Did the North Underestimate the Southern Woman’s Rancor?

Eleanor Rose

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Mort Künstler’s “Duty, Honor and Tears"
Southern women reacted quite differently to the outcome of the Civil War than their male counterparts. A woman in Richmond wrote in her diary after the “hated Yankees” raised the American flag over the former Confederate capitol, “I once loved that flag, but now I hate the very sight of it!” While most Southern men recognized the need to concede to the war’s outcome, ample ill will toward the North continued to exist among the women who had remained at home, especially in the areas invaded by Sherman and others. Perhaps the women were truly horrified to be back under federal control and ruled by their former enemies. Perhaps they were reacting out of their immense grief and personal loss. Perhaps they were just stubborn. Why do you think Southern women reacted differently than the men?

@NH Civil War Gal posted in a different thread, “Sherman even said, "who will reconstruct the women?" I think he found the men more than ready (for the most part) to rebuild and carry on. But the women stayed bitter for generations. And I truly wonder what was the difference between the men of the south and the women of the south over this matter.” I wonder too so I hope others will share their thoughts.
 
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John Hartwell

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One reason, I think, is because they knew they could get away with it. If a southern man was outwardly hostile, there very possibly might have been repercussions. But, occupation authorities were more willing to turn a blind eye to a woman's expression of anger. Likely that fact itself served to increase the women's sense of frustration and bitterness -- that their rage was apparently not being taken seriously.
 

Patrick H

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Why do you think Southern women reacted differently than the men?
I'm not sure they all reacted differently, but women and men often do react differently to situations. I, for one, am glad of that.

If I couldn't trust in (and listen to) my wife's different reactions to some situations, I'd be in a sorry mess by now!

As for rancor...well.....I ain't goin' there!
 

Dedej

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I think they did. I think the universal view of being a woman and femininity is not really one of supporting many of the things that made of the Antebellum South.

So, I would think the North - those that fought in the Union Army possibly felt they were helping (or saving) those Southern white women who families, husbands, etc participated in enslavement and culture of the South at the time. But, they were wrong -- it was what many of them knew and didn't want any changes in their lifestyle. As their lifestyle and culture was built around it.

They were also very upset that their loved ones went off to fight and had to 'defend' their plantations, farms - enslavers or not. The deaths of those they loved even caused even more pain and anger against the North - or anyone who was against their way of life and beliefs.

Many were forced outside of their normal gender roles - which lead many to having to have to work while their husbands were away.

A great article I read a while ago:

How Slavery Defined Antebellum Southern Women

ERIN R. MULLIGAN
Ramapo College of New Jersey

In the antebellum South, slavery was the thread that held the fabric of society together and defined the southern woman. The Old South, as it would later be referred to, was politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually built around the institution of slavery. Slavery was the foundation the strict southern hierarchy was based upon. Race and gender determined a person’s status with white slaveholding males at the top and black female slaves at the bottom. Slaveholders, large and small, were at the pinnacle of the Southern society and the possibility of future slave purchase kept non-slaveholding families tied to this paternalistic hierarchy. Slave ownership elevated the status of both genders, giving white women more power within the slaveholding system. This sense of superiority and power fueled white women’s acceptance for the institution of slavery, which they advocated for based on paternalism, and in effect maternalism.

Slavery defined women’s location in society and provided them with the belief that it could provide them with upward mobility. Southern women associated paternalism with feminine power in their homes and in their communities. Affluent white southern women, or southern mistresses, supported the institution of slavery because of the ideological agency slave ownership provided in the strict social hierarchy of the South. Along with non-slave owners, who shared their want for enhanced status, many southern women were staunch advocates of slavery. They used paternalism to justify it while still adhering to their prescribed gender roles and actively sought to personify the moral arguments in support of the institution that gave them power in the larger society and the domestic sphere.[1]

Continue Reading @ Source: https://www.armstrong.edu/history-journal/history-journal-paternalism-and-the-southern-hierarchy-how-slavery-defined
 

diane

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The era of building monuments and statues to the Confederates, along with idealized poetry and romanticized novels - all this boomed at the turn of the 20th century. The UDC were very prominent in these remembrances, that the deeds and lives of their fathers and grandfathers would not be forgotten, nor would they be sullied by lies. There was a near religious zeal in this. This generation of women was raised by the widows of the officers killed in the war and their grandfathers were veterans. I think that generation is the most interesting. They often moved in with their sons, who maybe fought in the war or were too young but not by much, and they shaped the thinking of their grandchildren. There were women like Flora Stuart and Anna Jackson who worked very hard to keep the memories of their famous husbands alive and there were others, like LaSalle Pickett, who worked very hard to keep their husbands' reputations unstained. Sir Walter Scott had captured the imaginations of their mothers and grandmothers, they seemed to transfer this to their dead heroes. Reputation and honor were still important - the defeated Confederates had fought gallantly for a good cause, no one will call them traitors. It's true there's a large element of mythology in this mix. I sometimes think of an episode of the Waltons along these lines - set in the 1930s when there were many elderly people who remembered the CW, this dealt with the Faulknerian Baldwin sisters who were descended from a well known Confederate general. A New York reporter looking for stories of rural histories uncovered something decidedly unflattering about their 'dear Papa' - and they were so distraught they shut up their plantation house and refused to be seen in public. The reporter was dumbfounded at their extreme - in his view - reaction to something so far in the past. John Boy replied, "Sir, this is not New York. This is Virginia." I've always thought the women were more concerned about issues of honor because it involved their whole family. Their husbands might fight a duel over his honor, but the women would fight the whole AoP over their families' honor! Dedej is right - without slavery these aristocratic women were just the farmer's wife. They lost far more than the men did.
 

