Women and War


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Cavalry Charger

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I have noted on a couple of occasions here that women may be perceived as the 'instigators' for men to fight during the period of the Civil War. Actively encouraging men to fight, they created an expectation that men should do their duty or potentially suffer 'rejection' (for taking what would be considered at the time of the CW to be a less honorable course of action). Of course, we must discount men who were drafted into the army on either side in this instance.

Let me give an example:

' By the beginning of the American Civil War, Ezekiel had quit school and was engaged in the mercantile business when he decided to go to college. VMI, as a public college and then under a wartime regime, was one of the few institutions available to him at reasonable cost and considering his relatively poor academic preparation. His mother, Catherine de Castro Ezekiel, appreciated that the wartime situation might lead him to fight for the South. She admonished him, as she sent him off to VMI to learn the arts of war, that she wouldn't have a son who would not fight for his home and country.'

The man was Moses Jacob Ezekial, famous sculptor and one of the cadets who fought bravely at Newmarket.

According to the link below, his mother's attitude was considered courageous and benevolent in light of anti-Semitic sentiment which existed at the time.

Was she right or wrong to encourage her son to learn the art of war?
How often was a women's influence the reason for a man going to war?
How should women have responded to the threat of war?

http://www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/moses_ezekiel.html
 

Patrick H

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I can't judge whether women were right or wrong to encourage their menfolk to engage in war. I think it must have depended on the individual circumstances at play in each instance. Beyond this, I can't speculate on the influence of women during the Civil War. However, I can tell all of you that the women in my life have given me most of the best guidance I have received thus far. There you have it!
 

Cavalry Charger

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I can't judge whether women were right or wrong to encourage their menfolk to engage in war. I think it must have depended on the individual circumstances at play in each instance. Beyond this, I can't speculate on the influence of women during the Civil War. However, I can tell all of you that the women in my life have given me most of the best guidance I have received thus far. There you have it!
Thanks,, @Patrick H . I appreciate your input. And I do think individual circumstances will have had a lot to do with it. I've no doubt many women may have wanted to discourage their men from going to war, but felt it necessary to support them in the circumstances. Others may have struggled and suffered enough during the period of the war to want their menfolk home again, even if they had been supportive initially. The women who encouraged their menfolk to go may also have had second thoughts, but bore it for the sake of their beliefs at the time. There are a lot of different perspectives to put on it for sure. I'm also glad you have such supportive women in your life!
 

mofederal

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I expect more than one woman was sorry they goaded their men into war, especially if they were killed. War was no game and patriotism was the only motivating factor that many needed to join the conflict. Some joined the war as some sort of adventure. Early in the war I can see that a woman's influence probably happened on a larger scale than later when it was apparent that the war was becoming some sort of never ending abattoir and a ballet of death.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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I expect more than one woman was sorry they goaded their men into war, especially if the were killed.
I wonder if some of that was around the fact that both men and women thought the war would not last very long, and I wonder how much 'goading' the men needed? It's possible that women understood the expectation that their men would go to war also, and they were following expectations in encouraging them to do so. Did they influence men who did not want to go to war? I'm quite sure that happened. They both probably knew the shame that would come to bear if such expectations weren't fulfilled.

I'm teasing out ideas here, and I hope you don't mind. It's a topic I hadn't really considered before and thanks for adding your perspective . Especially this ~
later when it was apparent that the war was becoming some sort of never ending abattoir and a ballet of death.
 

mofederal

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I have seen patriotic broadsides or period drawings supposedly with women saying to effect that their man should fight for their honor or their beaus should take a part in the struggle. I have seen post Civil War novels to modern Civil War novels having female characters espousing similar ideas. I remember seeing drawings in the earlier novels showing such scenes. I tend to believe these ideas must have had a real basis is truth. I am sure the guilt felt by someone pushing a loved one to war either willingly and unwillingly would have been great. The war was not what anyone of them expected. The concept of war, except for the Mexican War was a new experience to many. I know and can understand the shock of a battle like Shiloh was to them. Manassas, first big battle may have been a shock, but Wilson's Creek was a prelude to Shiloh and showed how savage the war to come was going to be. The women of the North and South could not have known this, but patriotism is a strong calling not easily resisted. It had a strong effect on both women and especially men. It was a call not heard in generations.
 

