Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age During the Civil War
by Victoria E. Ott, Southern Illinois University Press
Victoria Ott examines the lives of teenage daughters of Southern slaveholding secessionist families from the late 1850s to the early 1870s, following 85 young women who left written records of their experiences during this transformational period. She explains the antebellum traditions of wealthy Southern girls, noting that “Young women looked upon the past with a romantic gaze, hoping to return to the idyllic Old South of former generations.”
Those girlish prospects were shattered by the reality of war. When men left for war and older women became civil servants or hospital nurses, young girls were thrust into the unaccustomed role of plantation mistress. As money and resources dwindled in the Confederacy, daughters of formerly wealthy families were forced to enter the workforce or sometimes leave home altogether. Perhaps most important for posterity, however, was the roles these women played after the war in creating and sustaining the South’s powerful Lost Cause mythology.
Ott illuminates a difficult dilemma for teenage Southern girls. Their desire to preserve traditions, coupled with the need to cope in wartime, was a seemingly insurmountable challenge. She shows how changes engendered by the conflict permanently altered their lives. Their antebellum expectations would never again be reclaimed.
Confederate Daughters is neither feminist polemic nor Southern political revisionism. Ott has created a solidly researched, well-documented and objective study of an underexplored topic.
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.