Eleanor Rose

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So very true @diane and @Dedej! Literally within a year of Appomattox, Southern white women had successfully launched an effort to deify the defeated Confederacy. I have read that hundreds of Virginia’s leading daughters converted their wartime aid societies into memorial associations and started campaigns to raise funds for national Confederate cemeteries. This obviously served to perpetuate Southern solidarity and regional animosity. I think it is very likely they resented "anyone who was against their way of life and beliefs."

@John Hartwell, your point that these women may have felt "that their rage was apparently not being taken seriously" would definitely incite them to action. I think that is still true to this day for any group that feels their feelings are being discounted.

As for you @Patrick H, you are a very smart man! It's likely that any man who doesn't trust in (and listen to) his wife's different reactions to some situations may end up in a "sorry mess." Men and women do often react to situations differently and that's a positive and useful thing. I think @Southern Unionist would attest to this. Like @StephenColbert27 stated, I would be very interested to learn how Southern women differed by class, state and exposure to the war. I hope someone will research this and share their findings. Hint, hint @StephenColbert27! :smile:
 

diane

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I'm pretty sure the Southern women would have been more scary than their men in a battle! They were a whole lot angrier. But the Widows of the Confederacy were a phenomenon that is intriguing in their influence on subsequent generations. Women like Flora Stuart and Anna Jackson or Mary Ann Forrest wore black all their lives and never remarried. They didn't profit from their husbands' fame but just their solemn presence was sufficient to carry a very strong message - do not forget what my husband did or what he died for. Their children and grandchildren put up statues, built parks and memorials. The Widow of the Confederacy role was a very powerful one. One widow, though, didn't do it and scoffed at it into the bargain - that was Kitty Hill, A P Hill's widow. She remarried, didn't wear black and refused to be anybody's living memorial. She was John Hunt Morgan's sister and had lost two brothers, a husband and a child in the war - had no use for that lost war!
 

Eleanor Rose

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Thank you @NH Civil War Gal for posing this question! Come on @JPK Huson 1863 and @18thVirginia , please share your thoughts and insights. I would love to hear your perspective on this. @AshleyMel, @donna, @mofederal, @Gladys Hodge Sherrer and numerous others would also be able to make some great contributions. Come on folks! Let's really wrestle with this as only CWT can! I have to say I think pertinacity, an old-fashioned mix of courage, conviction, and a little stubbornness, probably played a role.

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Dilandu

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My IMHO, of course, but maybe the question is the access to actual information? I may be mistaken, but I assumed that Southern womens were generally sheltered from the realities of war until it came to them directly. So, it seems that for many of them the situation looks like the constant string of great Southern victories over "hated yankees"... and then, suddenly, the reality strike, and the Confederacy became defeated.

Again, I may be mistaken, but I saw some parallels here and the Germany "backstabbing" theory after World War I. Again, the average German population was sheltered from the frontline reality enough, to actually believe - up to 1918 - that the German Army are marched from victory to victory and while the war is taking a hard price, at very least it would be concluded in acceptable for Germany terms. And then the autumn of 1918 came, and suddenly the German army was on full retreat, the German allies fell apart, and the German Navy munitied rather than sortie for action. The disrepancy between the previous propaganda-created version of events and sudden reality was so great, that majority of Germans easily swallowed the theory that "Germany wasn't defeated, by betrayed by... (long list of "internal enemies" followed)".

So. Maybe the same effect was presented in 1865 also for Southern womens? Mens, even far from the frontlines probably have better access to actual data about the situation and knew far in advance that the war was actually lost. But womens were probably "protected from the ugly reality of war, too cruel and horrible for the women delicate mind", and may actually be much more surprized with the outcome.
 
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István.AT

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In my general experience, women are more likely to hold grudges for a long time than men.
They love with all their heart and they hate with all their heart.

