Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives

Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives

Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives

Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives

Synopsis

From Robert E. and Mary Lee to Ulysses S. and Julia Grant, Intimate Strategies of the Civil War examines the marriages of twelve prominent military commanders, highlighting the impact wives had on their famous husbands' careers. Carol K. Bleser and Lesley J. Gordon assemble an impressive array of leading scholars to explore the marriages of six Confederate and six Union commanders. Contributors reveal that, for many of these men, the matrimonial bond was the most important relationship in their lives, one that shaped (and was shaped by) their military experience. In some cases, the commanders' spouses proved relentless and skillful promoters of their husbands' careers. Jessie Fremont drew on all of her connections as the daughter of former Senator Thomas Hart Benton to aid her modestly talented husband John. Others bolstered their military spouses in less direct ways. For example, Ulysses S. Grant's relationship with Julia (a Southerner and former slave owner herself) kept him anchored in stormy times. Here, too, are tense and tempestuous pairings, such William Tecumseh Sherman and his wife Ellen--his foster sister before becoming his wife--and Jefferson Davis's fascinatingly complex bond with Varina, further complicated by the hostile rumors about the two in Richmond society. Throughout, these historians paint remarkably intimate portraits of their subjects, ranging from hints of sexual passion, to the wives' fierce protectiveness of their husbands' reputations, to the surprisingly frequent visits of spouses to the front lines and battlefields. Readers will see these famed men in a way that they perhaps never considered: not merely as famous leaders, but as lovers, husbands and fathers. Illuminating a frequently neglected but extremely significant side of military history, Intimate Strategies is a must-read for anyone seeking fresh perspective on some of the war's best known commanders and a landmark contribution to Civil War history.

Excerpt

In nineteenth-century America, the community defined and enforced gender and family conventions. All men agreed that marriage should subordinate women to male authority. When roles were reversed and a husband found himself under a “strong-minded” wife, a couple's personal life often became a community issue, a topic of intense scrutiny. Elizabeth Campbell Brown and Confederate General Richard S. Ewell's unique relationship endured such a trial. the fundamental assumptions of patriarchy did not define their wartime marriage, largely because she had succeeded outside her appointed “sphere” as a single woman, ranking as one of Tennessee's wealthiest planters. Her fierce independence, tacitly accepted by her husband, brought them under the public microscope almost as soon as they were married in 1863. Lee's soldiers deeply resented her attempts to manage Ewell's military affairs, and many officers unfairly blamed her for Ewell's poor generalship and repeated battlefield failures. Some even charged that officers who married during the war suddenly lost their courage in battle and their efficiency in camp. the perception that Richard was henpecked made him a popular topic of army gossip. the idle chatter tended to alienate the couple from acceptable social circles. It is also possible that it upset the chemistry of their relationship. During the first two years of marriage, Ewell deferred to his wife and often followed her advice. in the postwar years, however, he rarely followed her lead. Over the bitter protests of his wife, he took frequent business trips, leaving her alone and isolated on their Tennessee farm. By restricting her to the role of the plantation mistress, Richard had reduced her public voice while demonstrating to the community that he was com-

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