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Civil War

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Since very few black women knew how or had opportunity to read or write before the civil war, there is very little documentation that exists about them unlike for the white women (Tryphena and Wilma, 1993). Plantation records, slave letters and the diaries and letters of white women can be used to explore various aspects of African American women’s lives during the civil war period.  During and especially after the civil war, the household slavery basing on the race dominated in the southern. Before the American civil war in south, there   were few opportunities available for either black or white people. Women were expected to be submissive at their homes while considering the race and social status; they were involved in field work and management of plantations (Charlotte and Brenda, 1988). White women lived as isolated existence due to the rural setups of the south before civil war. The women slaves had some advantages but their stability and personal safety was not promising because of the conditions that involved slavery. These southern women lived in harsh conditions that trained them.

The south adjusted to a new social order following the defeat of the confederacy. In the nineteenth century, several changes took place in the social order, courtships and marriages, family life and travels, religion and education and the life-and-death matters that made up the ordinary and  extra ordinary world in the past (Renshaw and Sutherland,1996). Being a woman from the north Tryphena, remained silence and adopted the regional customs as she writes about social, political and economic conditions that prevailed in the nineteenth century south. The racial prejudices and class biases did not exist with her as there were numerous interactions with domestic servants, black or white, neighbors who were either rich or poor. During the crucial years of war and reconstruction in the south, the woman in her voice of a woman slaveholder who is desperate of even though being married of prominent landholder.   Having an ease and luxurious life while her mother struggled to get the daily bread, was offensive.

Women who came into intimate contact with white men experienced class, racial and sexual identification that haunted them. The number of free-born black population is difficult to determine yet their influence in the lives of their fellow freemen, newly freed slaves in the North and later for enslaved blacks, extended beyond what numbers can imply. If ones identity as  American citizen means ‘free’, then free-born blacks holds a unique position among black abolitionists (Frances et.al.,2000).

Southern women versus Northern women in civil war

In the early south, once a woman was married their role was to bear and raise children. These women were married at an early age and continued bearing children even till their death. The urge to increase population that could help in farm work added to these early marriages. Slave women encountered several diseases and bore several children than the whites. Education was reserved for free white and black women and was meant to increase feminine character. Both white and black women observed their religion.

Reviewers and historians have been examining the fundamental relations of generous women to the civil war while emphasizing on their good and bad side, difference in class and gender roles. According to Rable, (1869) there was divided loyalties that were so pronounced at the time and adverse daily effects of the war on civilians. Referring herself as a ‘very violent rebel’ she joined her family and adopted their way of life. The black and white men were entrusted to be soldiers and the women were assigned home front chores in the southern, while the northern women played roles as nurses and spies, the impact of war on their marriages brought in divorce. Slavery in the south was considered to be a foundation of liberty to the whites.

Diaries reveals people’s attitudes, values, motives and their actions and those that were written during the civil war revealed so. The diary written by Frances revealed the women’s feelings toward family and friends, their everyday activities, and the impact of the civil war on their lives and attitudes. Women expressed themselves in terms of love and marriage ranging from war to slavery and through their writings, the values of middle class women living in the mid-nineteenth century is taken into consideration. Home and family issues constituted the central part of a woman’s life in which she should devote herself to the nurturance of her loved ones as domesticity was an integral part of their personalities (Swint, 1966).

Te civil war while challenging their minds and expanding their range of activities, did not lead this women to abandon their responsibilities. However they ventured into activities that are of necessity to protect themselves and their families. These women are revealed another side of women who balanced the demands of wartime life against their values of traditional life. The women who are diary writers expressed their thoughts and opinions about the civil war its tragedies, its personalities, frustration, politics and direct impacts in their lives. Swint (1966) wrote of two women who expressed themselves openly, the first is in support of the union, and the other in support of the cause of the south. Most of the southern women who expressed themselves on institution opposed slavery and celebrated when it ended. The easy availability of black slave women caused much resentment among white women, who by nineteenth-century were supposed to remain faithful even if their husbands where unfaithful in the marriage.

The women of Southern plantations are not written about in many ways. Many southern women are mentioned in many books only as part of the males. The rich white women of the south spent their time at home raising children and many acted as teachers who taught how to read, write and study religion. White women in the south suffered under heavier burdens than northern women. The white women of the south engage in fewer charitable organizations or reform movements than the northern women (Jeannie, 1998). In order to carry on their managerial skills well, the southern women are supposed to be humble and submissive. She didn’t have the authority, but was expected to do all the work. A southern white woman had many responsibilities even before the war broke out. These women lived on plantations with their husbands and families and the livelihood of these plantations revolved around the upkeep of the grounds and the way the household and household staff was run.