My IMHO, of course, but maybe the question is the access to actual information? I may be mistaken, but I assumed that Southern womens were generally sheltered from the realities of war until it came to them directly. So, it seems that for many of them the situation looks like the constant string of great Southern victories over "hated yankees"... and then, suddenly, the reality strike, and the Confederacy became defeated.
This is an idea I like.
To add to it - it may be also question of exposure to the new administration. Men had to do business, legal practice, engage in ventures, etc. to make money and that involved dealing with US authorities. Healthy and profitable business relationship doesn't leave much space for cultivating grudges and hate. So many of them put the hard feelings aside and went on.
Women didn't have that necessity and for them all the Federal authorities were hated villains.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Thank you @NH Civil War Gal for posing this question! Come on @JPK Huson 1863 and @18thVirginia , please share your thoughts and insights. I would love to hear your perspective on this. @AshleyMel, @donna, @mofederal, @Gladys Hodge Sherrer and numerous others would also be able to make some great contributions. Come on folks! Let's really wrestle with this as only CWT can! I have to say I think pertinacity, an old-fashioned mix of courage, conviction, and a little stubbornness, probably played a role.

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Well, I just got here. No one wants to speak to me after 9 pm because it's largely gibberish, swear. And thanks very much for letting me pick on you!

I do have a strong feeling ' Southern Women ' will be both cohesive and wildly separate? Cohesive because observing as a Yank all y'all appear to have no problem whatsoever voicing er, bottom line opinions, men not withstanding- regardless of race, social standing or age.

And I don't know. @John Hartwell makes the point I alluded to in the other thread, where they just, plain could. Elite classes especially- so they possibly spoke for others ( with the exception of black women, which is a large, unfortunate split among we chicks based on very real, awful experiences. ). I'm not sure I'd disagree with 100% of their sentiments or anger, either. Please no one turn that into a race statement because it is not. It's an experience argument.

No vote, no say in matters beyond their control, left to keep things together-or lose it all while war romped over back yards, schools, homes and a way of life- burying so many dead no one was out of mourning for 5 years. If they had clothing to dye black. Men- speculators, drove food prices to rates we'd riot over today then were called unpatriotic for objecting. Or you lived in the woods because your house was rubble. Then the war was poof-over and you had no say in picking up the pieces, too. I don't know. Burying your sons and husbands and fathers and brothers, losing so much- whether or not sentiments voiced later were always appropriate, you understand where the anger came from.
 

Dilandu

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In my general experience, women are more likely to hold grudges for a long time than men.
They love with all their heart and they hate with all their heart.


This is an idea I like.
To add to it - it may be also question of exposure to the new administration. Men had to do business, legal practice, engage in ventures, etc. to make money and that involved dealing with US authorities. Healthy and profitable business relationship doesn't live much space for cultivating grudges and hate. So many of them put the hard feelings aside and went on.
Women didn't have that necessity and for them all the Federal authorities were hated villains.
Quite logical. The men half of former Confederacy population were forced to accept a new reality at least partially, simply to find a place for themselves in post-war United States. Combining with the abovementioned - that they probably have better perspective on the whole situation and actual defeat wasn't as much a surprize for them - this probably could explain the "gender differences".
 

GS

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Southern women were not only reduced to grieving widows, but many, and their children, were left homeless and starving, thanks to the Lieber Code enactment, Sherman's pledge that "a crow flying over the South will starve."

Anger is a natural result of deepest grief, and depression. Would a wife be angry at her dead husband? No, she would be angry at the ones who stole him from her, stole food out of her mouth.

Try forgetting this: seeing someone snatch food from your babies' mouths, your house reduced to cinders, churches desecrated, then welcome the perpetrators with open arms. Try forgiving the enemy to your very existence. Humanly impossible, but with God nothing is too hard. Ms. Catherine Fennell diary reports that, when the Union flag was raised over Guntersville, in North Alabama, a great crowd cheered.

My great-grandfather was a child during the War, and the only memory-remnants, passed down family to me, were cheery war songs, which my grandfather sang while dandling me on his knees before a wintry fireplace. I was near retirement age before I learned the dark side of our family's experience, the suffering.
 

RobertP

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At least in my family branches where I have direct knowledge both the women and surviving men got on with their lives. The only exception was BillyP, who had his arm crippled at Knoxville. It was said he was bitter to the end, totally unreconstructed. His wife, my g-grandmother had her two older brothers killed; one at Chancellorsville and the other at Tupelo. I never heard of bitterness though she certainly honored their service.

The other side of Dad's family was pretty much the same. He was raised by his veteran grandfather, moving in with them after his father died very young. The grandfather, who lost his brother at Nashville while serving beside him, went to med school after the war and did ok. It's said he harbored bitterness over the war to the point of being buried in his uniform and having his regiment and company carved on his tombstone, but it didn't translate to his three daughters, including my grandmother, all of whom I knew well. This is not to say they liked Yankees much but neither did anybody else even when I was growing up. Even today my antennae twitch when I get around too many :smile:, but then I'm an old guy.
 
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