society’s most cherished notions of Southern womenhood, she was anything but the typical Southern lady. In Southern antebellum society, politics was a realm reserved strictly for men, and the ideal woman was expected to remain removed from it. Despite the cultural stereotype, Southern women of the upper classes were interested and involved in political issues, particularly as the sectional conflict intensified during the mid- to late 1850s. Women discussed politics with their family and neighbors, expressed their political views in