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Take Care of the Living

Take Care of the Living: Reconstructing Confederate Veteran Families in Virginia

Jeffrey W. McClurken
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrj61
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  • Book Info
    Take Care of the Living
    Book Description:

    Take Care of the Livingassesses the short- and long-term impact of the war on Confederate veteran families of all classes in Pittsylvania County and Danville, Virginia. Using letters, diaries, church minutes, and military and state records, as well as close analysis of the entire 1860 and 1870 Pittsylvania County manuscript population census, McClurken explores the consequences of the war for over three thousand Confederate soldiers and their families. The author reveals an array of strategies employed by those families to come to terms with their postwar reality, including reorganizing and reconstructing the household, turning to local churches for emotional and economic support, pleading with local elites for financial assistance or positions, sending psychologically damaged family members to a state-run asylum, and looking to the state for direct assistance in the form of replacement limbs for amputees, pensions, and even state-supported homes for old soldiers and widows.

    Although these strategies or institutions for reconstructing the family had their roots in existing practices, the extreme need brought on by the scope and impact of the Civil War required an expansion beyond anything previously seen. McClurken argues that this change serves as a starting point for the study of the evolution of southern welfare.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2819-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In 1861 and 1862, James Redd, William Dix, and Joseph Miller enlisted in the Confederate Army from Pittsylvania County and Danville, Virginia. So too did George and James, the husbands of Barsheba Adams and Jane Smith. By the end of the war, Smith’s and Adams’s husbands were dead, Redd had been wounded, and Miller had lost his leg and spent a year as a Union prisoner of war. By 1870, Dix’s family had lost 80 percent of their 1860 wealth, nearly $10,000. Beset with financial difficulties for many years, Dix attempted suicide. For these five soldiers and their families, the...

  6. 1 The War Comes, 1860–1865
    (pp. 9-43)

    Pittsylvania county, Virginia’s largest in area, has the rolling landscape typical of the foothills east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The county is in the southern part of Virginia’s Piedmont region, located on the North Carolina border. In 1860, as today, its largest community was Danville, a city located on the south bank of the Dan River and in the southern portion of the county. Economic growth, largely based on tobacco, had caused the city’s population to more than double from 1850 to 1860, when it numbered over thirty-five hundred people. Although linked to western and northern Virginia, and northern...

  7. 2 Loss and Reconstruction: The Impact of the Civil War on Veteran Families and Their Postwar Rebuilding
    (pp. 44-71)

    In memoirs written in the early twentieth century, veterans William Dame and Robert Withers wrote about their experiences during and after the Civil War. Dame’s account portrayed the immediate postwar years in a heroic light: “Just after the war, in the far harder trials and soul agony of the Reconstruction days, [veterans showed] wonderful patience, and courage which . . . rebuilt their shattered fortunes and pulled their country triumphantly up out of indescribable disaster.” Withers was a bit more practical: “the question of food for my large family was now the dominant one.” With the war’s end, Pittsylvania’s soldiers...

  8. 3 Local Support from Baptist Churches
    (pp. 72-98)

    Veteran families in Pittsylvania County and Danville turned to long-established local support systems based on churches and elite community members when their familial resources and strategies failed to meet all their emotional or financial needs. This chapter examines the role that area Baptist churches played in veteran families’ lives. The Civil War increased the need for the support of churches, and men and women of veteran families turned to those churches in the postwar period.¹

    Most broadly, Baptist churches provided many Confederate veteran families with emotional and spiritual support within their religious communities. For some of the desperately needy, however,...

  9. 4 Appeals for Local Elite Assistance: The Case of William T. Sutherlin
    (pp. 99-117)

    On July 26, 1865, C. B. Ball, a veteran of the Danville Artillery, appealed for assistance to one of the richest residents of Pittsylvania County and Danville, William T. Sutherlin. In his letter, Ball asked, “Can’t you let me have six or seven hundred dollars to start me in the world again?”¹ Ball’s written plea for help serves as another entrance into the world of needy veterans looking for help from the people near them.

    Pittsylvania-Danville’s upper class made up another part of the local support network of the community. Part of a long-existing system of local aid, elite men...

  10. 5 Veteran Families, Mental Illness, and the State: Dealing with the “Blue Devils”
    (pp. 118-142)

    The veterans of Danville and Pittsylvania and their families turned to sources of aid other than their local support networks and relatives. Many Southern Civil War survivors required significant assistance from their home state to rebuild their lives and sometimes just to survive. Virginia provided a variety of services and types of aid to its veterans and their family members. By using the records of the Western Lunatic Asylum (later Western State Hospital), this chapter examines the connections between the war and mental illness and the role that the state’s mental institutions played in “curing” or as caretakers of some...

  11. 6 State Aid for Veteran Families: Artificial Limbs, Commutations, Pensions, and Confederate Homes
    (pp. 143-172)

    In an 1895 application for a pension, Confederate veteran W.H. Power attempted to explain how wartime wounds to his right arm and leg had affected him: “there are many things I can’t do now, that I am prevented from doing by the lameness which are necessary and which I used to do in laboring.”¹ In the aftermath of the Civil War, many of Virginia’s veterans and their families needed help. Some of that help came from relatives, friends, churches, or local members of the elite. Veterans and their families who needed more than those groups could provide them turned to...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-174)

    Clearly, the consequences of the war and its aftermath for Pittsylvania’s veteran families were significant. One-fourth of the soldiers sent by these families died during the conflict, and another half suffered wounds, diseases, or imprisonment. During and after the war, veteran families experienced significant financial declines in real and personal property because of emancipation, Southern economic depressions, and the temporary or permanent loss of the labor of men who had gone off to war. Emotionally and psychologically, members of veteran families also suffered from temporary wartime physical separations, permanent losses of family and friends, and tensions caused from economic woes...

  13. Appendix: A Note on Sources
    (pp. 175-178)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 179-214)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-240)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)