Cavalry Charger

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I have seen patriotic broadsides or period drawings supposedly with women saying to effect that their man should fight for their honor or their beaus should take a part in the struggle. I have seen post Civil War novels to modern Civil War novels having female characters espousing similar ideas. I remember seeing drawings in the earlier novels showing such scenes. I tend to believe these ideas must have had a real basis is truth.
I am glad you shared that @mofederal . It is quite possible this was a way to get men to enlist, although I would also question who was producing the broadsides and drawings using women to encourage enlistment. There's no doubt men would have felt 'pressured' into responding to such patriotic pleas, and the notion of chivalry at the time would have also encouraged them.

I am sure the guilt felt by someone pushing a loved one to war either willingly and unwillingly would have been great.
I'm sure that's true, too, once they were exposed to the harsh realities of the war.

I also think women accepted the part that they were required to play in the circumstances. As you say, patriotic men and women. Did women send men to war not expecting to be affected themselves by the war? I don't think so. But, maybe none of them were prepared for the immense undertaking or aftermath when it occurred.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Oh, I don't know. There was a lot of flag waving and much patriotic fervor in 1861. You also read post war books where it's tough getting to events around paragraphs devoted to those ideals. Tough to say what women thought across the board. In a lot of places you'd be suspected of disloyalty, displaying anything but rabid enthusiasm for the war. Some Mary Custis Lee's letters were hidden from the public for decades and why? She pleaded for the war not to happen. ( can't have R.E. Lee's wife not supportive of the war! ) Her husband was a professional soldier, she had soldier sons, of course her heart turned over, who knew war better? She also loved the idea George Washington fought for, so close to home- her father was raised by George Washington.

No one can convince me we were any different 150 years ago than today. Story out of Mound City hospital that would send any parent to bed for the day. Nurse tried to comfort a woman sitting by her dying son. There was none. It was the seventh son lost, the last. A mother at Gettysburg was heart rending enough to end up in Sophronia Bucklin's book and was reported by the Lancaster women who came to help. Dug through grave after grave until finding him. Wife with baby on her lap sitting through the night, her husband fading in front of her eyes- story after story.

On enlistment or conscription, women tended to lose not only their ' other half ', also their support. It was pretty normal for a family to have a bread winner, wife raises children and keeps the home. I find it hard to believe anyone in that position was enthusiastic- maybe supportive but enthusiastic at the prospect of losing a loved one and your home? Like I said, you could be looked at funny not publically proclaiming your patriotism.

Hang on- have photos, reason to love photos is their ability to tell you. Soldiers' wives- really hard to look at. " My husband is on his way to war ", bet we can see the same thing in a similar shot 150 years later. These were not tough to find, you do not have to scour photos looking for wives and mothers who could not help betraying their emotion.
wife s w9.jpg



sw8.jpg
 

Cavalry Charger

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Always wonderful thoughts to add, JPK, about what was really going on if we just scratch under the surface a little.
The mourning and weeping was done by the women (not only the women) as sons and brothers, husbands and fathers did not return home from the war. Did they create their own misery by sending these men off to war in the first place?
Personally, I think they did what they thought they had to do, maybe some not able to go and do themselves what in those days only a man could do; others accepting that if the calamity of war was upon them, they had no choice but to encourage men to defend their homes and their families. Did they have a choice in sending men off to war?

This is a deep well, but it must be sunk in order to better understand a woman's response to war.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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I have a booklet I want to dig out on women and the war, but something else I've never, ever seen addressed is.... women who wanted an abusive husband to go to war and hopefully not come back. I know of only one diary entry I've read on this. It was about 3-years-ago before I knew I would be sucked into the CW vortex. The woman writing the diary was picked up by a woman driving a wagon and was SHOCKED to her this other woman hoping her husband would be sent to Pensacola (I'm thinking this was CSA) and hopefully be in fighting and never come back. Apparently, when at home he beat her and there was no way a middle to lower class woman was ever going to get out of a marriage like that.

