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Confederate Daughters

Coming of Age during the Civil War

Victoria E. Ott

Publication Year: 2008

Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age during the Civil War explores gender, age, and Confederate identity by examining the lives of teenage daughters of Southern slaveholding, secessionist families. These young women clung tenaciously to the gender ideals that upheld marriage and motherhood as the fulfillment of female duty and to the racial order of the slaveholding South, an institution that defined their status and afforded them material privileges. Author Victoria E. Ott discusses how the loyalty of young Southern women to the fledgling nation, born out of a conservative movement to preserve the status quo, brought them into new areas of work, new types of civic activism, and new rituals of courtship during the Civil War.

Social norms for daughters of the elite, their preparation for their roles as Southern women, and their material and emotional connections to the slaveholding class changed drastically during the Civil War. When differences between the North and South proved irreconcilable, Southern daughters demonstrated extraordinary agency in seeking to protect their futures as wives, mothers, and slaveholders.

From a position of young womanhood and privilege, they threw their support behind the movement to create a Confederate identity, which was in turn shaped by their participation in the secession movement and the war effort. Their political engagement is evident from their knowledge of military battles, and was expressed through their clothing, social activities, relationships with peers, and interactions with Union soldiers.

Confederate Daughters also reveals how these young women, in an effort to sustain their families throughout the war, adjusted to new domestic duties, confronting the loss of slaves and other financial hardships by seeking paid work outside their homes.

Drawing on their personal and published recollections of the war, slavery, and the Old South, Ott argues that young women created a unique female identity different from that of older Southern women, the Confederate bellehood. This transformative female identity was an important aspect of the Lost Cause mythology—the version of the conflict that focused on Southern nationalism—and bridged the cultural gap between the antebellum and postbellum periods.

Augmented by eighteen illustrations, this book offers a generational understanding of the transitional nature of wartime and its effects on women’s self-perceptions. Confederate Daughters identifies the experiences of these teenage daughters as making a significant contribution to the new woman in the New South.   



Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

THIS BOOK IS THE RESULT of the generous and tireless support of many people and institutions. My work began at the University of Tennessee, where I received a considerable amount of financial assistance from the Department of History, including the Charles O. Jackson Fellowship, made possible by the Jackson Family; the Bernadotte-Schmitt research stipend; and the Lee Verstanding Scholarship. Moreover, the department ...

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pp. 1-13

IN THE FINAL YEAR OF THE CIVIL WAR, Emma Florence LeConte, age seventeen, looked at her surroundings with a sense of despair. Gone were the carefree days of her childhood. Now the pale riders of war, destruction, and fear consumed her life. Her family was split apart, the men having left to fight or to retrieve other family members from danger. The imminent Union invasion of her hometown of Columbia, South ...

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1. "Our Bright Youth"

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pp. 14-34

IN JUNE 1859, less than two years before the start of the Civil War, Susan Bradford, aged thirteen, was paying little attention to the brewing sectional conflict between the North and South. Bradford, of Pine Hill plantation near Tallahassee, Florida, spent her summer break from school aiding in the preparations for her sister’s wedding. As the daughter of Edward Bradford, former territorial governor of Florida and a prominent ...

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2. The Politicized Belle

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pp. 35-72

IN THE UNION-OCCUPIED CITY OF KNOXVILLE, Tennessee, a federal officer approached nineteen-year-old Ellen Renshaw House about her apparent patriotism for the Confederate cause. He asked if she believed that “reconstructing the Union” would ever be possible. She called the idea “simply ridiculous,” and argued that “southern children hated the Yankee nation from the time they were born, and the hatred ...

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3. The Self-Sufficient Daughter

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pp. 73-99

ON THE EVE OF THE CIVIL WAR, Isabella (“Belle”) and Anna Mason Smith had little notion that the impending conflict would turn their once comfortable world upside down. The two young women were the daughters of the well-known planter William Mason Smith and his wife Eliza Middleton Huger Smith of South Carolina. Belle, born in 1847, and Anna who came along two years later, were the older daughters of the Smith’s six children. As members of a wealthy slaveholding family,...

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4. The Perfect Woman

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pp. 100-128

IN 1862, fourteen-year-old Janet Weaver of Warrenton, Virginia, penned a description of the qualities she believed characterized the ideal woman. “A perfect woman,” she wrote, “must be amiable, kind, and affectionate” and must manifest “all the love of a mother” in raising her children. “When her husband comes home from a hard days work,” Weaver added, “she does not go to meet him with a troubled brow but tries to look cheerful and bright and make him feel that he is always welcome at home.” An ...

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5. The Confederate Belle Ideal

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pp. 129-165

SOME NINETEEN YEARS AFTER the end of the war, Caroline Joachimson, a South Carolina native living in New York City, penned her reminiscence of life behind the Confederate lines. Her story begins with a household of young women sitting quietly at home sewing and knitting items for soldiers while awaiting news of whether their male kin, including Joachimson’s brother, had enlisted in the Confederate army. Suddenly Cecil, her eldest sister, is surprised to see her sweetheart enter the room....

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pp. 166-170

BY THE EARLY 1900s, southern daughters of the war generation could look to the future with a sense of optimism. Having had children of their own, they saw the torch of southern womanhood passed on to a new generation. Their daughters, born in the postwar era, were now in the throes of adulthood and building their own families. Looking forward, their mothers hoped that a brighter future lay ahead. Those especially affected by the material deprivations of war turned their attention to new forms of financial security and subscribed to the New South boosterism ...


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pp. 171-172


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pp. 173-196


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pp. 197-208


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pp. 209-215

Author Bio

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p. 216-216

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809387014
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328284

Publication Year: 2008