Did Southern Belles Marry the Enemy?: It was an “Awful Possibility”

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idea_size-toulmouche_bride.jpg

The Reluctant Bride (1866) by Auguste Toulmouche.
In 1864, the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger received a letter from H. R., who identified herself as an eighteen-year-old, unmarried woman from Buckingham County, Virginia. Hattie, as the editor called the anonymous letter writer, admitted suffering from a “chill feeling of despair” brought on by the “execrable war.” Hattie wrote:

…the reflection has been brought to my mind with great force that after this war is closed, how vast a difference there will be in the numbers of males and females. Having made up my mind not to be an old maid, and having only a moderate fortune and less beauty. I fear I shall find it rather difficult to accomplish my wishes.”

Poor Hattie asked the editor, “[D]o you think that I will be overlooked ‘amidst this wreck of matter and crush of men and horses’[?]"

Hattie’s worry was not unique among the belles in the South. Social historians of the Civil War have generally agreed that fears like Hattie’s were well grounded in demographic realities. Approximately 620,000 men were killed during the Civil War with the death rate especially great in the Confederate states. The South lost approximately one in five white men of military age in the conflict. Gary Gallagher estimated that the South mobilized between 75 and 85 percent of its white male population of military age by the end of the Civil War.

Faced with a shortage of potential spouses after the war, some Southern women postponed marriage or chose less appropriate husbands. Their diaries and letters well document women’s fears of spinsterhood. Southern women in areas occupied by the Union army risked social ostracism by courting and marrying Union soldiers. Historians of the occupied South have written, “Letters and diaries of Union men in every occupied community reveal considerable social intercourse between Federals and ‘secesh’ girls which in a good many instances led to romances and marriages.”

This thread was inspired by @lurid. Hope you and others enjoy it!


Sources:
Wiley Bell Irvin, Milhollen Hirst D. Embattled Confederates: An Illustrated History of Southerners at War. New York: 1964. pp. 177–78.

Southern Literary Messenger, February, 1864 courtesy of NCBI.

The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns by J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, and James Holland Jones.
 
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christian soldier

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Ellie. Thanks for the interesting information on young Southern belles and their awful marriage predicament. However, I was always under the impression that you Southern Belles were already spoken for because of prearranged marriages between certain families. Much like the royal families of Europe during this time, prearranged marriages allowed the families to keep their bloodlines pure and clean. Queen Victoria certainly would not allow one of her children to marry someone who was concerned "dead common" or apart of the poorer classes of society. David.
 
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View attachment 259615
The Reluctant Bride (1866) by Auguste Toulmouche.
In 1864, the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger received a letter from H. R., who identified herself as an eighteen-year-old, unmarried woman from Buckingham County, Virginia. Hattie, as the editor called the anonymous letter writer, admitted suffering from a “chill feeling of despair” brought on by the “execrable war.” Hattie wrote:

…the reflection has been brought to my mind with great force that after this war is closed, how vast a difference there will be in the numbers of males and females. Having made up my mind not to be an old maid, and having only a moderate fortune and less beauty. I fear I shall find it rather difficult to accomplish my wishes.”

Poor Hattie asked the editor, “[D]o you think that I will be overlooked ‘amidst this wreck of matter and crush of men and horses’[?]"

Hattie’s worry was not unique among the belles in the South. Social historians of the Civil War have generally agreed that fears like Hattie’s were well grounded in demographic realities. Approximately 620,000 men were killed during the Civil War with the death rate especially great in the Confederate states. The South lost approximately one in five white men of military age in the conflict. Gary Gallagher estimated that the South mobilized between 75 and 85 percent of its white male population of military age by the end of the Civil War.

Faced with a shortage of potential spouses after the war, some Southern women postponed marriage or chose less appropriate husbands. Their diaries and letters well document women’s fears of spinsterhood. Southern women in areas occupied by the Union army risked social ostracism by courting and marrying Union soldiers. Historians of the occupied South have written, “Letters and diaries of Union men in every occupied community reveal considerable social intercourse between Federals and ‘secesh’ girls which in a good many instances led to romances and marriages.”

This thread was inspired by @lurid. Hope you and others enjoy it!


Sources:
Wiley Bell Irvin, Milhollen Hirst D. Embattled Confederates: An Illustrated History of Southerners at War. New York: 1964. pp. 177–78.

Southern Literary Messenger, February, 1864 courtesy of NCBI.

The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns by J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, and James Holland Jones.
Arguably the most famous marriage of a Southern Belle to a Yankee soldier was that of Arthur McArthur that resulted in the birth of Lieutenant General Douglas McArthur who became a five star general in WW2 and the Korean-War.
Leftyhunter
 
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#5
I was always under the impression that you Southern Belles were already spoken for because of prearranged marriages between certain families.
The Civil War really challenged the long-held traditions of Southern courtship and marriage. The traditions of antebellum courtships, where family connections and wealth were paramount and potential mates were closely scrutinized, were gone.