I have to say I sure wish I had kept the title (it was on Kindle) around AND I wonder if that woman ever got her wish. If she could verbalize that to a stranger, she must have been at the end of her tether. Imagine how many women felt the same but could never, ever verbalize it.
 

Cavalry Charger

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I have a booklet I want to dig out on women and the war, but something else I've never, ever seen addressed is.... women who wanted an abusive husband to go to war and hopefully not come back. I know of only one diary entry I've read on this. It was about 3-years-ago before I knew I would be sucked into the CW vortex. The woman writing the diary was picked up by a woman driving a wagon and was SHOCKED to her this other woman hoping her husband would be sent to Pensacola (I'm thinking this was CSA) and hopefully be in fighting and never come back. Apparently, when at home he beat her and there was no way a middle to lower class woman was ever going to get out of a marriage like that.

I have to say I sure wish I had kept the title (it was on Kindle) around AND I wonder if that woman ever got her wish. If she could verbalize that to a stranger, she must have been at the end of her tether. Imagine how many women felt the same but could never, ever verbalize it.
I actually never considered this possibility, that a woman may want to escape a brutal husband and therefore welcome his departure. Even hope he never returned. Thanks for bringing this scenario to our attention @NH Civil War Gal , though it saddens me to think of such desperate motivations in the circumstances.
 

Cavalry Charger

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Some Mary Custis Lee's letters were hidden from the public for decades and why? She pleaded for the war not to happen. ( can't have R.E. Lee's wife not supportive of the war! ) Her husband was a professional soldier, she had soldier sons, of course her heart turned over, who knew war better? She also loved the idea George Washington fought for, so close to home- her father was raised by George Washington.
Thank you for sharing this, too, @JPK Huson 1863 . I'm sure many women pleaded for war to be turned away from their door, and not just their door, regardless if the men in their lives were professional soldiers or not ... maybe even more so. They, probably better than any other, knew the dangers that could ensue, the terrible separations, and the fear that must accompany every departure. I can imagine these women would have been some of those most fervent about avoiding war.
 

Viper21

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I actually never considered this possibility, that a woman may want to escape a brutal husband and therefore welcome his departure. Even hope he never returned. Thanks for bringing this scenario to our attention @NH Civil War Gal , though it saddens me to think of such desperate motivations in the circumstances.
Look at how much domestic abuse occurs today..! This is with a huge stigma attached to men who abuse women, & laws that vigorously look down on such.

I would imagine in the 19th century, domestic abuse was much more common. I would not be surprised to learn of women who welcomed their husband's enlistment, & secretly desired they make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Had to be a very difficult circumstance.

A 100yrs later, women still had very little protection from abusive husbands.
 

Cavalry Charger

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Look at how much domestic abuse occurs today..! This is with a huge stigma attached to men who abuse women, & laws that vigorously look down on such.

I would imagine in the 19th century, domestic abuse was much more common. I would not be surprised to learn of women who welcomed their husband's enlistment, & secretly desired they make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Had to be a very difficult circumstance.

A 100yrs later, women still had very little protection from abusive husbands.
I would imagine quite a few men looked down on this sort of thing, even then. But without legal protections in place, war itself may have provided a 'protection' for these women by drawing men away from their homes. It may have also returned some men who struggled to come to terms with the aftermath of the war. Sadly, there were few supports for men or women in the circumstances at the time.
 

cash

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When Spartan warriors went off to war for the first time, their mother gave them a shield with the admonishment that they should only come home either carrying the shield or being carried on it, meaning either alive and with honor or dead.

During the Civil War, if a man didn't sign up for the army, his sweetheart, or perhaps some of the girls of the town, would give him a white feather, which was a sign they thought he was a coward. Sometimes they would mail him a petticoat.

