Let’s Hear It for the Girls

Anyone following trends in Civil War publishing has probably noticed the increase in gender studies. The 1996 publication of Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War by Drew G. Faust underscored the connection between southern slaveholding women and Confederate defeat. Though the book received a great deal of attention in academic crowds it made little impact in more popular circles. That is unfortunate as the book is well argued (though I take issue with certain conclusions) and fairly easy to follow. Most importantly, Faust emphasizes the close connection between the battlefield and the home front. I hate to water her argument down, but in essence Faust argues that slaveholding women were unable or refused to maintain support for the Confederate military effort by the middle of the war, and as a result pressed the men in their lives to return home.

As in other categories of Civil War studies books on women – depending on the authors – tend to fall into one or two camps: analytical or popular. Let me mention two such books that I recently reviewed for Civil War Book Review. The first is Elizabeth Varon’s, Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew. The second is the more recently released, Wild Rose: Rose O’Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy by Ann Blackman. Check out my reviews for a detailed analysis. The former book is a bit more analytical. Varon analyzes Van Lew’s success as a Union spy in terms of her ability to manipulate the gender assumptions of the time. Blackman’s book is much more narrative driven. Some readers (including this one) will no doubt take issue with certain conclusions re: her importance to the Confederacy; still, the book remains an entertaining read.

I am thinking about offering an elective next year on women and the Civil War. My Advanced Placement classes in American history are dominated by female students. However, many of them steer clear of history electives their senior year. Perhaps this will keep a few more in the fold.

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