LIFE GOES ON AT HOME
As well as they could, those at home strove to keep the family's affairs operating as usual. This proved an almost impossible task for the thousands of rural yeoman families. Most of these humble people lived in badly furnished houses, owned only a small amount of arable land, were lucky to have even one slave, and desperately needed their men at home. Few men of the small farmer class were exempt from military service, children and older men were of limited use, and even husbands who deserted could only occasionally come out of hiding and help with the chores. The woman now ran the home. The majority of their families probably had enough food and clothing for basic survival, but the cost of everything made life grim. These people could ill afford coffee, cane sugar, fresh meat, new clothing, and dozens of other simple needs. Tools and implements wore out and could not be replaced, livestock dwindled for a variety of reasons, speculators preyed on them, and the war in general seemed most inglorious.
The letters of these proud, capable, and often badly educated women to their husbands in service lacked the subtleties of polite exchange and simply related what was happening at home. They expressed fear of hunger and cold, worries of sickness, thoughts on the weather and crops, comments on neighbors and relatives, tragedies in the community, and ordinary occurrences that meant so much to their men in distant places. The best collection of such letters now in print is "The Correspondence of David Olando McRaven and Amanda Nantz McRaven, 1864-1865" in Volume XXVI of the North Carolina Historical Review. The following letters (Documents A, B, and C) are from wives of slightly more humble circumstances than Amanda McRaven. They can only suggest the loneliness and hardships of these patient women.
The war created different problems for the wealthier families. When their men entered service they could do so as officers, and if they wished they could generally secure an exemption. Scarcity to such people meant the absence of luxuries, their financial problem was not lack of money but how best to invest it, their labor problem was not the absence of slaves but how best to use them. New demands of course accrued to the