Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives
Ramold, Steven, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives. Edited by CAROL K. BLESER and LESLEY J. GORDON. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. xxiv, 292 pp. $30.00.
USING a variety of contributed essays, editors Carol Bleser and Lesley Gordon present a varied view of womanhood and family in a setting beyond the norm: the Civil War. The essays are both informative and brilliantly written, providing the reader with an intimate look at the family life of prominent American heroes. The introduction promises more than the essays can deliver, resulting in a book that succeeds best if the reader skips over the introduction. The introduction casts the couples portrayed in the book as exemplars of the Victorian stereotype of dominant men and docile women. Recent research in family history (for example, Stephanie Coontz's The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap) clearly demonstrates that these concepts existed only among the upper class of America. If the editors truly want to bridge the artificial separation between military and women's history, then the book should include essays on the marriage/family relations of common soldiers, not just generals.
The editors have chosen marriage relations that fit within their premise, selecting couples with both unusual characteristics and enough surviving documentation to substantiate their thesis. This is best demonstrated in the inclusion of several less well known military couples (S. Phillips and Elizabeth Lee, Josiah and Amelia Gorgas), while omitting more wellknown couples. Most glaring is the omission of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, especially when Jefferson and Varina Davis are included. The Lincolns are most certainly the most documented couple of the Civil War, and their absence immediately lessens the credibility of the book. The inclusion of the Davises unbalances the book by including a Confederate non-military couple without a Union counterpart. The editors should have included the Lincolns or excluded the Davises. …