Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War

Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War

Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War

Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War

Synopsis

Daughters of the Union casts a spotlight on some of the most overlooked and least understood participants in the American Civil War: the women of the North. Unlike their Confederate counterparts, who were often caught in the midst of the conflict, most Northern women remained far from the dangers of battle. Nonetheless, they enlisted in the Union cause on their home ground, and the experience transformed their lives. Nina Silber traces the emergence of a new sense of self and citizenship among the women left behind by Union soldiers. She offers a complex account, bolstered by women's own words from diaries and letters, of the changes in activity and attitude wrought by the war. Women became wageearners, participants in partisan politics, and active contributors to the war effort. But even as their political and civic identities expanded, they were expected to subordinate themselves to maledominated government and military bureaucracies. Silber's arresting tale fills an important gap in women's history. their patriotism as well as their ability to confront new economic and political challenges, even as they encountered the obstacles of wartime rule. The Civil War required many women to act with greater independence in running their households and in expressing their political views. It brought women more firmly into the civic sphere and ultimately gave them new public roles, which would prove crucial starting points for the late-nineteenth-century feminist struggle for social and political equality.

Excerpt

Modern myth suggests that the truly embattled female participants in the Civil War were Southern white women like Scarlett O'Hara—and the roots of that myth lie in the Civil War era itself. From the outset there were the reports of Confederate women's demonlike devotion to their cause: rumors that they used Union soldiers' bones for jewelry or celebrated battlefield successes by drinking wine from enemy skulls. As Northern soldiers moved south, they reported that the women they encountered were as vociferous as the men, if not more so, that they defied officers' orders and insulted federal troops, and that they were a critical source of encouragement to their own fighting men and willingly sacrificed male relatives, domestic comforts, even their homes. Real, flesh-and-blood Confederate women, however, revealed considerable ambivalence about the conflict, especially as the death toll mounted and no quick resolution seemed possible. Nonetheless, in the North, the image of rebel women as intense patriots was widely accepted as truth.

By the Civil War's midpoint, some Northerners judged Southern women's patriotism worthy of emulation. Having endured poverty, starvation, and innumerable deprivations, Confederate women, they believed, remained unswerving in their devotion to Confederate success and had made themselves crucial to the Souths continuing show of force. Northern women, they argued . . .

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