Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the American Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the American Civil War

Article excerpt

Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the American Civil War. By Catherine Clinton. Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. Pp. xx, 144. $27.50, ISBN 978-0-8071-6457-0.)

When Catherine Clinton received an invitation to deliver the seventy-third annual Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History at Louisiana State University, she was in the midst of several projects. Faced with the prospect of choosing just one to share, she ultimately decided that since "there was just the slightest hint that I might want to offer lectures on the topic of women ... how could I resist revisiting the topic of southern women and the Civil War?" (p. xiii). This book is not simply the product of those lectures; it is also the result of a lifetime of research and thought on the topic and reveals a wartime female experience that was anything but monolithic.

"I believe in taking every opportunity to afford women a platform, a place at the table--even if we don't like the menu," writes Clinton in her preface, warning that the book to come is not simply a reflection on the state of the field (p. xvii). The first chapter focuses on elite white women, the "band of sisters" who sacrificed for the Confederate war effort, wrote their way through the war, and often embraced blind patriotism (p. xv). Clinton traces the wartime experiences and writings of familiar nineteenth-century names including Mary Boykin Chesnut, Winnie Davis, Louisa McCord, Sarah Morgan, Sallie Pickett, Kate Stone, and Augusta Jane Evans Wilson. Clinton maintains that "the blood of the lash could not be whitewashed away by even the most eloquent of memoirists, and yet the band of sisters would die trying" (p. 39).

In her next chapter Clinton turns to "impermissible patriots," white women defined by "their defiance rather than their accomplishments" (p. 41). These women tested gender norms and challenged societal expectations even as they expressed deep loyalty to the Confederacy. A driving force in this chapter is Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a woman who published a memoir claiming she fought as a Confederate officer, and historians' mixed treatment of her tale. This chapter is particularly thought provoking as Clinton manages to tie topics like the need for research on nineteenth-century dress reform to recent gendered language about Hillary Clinton and pantsuits. …

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