"A Victorious Struggle:" Confederate Women Writers Commemorate the Civil War, 1860-1945
Ballard, Crystal N.
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The American Civil War was the most life-altering event in history. The entire country was thrust into the chaos and mayhem of this tragic conflict, but no one felt the turmoil of war more than those whose families, homes, and communities were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of men joined the Confederate States Army (CSA) in defense of their traditions, liberties, and economic system. Women, too, joined in the fight to preserve southern heritage, with many female writers taking great care to celebrate their sacrifices and devotion to the Confederate cause. Following the war, southern women entered yet another time of great anxiety and unrest as Reconstruction tossed the defeated region into a state of confusion. As northern interest in southern society waned and abruptly ended in 1877, white southerners, who sought to reclaim their homeland, publicly acted to recover what was lost in the war and engaged in memorialization and commemorative practices. Some women joined the ranks of ladies’ organizations, such as the Ladies’ Memorial Associations of the South and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. These women raised monuments to mark the battlefields that peppered the southern landscape and funds to recover the bodies of the Confederacy’s sons and bury them with dignity in proper military cemeteries. This study, however, showcases the female writers of the war. Their recordings, recollections, and reminisces allowed them to consciously enter the public reclamation movement of the postwar years. This essay chronologically follows two distinct shifts that occurred in Civil War memory. The first chapter emphasizes the work of other historians on the topic and provides context for the reader. It explains why these wartime women recorded their experiences and examines the events and trends that they felt compelled to include in their writings. The second chapter explores the documents of authors written between 1860-1865 which remain unpublished. Unlike the women of the next chapter, they did not publicize their writings and, thus, were unfiltered or unaltered by any third parties. The third chapter uncovers the first shift in memory, where the witnesses of war began to give their testimonials to the reading masses from 1865-1895. This is indicative of a much larger social and cultural transition as white southerners turned their gaze toward the reclamation of their homeland. The final chapter outlines a second major transfer of Civil War memory from 1895-1945. A generational exchange of memory occurred, as children born after 1865 were sculpted by their parents’ and grandparents’ wartime experiences. This was an affirmation of southern survival, and the transference of their cultural identity in the new era continued their dedication to the preservation of white southern beliefs, traditions, heritage, and history.