The white feather wasn't confined to the Civil War or to the US. Women in Britain would give a man a white feather if he didn't sign up to go to war or if he was considered a coward.
 

Cavalry Charger

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When Spartan warriors went off to war for the first time, their mother gave them a shield with the admonishment that they should only come home either carrying the shield or being carried on it, meaning either alive and with honor or dead.

During the Civil War, if a man didn't sign up for the army, his sweetheart, or perhaps some of the girls of the town, would give him a white feather, which was a sign they thought he was a coward. Sometimes they would mail him a petticoat.

The white feather wasn't confined to the Civil War or to the US. Women in Britain would give a man a white feather if he didn't sign up to go to war or if he was considered a coward.
Thank you for joining the conversation @cash. That's some serious pressure right there in Sparta, and it can be hard to imagine a mother admonishing her son in this way, as opposed to a father. I wonder if the pressure would be considered greater coming from a mother? Somehow, I think it would.

I had also never heard of the 'white feather', and that is an awful burden to place on a young man considering conscience may have led him to make that choice, not necessarily cowardice. So, women could apply enormous pressure, and it saddens me to think that they did this. And in later wars, too. I think if a man is to go to war confidently, he must do so on his own terms, and not because someone else has pressured him into it.
 

cash

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Thank you for joining the conversation @cash. That's some serious pressure right there in Sparta, and it can be hard to imagine a mother admonishing her son in this way, as opposed to a father. I wonder if the pressure would be considered greater coming from a mother? Somehow, I think it would.

I had also never heard of the 'white feather', and that is an awful burden to place on a young man considering conscience may have led him to make that choice, not necessarily cowardice. So, women could apply enormous pressure, and it saddens me to think that they did this. And in later wars, too. I think if a man is to go to war confidently, he must do so on his own terms, and not because someone else has pressured him into it.
There are sources that claim some Spartan mothers killed sons who had behaved cowardly in battle, and in some other cases verbally abused them, telling them to "crawl back into the womb." The image we have been given is Spartan women were intensely patriotic. There's one story handed down of a Spartan woman who lost five sons in battle saying she was glad because the battle had been won. Their society was hard core.

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Sayings_of_Spartan_Women*.html


Here's a story about the "White Feather Girls" in the UK during World War I:
https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/nicoletta-f-gullace/white-feather-girls-womens-militarism-in-uk

"Showing the white feather" was a term used in the Civil War for cowardice in the face of the enemy:
https://books.google.com/books?id=XILmPnzYbZcC&pg=PA252&lpg=PA252&dq=white+feather+coward+civil+war&source=bl&ots=m6DbPu2ILw&sig=OlKm-UeqtHM2syyZCX7wOh8PNqk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiHjO2KzurcAhUSk1kKHY1xD9E4ChDoATAIegQIABAB#v=onepage&q=white feather coward civil war&f=false

Here's an article about southern women shaming men who didn't join the army:
https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/the-civil-war-and-the-southern-belle/
 

amweiner

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Thanks for opening an important conversation on an interesting topic, @Cavalry Charger! For what it might be worth, I think women had as diverse opinions/feelings/needs as did the men who went to fight, many of them will never be known.

You raised a fascinating point about women who might not have been sorry to see abusive husbands head off to war. It makes me wonder as well about the men who returned changed by their experiences, and those men who might otherwise have remained good transformed by the trauma they experienced. If I ever have time, I'd love to do some more digging into it.
 

BlueandGrayl

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There's also another group of women we've haven't brought up: The United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC was founded by female descendants of male Confederate soldiers (whether they were husbands or brothers) in 1894 as many were either dying or became old (the Mashable article "How the last Civil War veterans lived, loved, and died" is recommended reading) so these women were out to build monuments all across Dixie/The South and even in a few non-Southern areas which is how antebellum Southern identity helped create a Confederate identity for the South.

While I do not support the group given that they had relatives who fought and died it's their right to memorialize them no matter what.
 

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