The Important Role of Confederate Women in the American Civil War
Women in the Confederacy had a great impact on the Civil War. They were thrown into totally different lifestyles--ones that did not include men taking care of the land and other businesses. Women had more control of their lives than ever before. Some took it upon themselves to get involved directly with the war while others just kept the home fires burning. Whatever roles they played, women contributed a multitude of skills to the Civil War effort.
The life of a plantation mistress changed significantly once her husband left to join the Southern army. A majority of them stayed right on the land even if they were rich enough to move to a safer place. While there, the women and children would do a plethora of things: plant gardens, sew, knit, weave cloth, spin thread, process and cure meat, scour copper utensils, preserve and churn butter, and dip candles. Another important chore for a plantation mistress was caring for all the slaves. This included providing food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.1 Since money was scarce, "everything was made at home" according to one Southern woman. In a letter to her sister, she added that they "substituted rice for coffee . . . honey and homemade molasses for sugar . . . all we wore was made at home. Shoes also. You would be surprised to see how neat people looked."2 Even a ten-year-old girl wrote in her diary how she would have to go to work to help her mother: "Mama has been very busy to day and I have been trying to help her all I could." This same little girl cooked for her family and cared for her little sister while her mother was busy keeping the plantation alive. 3 Not only did the women stay busy trying to keep their home safe and prosperous, but they also kept up-to-date on news concerning the war.4
Many Southern women read the newspapers on a regular basis. Some, however, were much closer to the battlefield than they would have liked to have been. Lucy Breckinridge, a nineteen-year-old girl who lived in the Shenandoah Valley, wrote in her diary how she could hear the cannons over the mountains. Carrie Berry consistently wrote that her family spent a good part of two months in the cellar while her home was being bombarded by shells. Another nineteen-year-old, Sarah Morgan, from Baton Rouge, went to the levees to watch the battles, even though it was against her mother's wishes.5 But some women took it a step further: rather than just watching the men fight for the Southern states, a few women decided to pick up a gun and join the ranks.
It is not known how many women actually participated in battle; however, the number seems to be higher than anyone expected. These women played the role of the warrior and literally gave up their gender to fight. One such case is Amy Clark. She dressed like a man to serve in the Confederate army with her husband. After his death, she continued her service and was wounded and captured by...