Without protection, privilege was a thing of the past. Thus language as the agent of social convention (i.e., the customs and behavioral patterns that empowered privilege) lost its combative force. And one wonders if, for at least a portion of these women, the end of the war was prefigured in their verbal acquiescence. When Confederate military officials despaired of making any strategic headway in the last year of the war, it had been the women who spurred them on. With language as ammunition, women might wage war indefinitely. But their emotional exhaustion, their utter dejection in the wake of Sherman's army silenced them. If language no longer carried the power to console them, then the invaders had robbed them not only of worldly goods but of their will to defend themselves.
In thus acknowledging their defenselessness, women in the path of Sherman's great march to the sea recognized the failure of social convention, as they knew it, to provide form and structure in daily life. On the Monday after Federal forces pulled out of Columbia, one diarist wrote, "A dead and solemn silence seemed to have fallen upon the town. No sound of wheels or horse-hoofs. There was nothing left to disturb the mournful silence."45 Without the social structure that assured them protection and without the forms in language that had sustained them early on in their struggles with the enemy, Southern women for the first time during the war acknowledged defeat in silence.