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Paths to Reconciliation: Northern Intersectional Romances of the Civil War Era

From: Civil War History
Volume 60, Number 1, March 2014
pp. 32-57 | 10.1353/cwh.2014.0024

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In the autumn of 1860, young Millicent Halford left her home in Massachusetts to live with relatives on a central Kentucky plantation, where she served as a governess for her young cousins and witnessed firsthand the evils of slavery. Appalled by the violence of the institution, she helped an enslaved woman escape the family plantation. When civil war wreaked havoc on Kentucky and engulfed the plantation in its chaos, Millicent's cousin Frederick Leeson reluctantly enlisted in the Confederate army. Although Frederick fell in love with Millicent, she rejected his advances, vowing never to become the wife of a slaveholding Confederate. After being seriously wounded, Frederick awoke to find his former slave nursing him back to health. The experience transformed him; he immediately freed his slaves and deserted the Confederate army. Back at home, guerrillas destroyed his plantation and his mother died. In the midst of tragedy, Millicent and Frederick married and lived happily ever after under the Union flag.

The fictional love story of Millicent Halford, published in 1865, was one of many intersectional romances that appeared in novels and literary magazines in the Civil War North. Authored by Martha Remick, this novel would have caught readers' attention with its similarities to Uncle Tom's Cabin. In addition to the familiar plot elements of Kentucky plantations, Yankee abolitionists, escaping slaves, and redeemed southerners, Remick's novel contained an additional facet—civil war. Aptly set in divided Kentucky, the novel pitted Union-loving Millicent against Confederate Frederick, and through their struggle, readers could work through the meanings of unionism and reconciliation. Periodicals such as Harper's Weekly, Flag of Our Union, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper published many similarly themed intersectional romances during the war. The broad circulation of these periodicals allowed northern authors to shape public opinion about the conflict as the intersectional romances allowed authors to condemn secession and slavery while presenting the possibility of sectional reunion through sacrifice and loyalty to the Union.

That intersectional romances served as a metaphor for the sectional conflict in the popular literature of the nineteenth century is well-known to historians. In the decades preceding the Civil War, scholars have found that white southern women wrote fictional romances between northerners and southerners to call for an end to sectional political discord while at the same time defending the South's agrarian society (and slavery). Likewise, studies of the postwar decades have shown that intersectional romances increasingly promoted sectional reconciliation. Intersectional romances published


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The novel featured star-crossed lovers Millicent Halford, a Yankee, and Frederick Leeson, a Confederate, who could not marry until Leeson deserted the Confederacy, freed his slaves, and became a flag-loving unionist. Courtesy of https://openlibrary.org/books/o62342o759M/Milicent#Halford.

during the war, however, have received less attention, though scholars have shown that both northerners and southerners used intersectional romances to work through the regional and constitutional meanings of the war. Three novels and twenty-six short stories, appearing in popular periodicals from 1860 to 1865, confirm that white northerners employed the metaphor of romance to discuss the divided nation, border tensions, and the meaning of citizenship, but they went a step further by offering suggestions about how loyal Americans could promote national reunification and reconciliation. Unlike the lovers in pre- and postwar stories, who served as a metaphor for the North and the South, the lovers in wartime romances represented the Union and the Confederacy. The divisions, in short, were political more than geographic. These stories also differed from their postwar counterparts in that the masculine North was not always pitted against the feminine South. Scholars such as Kathleen Diffley, David Blight, and Nina Silber, have demonstrated that in postwar romances, the southern woman was reconciled to the northern man, symbolizing northern power and southern submission. But stories published during the war were not structured in this way. To be sure, the North, or, more accurately, the Union, was always victorious, but nearly half the stories featured a northern female heroine, and in most of the stories, the power of sectional reconciliation rested with the female characters.

The presence of female heroines makes sense, as women wrote most of these romances...



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