- Sanctified Trial: The Diary of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, a Confederate Women in East Tennessee
Although there have been many Civil War–era diaries published throughout the years, there is still room for another. Part of the "Voices of the Civil War" series, Sanctified Trial sheds new light on the history of Southern women and the Civil War in several important ways. One of its most important contributions lies in Eliza Fain's fierce and unwavering commitment to the belief that racial slavery was a God-ordained practice. Although Fain repeatedly criticized what she called the "amalgamation of the races" caused by un-Christian behavior on the part of white men, she never challenged the rightness of the system itself. Fain's unrelenting loyalty to the argument that slavery was what God intended for the black race adds another dimension to the often-debated topic of the position of slave-holding women with regard to the institution of slavery. Most historians would agree that white women were both the beneficiaries and the victims of the system. Some historians have interpreted evidence of mistresses' distress over the sexual access slavery allowed masters to have to their enslaved women to mean that among women of the slave-holding classes there existed a degree of antislavery (though not abolitionist) sentiment. Fain provides a counterpoint.
Even as she harshly criticized the failings of the institution, she remained uncompromising in her belief that racial slavery was ordained by God. Many years after the war, she concluded, "Our system of slavery has passed away and I for one would never be willing to see its shackles upon us again," indicating her own distaste for the institution. Yet she continued, "but our Bible is the [End Page 202] same" (376). For Fain, racial slavery was part of God's plan. That it played a role in Confederate defeat was the result of sinful masters who failed to behave as Christians should. Fain's unrelenting belief in the righteousness of racial slavery was so powerful that she could blame the corruption of the institution for the loss of the war while never concluding that God was opposed to the Confederate cause. Instead, she held strong to her conviction, only tempering it with the understanding that God had to punish the South for corrupting the system of slavery he had ordained. Fain blamed slavery for the Confederate defeat but continued to see the Confederate nation as one that was blessed by God. Indeed, Fain's reconciliation of emancipation and Confederate defeat within the boundaries of her uncompromising belief in the rightness of the institution of slavery itself is one of the greatest historical contributions of her diary.
While Sanctified Trial adds to our understanding of Southern women's lives during the Civil War, it also leaves us with the nagging sensation that we missed something else. As is the case with any edited version of a historical diary or journal, the reader may wonder what was left out. Contributing further to this feeling is the editor's choice not to use ellipses to note deletions because they would "impede the narrative flow" (xx). Although the editor is very explicit about what he deleted from the published version, one still wonders whether such notations he deemed "less interesting" or "irrelevant" might have contributed to a better understanding of Fain and her life, or perhaps may have even told a different story. The published version of Eliza Fain's diary is not only a chronicle of her experiences but also the story that the editor wished to tell. The focus on the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction is a case in point. Although Fain kept her diary through the 1890s, a period most scholars readily recognize as historically significant for the South and the nation as a whole, the published version of the diary includes only those entries that related to the Civil War. The implication is that the Civil War was the defining...