Slavery brought in the divisions that split America, but it was not slavery alone that that caused war. The civil war history questions the degree to which southern elite women supported the confederacy believing that it will bring changes in gender inequality (Channing, 1984). As a result, southern women were forced to new and not always comfortable roles became disillusioned and disappointed. Their men did not support them to a greater extend as they hoped. The white southern women did not support confederacy and demanded attention from their men. The war served as source of change to white women who were forced to develop new skills, accept new responsibilities and at long last redefine their traditional gender roles. Northern women were not treated with much attention as the southern because the war brought in fewer challenge to them than to women in the south. Many struggles were in the south, and the white southern women suffered from trauma of defeat, emancipation and reconstruction.   

There is unexplored interior cultural conflict that emerged from civil war within the southern white women. These conflicts affected women’s views of themselves, their social identity and their world. The issues of slavery like racial conflict, gender relations, religion and state formation were at the heart of civil war (Cook, 1848-1877). The blacks aimed at destroying slavery and they immensely participated in civil war leading to forthcoming of several consequences.

The war stimulated many women to question their traditional domestic, sexual and social roles. The inborn characteristics of southern women in resisting change were based more on habit and lack of need to change than conviction that proceeded. These confederate women were slow to challenge the class and gender roles of their society, even though the civil war exposed them to hardships that required them to temporarily take on the roles of men. The plantation women stood up and managed the plantation in the absence of men who went out to the war. The confederate women suffered a lot as a result of the thieving and looting carried out by union soldiers; these caused women to desire their traditional and familiar lifestyles even if it meant going back to submissive status.

Slavery was considered to be like sin and thus had to be attacked as sin and society had to break all the ties with slaveholders save as sinners to be converted. The other group that struggled for the control of the society and were antislavery believed that slaves have to be convicted to do missionary work. The Christian slaveholders were required to be engaged to a great extend in these work in the south. The abolitionist view came to prevail in America as it reflected the one said stateement from the northern view of a dangerous “Slave Power Conspiracy” that eventually lead to republican victory during the consequent elections. According to Rabel (1869), “The action of abolitionists in criticizing the northern church was less effective in purifying the moral outlook of the northern church than it was in strengthening the proslavery stance of the southern church”. True Christians were expected to resolve the problem of slavery. There are views on the ways in which warfare transformed the lives of southern white women who both supported and at the end undermined southern nationalism and war effort. While generally quoting southern women of all classes, Rable (1869) intensely dramatizes the heroism and heartache they faced during the civil war.

Though historians continue to disagree about how deeply the negative attitudes of northern whites toward blacks influenced politics during the civil war, studies have shown that powerful prejudice against blacks prevailed among white northerners of foreign and southern birth ancestry. It is also evident that these feelings reinforced wartime support for black colonization in America and delayed President Lincoln’s embrace of emancipation. The relatives and friends would write diaries describing various parts of the south, especially eastern Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia commenting on the Negroes condition in the contraband camps, and officers and men of the Union army, and the attitudes of the white southerners (Swint, 1966).They endured hardships being determined teachers and missionaries.

The economic and ideological conflicts surrounded the women army in the labor is all attributed to impact of civil war on gender structure in America. This war was a testing ground in generating the political and social differences between men and women. The support that was given by the southern women to the patriotic soldiers during the struggles at civil war was immense. It appears then that in America alone, women are raised to equality with other sex and that both in theory and practice, their interests are regarded as of equal value. They are made subordinate in station, only where a regard to their best interests demands it, while they are being treated as superiors according to custom and courtesy. During the civil war, the United States sanitary commission attempted to replace female charity networks and traditions of voluntarily with a centralized organization that would ensure women effort against war was considered (Jeanne, 1998). Soldier relief work enabled women to demonstrate their patriotism and rights.

The Southern relied on the union states for essential food stuffs has they lacked good storage for their agricultural products. The pro-union guerillas in the south did not support the war but dissented into confederate government policy. They had endured slavery by union troops and sought their freedom and the confederate ordeal therefore stated before the war and ended after (Channing, 1984).

The American Revolution affected the colonial women’s life. Through the industrial revolution in the north, the cotton economy in the south changed and the adoption of new lifestyles changed the lives of women. The rise of middle class helped in enforcing an ideology of segregation of the male and female sphere at home. Women adopted several ways to exercise autonomy in religious revivals, female higher education, missionary work and home arts such as embroidery (Clinton, 1984). The women would form voluntary association that aid the poor and reform social status. 

The southern women were married earlier, bore many children, and were likely to die while young, especially during the child birth. Like the southern women, northern women were assigned new wartime roles that emerged to them being leaders and managers of newly empowered heads of households. The uniqueness of the northern woman was in their participations as business people, managers, organizers and leaders. France describes union women as being caring to the confederate soldiers in local hospitals and also solving problems that can divide their families. There is a critical accounting of the collision of loyalty and disloyalty, slavery and freedom, all these have made it difficult to examine the war along the border. It is clearly shown that the white women of the south did not receive adequate protection and food from the confederate government and as a result some women withdrew their support and stood up for themselves in different ways depending on their class. The effect of the civil war was to free those black women and men who had been slaves, but the granting of suffrage to ex-slaves after the war did not include black women.

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