- Confederate Heroines: 120 Women Convicted by Union Military Justice
Thomas P. Lowry and Beverly Ann Lowry have done an impressive service for those of us interested in the federal military justice system during the Civil War: they have distilled eighty thousand pages worth of handwritten trial transcripts from Union army courts martial, courts of inquiry, and military commissions into a searchable database format known as the Index Project. Individuals who would benefit from making use of this database for their own research projects can contact the Lowrys for more information. Individuals particularly interested in learning about how the Union's military justice system dealt with Confederate women engaged in activities designed to undermine the federal cause can turn to Confederate Heroines.
This is by no means the first book to explore the ways many women during the war fairly earned the reputation for being "she-rebels." Indeed, at least two of the most famous of these—Belle Boyd and Rose O'Neal Greenhow—recorded their own stories for public consumption, as Lowry points out. Until now, however, the particular women whose stories appear in Confederate Heroines have remained hidden, in large part because the records pertaining to their cases have been tucked away in the National Archives, waiting for researchers as tenacious as the Lowrys to arrive. One might question whether these women deserve the title "heroines," but it's hard to argue with the work the determined Lowrys have done to bring their stories to light.
Among the women who appear in Confederate Heroines are saboteurs, spies, scouts, smugglers of all sorts, letter carriers, women who harbored and fed guerrilla fighters in the border states, flag tramplers, and oath violators. In many ways, this book could be described best as a compilation of colorful [End Page 99] anecdotes about such women along with, in a number of instances, extended transcriptions of testimony, court documents, and other material from the women's trials. Still, Lowry does offer some analysis of the ways the federal military justice system as a whole—and within that system, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt—struggled during the war to handle an apparently unprecedented amount of female criminal behavior. In many ways, this book resembles Lowry's earlier Don't Shoot That Boy (1999), except that the subjects are women.
Among the most unusual and interesting features of the book is the epilogue, in which Lowry discusses the many obstacles researchers—even tenacious ones!—encounter when trying to uncover the stories of women in the past. Here Lowry shares useful information about the various sources, both primary and secondary, researchers interested in the sorts of women he has studied might find most valuable; he also provides a step-by-step account of his own efforts and frustrations while trying to track down more information about two particular women he wanted to include in the book. Women's history—even Civil War women's history—has come a long way since its rebirth in the late twentieth century. But as Lowry's work demonstrates, there are many challenges historians have yet to overcome.