Gender and the Sectional Conflict
by Nina Silber, University of North Carolina Press
During the war, women were entrusted to keep their homes and families together, shoulder economic burdens and provide support as nurses, hospital volunteers, etc. Although men did the fighting, propaganda gave considerable play to women as defining figures on both sides. Many Unionists, writes Nina Silber, separated their commitment to home from their obligation to the nation. Rebels were more likely to blend the causes of home and country, reflecting the South’s more patriarchal orientation. The Southern philosophy made a stronger claim on Confederate sympathies—creating an enduring image of the Southern white woman as the struggle’s symbolic focal point. A North Carolina officer, for example, placed women at the center of his motivation for fighting, saying, “So long as we have such wives, mothers and sisters to fight for so long will this struggle continue until finally our freedom will be acknowledged.” A Union recruit expressed different priorities: “Duty prompts me to go. My country first, home and friends next.”
Silber, a Boston University history professor, had an ambitious aim: to explore how gender was integral to both Northerners’ and Southerners’ conceptions of why they fought, as well as what the war was about. In Gender and the Sectional Conflict, she traces valuable clues to the war’s cultural dimensions, both on the battlefield and the home front.
Originally published in the February 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.