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The Rhetoric of Rebel Women

Civil War Diaries and Confederate Persuasion

Kimberly Harrison

Publication Year: 2013

During the American Civil War, southern white women found themselves speaking and acting in unfamiliar and tumultuous circumstances. With the war at their doorstep, women who supported the war effort took part in defining what it meant to be, and to behave as, a Confederate through their verbal and nonverbal rhetorics. Though most did not speak from the podium, they viewed themselves as participants in the war effort, indicating that what they did or did not say could matter. Drawing on the rich evidence in women’s Civil War diaries, The Rhetoric of Rebel Women recognizes women’s persuasive activities as contributions to the creation and maintenance of Confederate identity and culture.

Informed by more than one hundred diaries, this study provides insight into how women cultivated rhetorical agency, challenging traditional gender expectations while also upholding a cultural status quo. Author Kimberly Harrison analyzes the rhetorical choices these women made and valued in wartime and postwar interactions with Union officers and soldiers, slaves and former slaves, local community members, and even their God. In their intimate accounts of everyday war, these diarists discussed rhetorical strategies that could impact their safety, their livelihoods, and those of their families. As they faced Union soldiers in attempts to protect their homes and property, diarists saw their actions as not only having local, immediate impact on their well-being but also as reflecting upon their cause and the character of the southern people as a whole. They instructed themselves through their personal writing, allowing insight into how southern women prepared themselves to speak and act in new and contested contexts.

The Rhetoric of Rebel Women highlights the contributions of privileged white southern women in the development of the Confederate national identity, presenting them not as passive observers but as active participants in the war effort.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Series: Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

The Rhetoric of Rebel Women: Civil War Diaries and Confederate Persuasion recognizes elite and middle-class white Southern women’s often overlooked rhetorical responsibilities and activities during the American Civil War. It positions these women as active rhetoricians as they faced new wartime audiences such as Union and Confederate soldiers, ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

While working on this book, I have met with an enormous amount of kind support and guidance for which I am very grateful. Carol Mattingly first encouraged me to pursue this project and offered invaluable advice on early drafts. Her help and her example as a scholar, teacher, and friend have been essential not only to this project ...

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Introduction: Words of Honor—Evidence, Exigence, and Rhetorical Selves

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pp. 1-24

In an 1861 diary entry, twenty-three-year-old Maryland native and south Louisiana resident Priscilla Bond urged herself, “[B]‍e a ‘true woman.’ Oh how often those words have rung in my ears! ‘Be a true woman, Mit.’ Those are my mother’s words.” Before the Civil War, Bond had often written of her mother’s patience, meekness, and self-sacrifice, ...

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1. Dangerous Words/Domestic Spaces: Invading Union Forces and Southern Women’s Rhetorical Efforts in Self-Protection

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pp. 25-54

Union soldiers were a primary audience for Southern white women during the war and one that understandably caused them much fear and concern. While the Civil War was described throughout the Confederacy as one fought by Southern white men to protect home and hearth, women who were left alone on the home front were increasingly called upon ...

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2. A Ladylike Resistance? Finding the Time, Place, and Means for Voicing Political Allegiances

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pp. 55-82

In 1862, a Vanity Fair contributor described letters written by Southern white women found among Confederate soldiers’ belongings as violent in content and “almost always wretchedly written, helplessly spelt, and ungrammatical enough.” A subsequent article claimed, “[P]‍rofanity and blasphemy are considered a mark of loyalty in [Southern] women.” ...

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3. Guarded Tongues/Secure Communities: Rhetorical Responsibilities and “Everyday” Audiences

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pp. 83-117

In June 1864, twenty-year-old Pauline DeCaradeuc turned to her diary after an absence of several days. Despite high wartime prices and shortages of food and other necessities, her family had opened their home near Aiken, South Carolina, to relatives and friends who were refugees. ...

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4. Public Voices/Divine Audiences: Confederate Women’s Prayers during the Civil War

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pp. 118-141

In the popular Civil War poem “The Burial of Latané” and painting of the same name, a Virginia matron presides over the funeral service of William Latané, who fell on a Virginia battlefield in June 1862. While the poem and painting memorialize the death of a Confederate soldier, they also highlight the Southern woman’s rhetorical role. ...

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5. Audiences Victorious, Defeated, and Free: Rhetorical Purpose in the Immediate Postwar South

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pp. 142-169

In April and May 1865, word spread throughout the Confederacy of Richmond’s surrender to Union forces. Despite the Confederate capital’s fall, some Southerners continued to believe that victory still might not elude them. As news circulated of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, however, most loyal Confederates suffered a painful shock ...

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pp. 170-176

A focus on the rhetorical acts of privileged Southern white women during the American Civil War fills gaps in current rhetorical histories of the nineteenth century. While recently, studies of nineteenth-century women’s rhetorical activities have increased, Southern women, especially those who supported the Confederacy, have been largely absent from this work. ...

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pp. 177-178


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pp. 179-212


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pp. 213-232


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pp. 233-242

Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms, Further Reading, Back Cover

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pp. 264-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780809332588
E-ISBN-10: 0809332582
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809332571
Print-ISBN-10: 0809332574

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 9
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms
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OCLC Number: 858764950
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Rhetoric of Rebel Women

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Women
  • Women -- Confederate States of America -- Diaries.
  • Rhetoric -- Confederate States of America.
  • English language -- 19th century -- Rhetoric.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects
  • Women -- Language.
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