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Army at Home

Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Army at Home
    Book Description:

    Introducing readers to women whose Civil War experiences have long been ignored, Judith Giesberg examines the lives of working-class women in the North, for whom the home front was a battlefield of its own.Black and white working-class women managed farms that had been left without a male head of household, worked in munitions factories, made uniforms, and located and cared for injured or dead soldiers. As they became more active in their new roles, they became visible as political actors, writing letters, signing petitions, moving (or refusing to move) from their homes, and confronting civilian and military officials.At the heart of the book are stories of women who fought the draft in New York and Pennsylvania, protested segregated streetcars in San Francisco and Philadelphia, and demanded a living wage in the needle trades and safer conditions at the Federal arsenals where they labored. Giesberg challenges readers to think about women and children who were caught up in the military conflict but nonetheless refused to become its collateral damage. She offers a dramatic reinterpretation of how America's Civil War reshaped the lived experience of race and gender and brought swift and lasting changes to working-class family life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0551-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-7)

    If you go searching for Lydia Bixby, you will find very little. She left no diary, memoirs, or photographs. She filed a pension application once, and she sometimes appeared in city directories and in the census. Bixby died as a free patient at the Massachusetts General Hospital in October 1878 and was buried in a largely forgotten section of the Mt. Hope Cemetery in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston.¹ In the cemetery office a large leather-bound register lists her name and the number of her grave. With some effort—and help from the groundskeeper—you can find where Lydia Bixby...

    (pp. 8-16)

    In July 1862, facing a string of military setbacks, President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 three-year volunteers to fill the depleted ranks of the Union army. The call inspired Quaker abolitionist James S. Gibbons to write “We are Coming Father Abraham,” which became a popular recruiting song.¹ On the eve of a busy harvest season, Gibbons described patriotic northern communities alive with activity, as men left ripe fields and workshops and joined the ranks:

    If you look across the hilltops that meet the northern sky,

    Long moving lines of rising dust your vision may descry;

    And bayonets in the...

    (pp. 17-44)

    Despite the withdrawal of a significant part of the agricultural labor force in the northern states during the Civil War, agricultural output remained high and employment in agriculture constant, suggesting that with men gone, women assumed more of the responsibility of running farms.¹ Isaac Newton, Lincoln’s commissioner of agriculture, made special mention of the consistent productivity of American farms in his 1863 report. “Although the year just closed has been a year of war on the part of the republic over a wider field and on a grander scale than any recorded in history,” Newton began his second annual report,...

    (pp. 45-67)

    In July 1862, Susan Hinckley of Greenfield, Maine, penned a letter to Massachusetts governor John Andrew seeking information about relief money promised to the families of soldiers. Hinckley’s husband, John, had enlisted with the 9th Massachusetts Regiment the previous year. “I have a husbon whitch inlisted in that regt,” Hinckley explained to Andrew, “and I stand in need of some of his pay whitch I have not rec eny.” By word of mouth, Hinckley learned that men enlisting in Maine in July 1862 qualified for an advance on their bonus and that the state paid aid money to soldiers’ wives...

  8. THREE BODIES OUT OF PLACE: Women War Workers
    (pp. 68-91)

    On September 17, 1862, a series of powerful explosions ripped through the U.S. Army Arsenal at Allegheny, Pennsylvania. At around two o’clock in the afternoon, residents of Allegheny and nearby Pittsburgh were jolted by the noise and the vibrations. Some who had been following the progress of the fighting at Antietam Creek in Maryland braced for what they believed was a Confederate invasion. As news of the explosions spread, residents crowded into the streets and surged toward the arsenal, following the column of smoke that rose from the burning buildings. Arriving at the arsenal, residents found what thePittsburgh Gazette...

  9. FOUR RIGHT TO RIDE: Women’s Streetcar Battles and the Theaters of War
    (pp. 92-118)

    On the evening of April 17, 1863, Charlotte Brown entered a streetcar one block from her home on Filbert Street in San Francisco and took a seat inside with the other passengers, fully aware of car company policies prohibiting African Americans from riding in the cars. A few blocks into her trip, the conductor made his way through the car collecting tickets and stopped when he reached for Brown’s. The conductor, Thomas Dennison of the Omnibus Railroad Company, refused to accept Charlotte Brown’s ticket and asked her to leave the car. Brown insisted that she had “a right to ride”...

  10. FIVE MARTHA GOES TO WASHINGTON: Women’s Divided Loyalties
    (pp. 119-142)

    In 1864, as Charlotte Brown was battling San Francisco streetcar conductors, President Lincoln was fighting to secure his reelection. Having faced down challenges from Peace Democrats and criticism from fellow Republicans, Lincoln remained anxious about his prospects for a second term in office.¹ As always, Lincoln was willing to try new approaches, such as ensuring soldiers’ votes were counted and granting government workers a one-day furlough to vote.² Lincoln intervened on a number of occasions to help local Republicans facing serious Democratic competition.

    In the midst of negotiating these various concerns, Lincoln met with a group of visitors who would...

  11. SIX PLATFORMS OF GRIEF: Widows on the Battlefield
    (pp. 143-162)

    When Maurice O’Connell arrived at the home of Mrs. McCormack on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End in May 1863, McCormack showed O’Connell the coffin containing the remains of her dead son, a soldier in the 9th Massachusetts Regiment. Having no means to bury him, McCormack had written to Governor John Andrew asking for money to give her son a proper burial. The governor sent O’Connell to investigate her claim. Sitting in her darkened home, next to the coffin of her dead son, McCormack waited for O’Connell to arrive. In her grief, McCormack tore up her son’s discharge papers, leaving...

    (pp. 163-178)

    Women were, as W. H. Hardy described them during the Civil War, the “army at home.” In the South, women’s willingness to sacrifice, to go without, was essential to sending more men to the battlefield and keeping them there despite considerable hardship—and, near the end—despite declining prospects for military victory. When growing numbers of southern women withdrew their support for the war, victory became illusory and the collapse of the southern home front, certain. In the North, the survival of the “army at home” was also tied to military success—when women made accommodations for enlistment, but also...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 179-212)
    (pp. 213-226)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 227-232)