According to Catherine Clinton, author of “Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South,” casual relationships, and even casual engagements — “slight, silly love affairs,” as one woman called them — flourished. Women and men often kept their engagements secret and specified that each was still free to see others. This was surprising to me.
 

christian soldier

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The Civil War really challenged the long-held traditions of Southern courtship and marriage. The traditions of antebellum courtships, where family connections and wealth were paramount and potential mates were closely scrutinized, were gone.

According to Catherine Clinton, author of “Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South,” casual relationships, and even casual engagements — “slight, silly love affairs,” as one woman called them — flourished. Women and men often kept their engagements secret and specified that each was still free to see others. This was surprising to me.
Ellie. Thanks for the interesting information. David.
 
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#9
The shortage of men in the South after the war did cause many women to choose suitors and household arrangements that would have otherwise been unthinkable or even forbidden in some cases before the Civil War. In my signature line, Thomas Lamm married the daughter of Martin Thorne who had died during the war, leaving his daughters orphaned. He then started another household with her
sister building two separate houses and raising two different households with children. The sister I am related to got tired of this arrangement and ran off to Georgia and Thomas Lamm tracked her down in Georgia and being the cruel man he was made her walk back to North Carolina while he rode in his buggy! I'm sure things like this would have never happened if not for the lack of suitable men for so many Southern Belles to marry after the war.

Thomas Lamm became one of the richest men in Wilson County, North Carolina successfully running several businesses despite his living outside societal norms and the law in some cases. He was indited for murder after stomping a man to death after he had been shot with a pistol in a argument with one of his tenants but he was cleared of all charges. He left nineteen children property in his will when he died in 1915 and over $ 30,000 in cash and bonds was found in a safe in one of his houses. His total net worth was probably close to a million dollars.

Another of my ancestors, David Honeycutt, probably wouldn't have married the bride he took after the war in 1865 if her husband and one of his best friends hadn't been killed, leaving her a widow.
 
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What a story @nc native! I'd like to know more about Thomas Lamm. Thanks for sharing this.
I'm still learning about him myself. Most of what I've learned about my great, great grandfather came from genealogical research and old newspaper articles at Newspapers.com. He owned a buggy company, rented farm land to sharecroppers, was a postmaster for a couple of years, bought a cotton gin and ran a general store too. I understand that he hated having his picture taken so I probably won't find any old photographs. Physically he looked like Kris Kringle and he was considered eccentric by his neighbors and the community. Before the Civil War, he worked in the turpentine industry which was very hard labor and didn't have hardly a cent to his name. He did have a grammar school education which was almost like having a college degree compared to the general population of the area where he lived.
His Civil War service began in early 1862 and he served with the 43rd NC Infantry until he was captured during the Mine Run campaign
in November 1863. He was sent to Fort Delaware and he was later paroled in March 1865.
 

gary

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I could raise some modern issues related to this, but I won't.

There is no shortage of accounts of southern belles betrothed to Yankees. The opportunities for women were not plentiful back then and because the dishwasher, microwave, washing machine weren't invented yet, it was better to be married than single back then.
 

ucvrelics

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The South lost approximately one in five white men of military age in the conflict
This also the reason that you see many CW Vets married to younger women. The CW took it toll on the 18 - 35 year old population. Their were wives of soldiers of both sides that got a pension well into the 1950's. Do the math on that one.
 
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#17
Well of course this situation has been repeated through history, to a greater or lesser degree.

One of the worst was England - all of Europe really - after World War I. The insane, almost wanton slaughter of millions of young men blew a huge hole in the pool of eligible men in their 20's. Spinsterhood was extremely common, and a lot of women married either much older men or men who they never would have considered otherwise in order to avoid being alone.

Sad indeed.
 

gary

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#18
That painting reminds me of The Russian Bride's Attire. A young Russian woman is being prepared for her wedding. Notice the "old" dude being barred at the door to the right. That's not the happy father beaming at his daughter. It's the groom. Now you can understand the bride's unhappy demeanor.
0420201517410001.jpg
 

Northern Light

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In the book, Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell has some of her female characters marrying men that they would never have considered marrying before the war, such as Maybelle Merriweather, who marries a French Zouave soldier who does not fit the mould of the "Beau Ideal". Scarlett's youngest sister loses the man she loves in the war and retreats to a convent. Her other sister marries a "Cracker" who lost a leg in the war. Ashley's sister, India, becomes a bitter spinster, as there are no prospects of a husband in her future. Mitchell's genius in the book is in giving a history lesson without you knowing it. There is so much in it of the years of the war and reconstruction that is left out of the movie. It is well worth the read.
 
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#20
Theres a song that is supposed to be of the era called "Southern Girl's Reply". It's about a Southern Girl who rejects her northern suitor.
Tim Eriksen sings a great version of this song, even though it was written for a female singer. I found it on You Tube.

 



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