Thursday, June 16, 2005

I have just begun reading a book called "Daughters of the Union : Northern Women Fight the Civil War" by Nina Silber. I realize how long ago the Civil War was and how the culture has changed, but from what I've read so far, the women of the North were, in a large sense, blamed for the lack of morale and the like. Like the stupid generals in charge had little or nothing to do with how badly or well the Union was doing....
I have ripped off borrowed this review from Amazon.com.
It, in turn, comes from the pages of Publishers Weekly :
Although Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton and Anna Dickinson have cameo roles, Civil War historian Silber reaches far deeper than such star turns to address "the diminishing place of Union women in American memory," the corollary that their commitment was "lackluster" and the domestic fallout of their involvement—"the expansion of the nation-state into the lives of ordinary Americans citizens." Relying heavily on letters and diaries, Silber's scholarly account is solidly informative for the serious historian and quite accessible for general history buffs and students. As primary breadwinners go off to war, women serve as fund-raisers, post mistresses, suppliers, nurses, government workers and teachers. That's a familiar enough story, but with a greater public role, women find "their personal, intimate relationships subjected to intense... scrutiny, not only from neighbors and kin but also from state and federal officials." Those who work as nurses are "required to be plain looking women." The result, Silber argues, was a change in the way marriage's regulatory function worked in society in ways that continue to reverberate through homes and jobs. In this provocative, challenging work, Silber writes ordinary women onto the page and reshapes the boundaries of Civil War history. Her attention to the presence of Northern black women is particularly noteworthy.
As you know, my great-great-great-great-grandmother was one of those women left at home to carry on with the farm. She was Esther Durnil, a 77 year old widow, with only her grandson at home in 1862. That's when he turned 18 and enlisted along with probably 3 of his grandmother's male relatives who lived nearby. Two of them were discharged on "disability". Esther was probably accustomed to the running of a farm on her own, as her husband had been a Kentucky Sharpshooter in the War of 1812. That was when, according to the prologue of the book,"American women were undertaking more organized patriotic activities than ever before, but the renewed war against the British continued to confine American women's politics to the domestic circle." She had six of her fourteen children by 1811, so domestic circle indeed! They moved to another state - Indiana - where all her other children were born on the farm. The farm was left to my great-great grandfather who was quoted in "Centennial History of Washington County, Indiana, by Warder W. Stevens", as "one of the prosperous farmers of the community, owning land that is valued in the neighborhood of seven thousand dollars." So she did a pretty good job. Too bad it's impossible to find out more about her...

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