Protection on the Border
Gender and the Civil War in Saline County
Rebekah Weber Bowen
The onset of the American Civil War and the heated political debates over slavery and states' rights that preceded it can easily give way to an overly simplistic regional division between the “North” and the “South.” Within this traditional regional interpretation, Northern men joined the Federal army to fight to preserve the Union, Southern men joined the Confederate army to protect the institution of slavery, and women on both sides remained in the background of the home front. These strict divisions, however, become complicated in areas such as Missouri. Before, during, and after the Civil War, Missouri walked a political tightrope, for as a border state it was a place where political divisions often became personal divisions and where traditional gender roles temporarily became one of the casualties of war.
The gender roles and power ascribed to men and women blurred amidst the hostilities and terrors of war. Nowhere was this more evident than in the issue of protection, the deeply entrenched social norms that men should be protectors of home and family, while women, by the nature of their sex, should be dependent upon male protection. Challenges to societal gender rules are clearly visible in the state of Missouri because of its special position as a slaveholding state on the border. As violence increased among the different political and military factions in the state, the protection of life and property grew in importance, as did the issue of who held the power of