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Household War

Household War: How Americans Lived and Fought the Civil War

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    Household War
    Book Description:

    Household War restores the centrality of households to the American Civil War. The essays in the volume complicate the standard distinctions between battlefront and homefront, soldier and civilian, and men and women. From this vantage point, they look at the interplay of family and politics, studying the ways in which the Civil War shaped and was shaped by the American household. They explore how households influenced Confederate and Union military strategy, the motivations of soldiers and civilians, and the occupation of captured cities, as well as the experiences of Native Americans, women, children, freedpeople, injured veterans, and others. The result is a unique and much needed approach to the study of the Civil War. Household War demonstrates that the Civil War can be understood as a revolutionary moment in the transformation of the household order. The original essays by distinguished historians provide an inclusive examination of how the war flowed from, required, and resulted in the restructuring of the nineteenth-century household. Contributors explore notions of the household before, during, and after the war, unpacking subjects such as home, family, quarrels, domestic service and slavery, manhood, the Klan, prisoners and escaped prisoners, Native Americans, grief, and manhood. The essays further show how households redefined and reordered themselves as a result of the changes stemming from the Civil War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-5630-3
    Subjects: History, American Studies

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-16)

    This volume is based on a simple but important premise: that the Civil War can be read as a household war, a conflict rooted in, fought by, and waged against households. As a physical place and an ideological construct, households were the guiding principle behind many of the war’s causes as well as the impetus for wartime strategies pursued by the individuals, polities, and militaries involved. In the war’s aftermath, the reconstruction of households now free of slavery and the establishment of autonomous households by the formerly enslaved both constituted critical centers of continued resistance and conflict. Th e importance...

  2. Part 1. The Importance of the Household to Civil War Behavior

    • The Material World of Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Households in Peace and War
      (pp. 19-34)

      The American Civil War reached into almost every household in the country between 1861 and 1865, including of course the First Household, the White House. Th is building has been the epicenter of cultural and political struggles over many issues, and some of them involved the controversial First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. Her travails had a lot to do with the house itself and, more broadly, with her attitudes toward material objects and the consumer culture of her day. The building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has much to recommend it as a public monument, for it is spacious and grand....

    • Householder and General: Lee’s War as a Household War
      (pp. 35-54)

      In the antebellum South, every man belonged to a household. Over the past few decades, scholars of gender, race, and class have worked to return men to their households with deep running historical consequences. However, for all of this work, some Southern men have not yet been restored to their appropriate social location. Many of the so-called great men still seem to exist outside the basic social, economic, and political unit of the antebellum South, the household, somehow unmoored to the foundation of their society. Robert E. Lee is perhaps the best example of these detached men, floating at the...

    • The Divided Houses of Ulysses S. Grant
      (pp. 55-74)

      Sometimes solving major problems in one’s public life resolves tensions in one’s private existence. Such was the case for Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War. At the beginning of the conflict, Grant was still trying to secure his future amid a series of struggles to make ends meet. At the same time, he wrestled with the consequences of having been born into an antislavery household presided over by a demanding and hypercritical father who all too often kept his eye on the main chance and of having married into a proslavery household where his wife delighted in the...

  3. Part 2. The Wartime View of the Household

    • The Soldier’s Dream of Home
      (pp. 77-101)
      Jonathan W. White

      Whether awake or asleep, soldiers thought of home. Indeed, more than anything else, Union and Confederate officers and enlisted men dreamed about their loved ones. “Last night I dreamed of being at home as I often do and sweet were the kisses what I took all around,” wrote a New Yorker to his wife. A thirty-six-year-old Virginian similarly told his sixteen-year-old sweetheart that he had “som mighty good dreams about you.” Such dreams of home were often sweet and romantic, but sometimes they focused on mundane things that soldiers missed. A Wisconsin soldier wrote to his mother from the Pine...

    • “Now I Can Bear My Ills Patiently”: The Expanding Realm of Wisconsin Households during the Civil War
      (pp. 102-117)

      Mrs. C. L. Morgan of Sylvester, Wisconsin, wrote to her state’s governor, Edward Salomon, on March 31, 1863. She implored him to consider the condition of wounded soldiers who were “unable to bear the fatigue, and hardships of camp life.” Morgan insisted that military officers and army surgeons agreed that “home is the only spot where they can be restored to health” but that bureaucratic red tape prevented the soldiers’ return into the households that would restore their vitality. She requested that Governor Salomon figure out a way around the obstructive policies that caused some soldiers to languish in hospitals,...

    • Written on the Heart: Soldiers’ Letters, the Household Supply Line, and the Relational War
      (pp. 118-134)
      LeeAnn Whites

      In May 1863 John Smith, a local postmaster and dry goods merchant in Plains, Ohio, decided to do his friends and neighbors a favor by hand delivering their mail to them instead of waiting for them to pick it up in his store as was customary. Smith knew that many of these families were waiting with concern to hear from their brothers, sons, and husbands who were far off fighting for the Union cause in the Civil War. He perhaps considered it part of his patriotic duty to walk the extra mile for the members of his community who were...

  4. Part 3. The Household as the Site of War

    • A “Fearful Family Quarrel”: The Union Assault on Southern Households as Battle Strategy
      (pp. 137-154)
      Lisa Tendrich Frank

      When Union troops bombarded the “rebellious city” of Atlanta in the summer of 1864, they did so knowing that it was filled with civilians, what one soldier called “a Great good many inoffensive ones.”¹ The presence of civilians, with their homes and property, shaped how Yankees understood how “our shell had torn the city to pieces considerable.” U.S. soldiers blamed Confederates for the presence of the civilians because “Hood never gave orders for the noncombattants to remove.”² Th e civilian population did little to dampen the troops’ wholehearted joy at taking the city, as U.S. soldiers rejoiced that “the rebs...

    • War’s Domestic Corollary: Union Occupation Households in the Civil War South
      (pp. 155-179)

      In the early fall of 1863, General James B. McPherson hosted “the event of the season” at the Balfour House on the corner of Cherry and Crawford Streets in Vicksburg, Mississippi. An elegant brick home with a commanding view of the city and river below, it boasted “sun parlors, conservatories, fountains, and large spacious rooms.” McPherson held the ball to honor the wives of Union officers who had traveled down the Mississippi River to winter in the recently conquered city. Among them were a number of young women, recently married to their fiancés after Vicksburg fell, who arrived at the...

    • Creek and Seminole Households on the Trail of Blood on Ice
      (pp. 180-200)

      In late 1861, hundreds of Creek and Seminole families left their homes in Indian Territory and formed a pan-Indian refugee community on the Deep Fork River at the eastern side of the Creek Nation. Th ere, they united with families from several other Indian nations who found themselves with a similar need for safety. The Indians established temporary homes and campsites, performed ceremonies together, and gathered supplies that could help them survive the winter. Like many other Civil War refugees, these families fled their homes without a clear sense of direction or organization. They were not fleeing to join loved...

    • Aid and Comfort to the Enemy: Escaped Prisoners and the Home as Site of War
      (pp. 201-218)

      When Major General William Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864, offi cials in charge of the Confederate prison system worried that his army would march into the heart of Georgia and liberate U.S. prisoners of war held in stockades at Macon and Andersonville. They issued orders to move the captives to Savannah and Charleston, but neither city had facilities ready to house several thousand prisoners. Because there was no single commander over Confederate prisons, there was no effective communication between officials governing prisoners of war and military officials defending the two coastal cities, for whom the unexpected arrival...

  5. Part 4. Reconstructing the Household

    • Disordered Households: Reconstruction, Klan Terror, and the Law
      (pp. 221-247)
      Victoria E. Bynum

      Perhaps no one homefront can be termed “typical,” but that of Orange County, North Carolina, presented a combination of factors that help us understand the connections between the Civil War, Southern homefronts, emancipation, and Reconstruction households. Orange County’s diverse population featured mostly yeoman farmers interspersed with planters, business entrepreneurs, professors, lawyers, enslaved African Americans, poor whites, and free people of color. Long before the Civil War, a lively interracial subculture with complex social and kinship ties had emerged that contradicted the dominant Southern ideal of white families and enslaved African Americans governed by benevolent white patriarchs in a system decreed...

    • Dead Husband, Dead Son: Widows, Mothers-in-Law, and Mourning in the Confederacy
      (pp. 248-267)
      Angela Esco Elder

      Between 1861 and 1865, approximately 750,000 men died in the American Civil War, leaving behind some 200,000 widows and many more grieving mothers and sisters. Th e Civil War unleashed both a staggering amount of grief and a staggering display of it. “There were so many ladies there, all dressed in deep mourning,” Lucy Breckinridge said of a Virginia party in December 1862, “ that we felt as if we were at a convent and formed a sisterhood.” As Breckinridge implied, women were often brought closer by grief. Death deepened their common bond and highlighted the peculiar burdens of their...

    • Stand by Your Manhood: The United Confederate Veterans and the Rehabilitation of the Southern Household
      (pp. 268-286)

      One Southern veteran recalled, “They [Southern soldiers] kissed their loved ones goodbye and marched forth in all the grandeur and splendor of southern youth and manhood.”¹ The very act of marching off to war and leaving their households and families provided Southern men a prime opportunity to cement their masculine status among their family members, their peers, and their community. Southern men used the war to aggressively defend their manhood. Marching into battle, standing shoulder to shoulder with a fellow man, and fighting in an honorable manner (which excluded running away or a cowardly capture) emerged as routine opportunities for...

    • AFTERWORD: From Household to Personhood in America
      (pp. 287-292)

      The first-ever U.S. census, taken in 1790, only lists the names of heads of households, most of whom were men, with their dependents enumerated but unnamed below them. The 1850 census lists every free man, woman, and child in America; the enslaved are counted but remain nameless on a separate schedule. Th e 1870 census is an expansive list of Americans; there is only one schedule and all persons are named.¹

      State bureaucracy can care about people for right and wrong reasons. Hitler’s Germany was ruthlessly precise about who was who. However, this simple snapshot of the census—of how...