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JOSIAH GORGAS, A VICTORIAN FATHER Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins One evening when his son, William Crawford, was twelve, Josiah Gorgas mused in his diary: As he lies asleep before me now, how earnestly I pray for his future welfare. How my heart yearns toward him; & how glad I would be to shield him from the troubles oflife. It makes me understand, & in some measure respect the desire people have to accumulate, in order that they may leave their children in affluence. It is the natural desire ofthe parent to protect & watch over the offspring—to work hard, & bear the brunt ofthe struggle oflife, that the child may be saved the same struggle in some degree.' Famous as Confederate chief of ordnance, Josiah Gorgas became a father in the midst ofthe Victorian era in America, a transition age in childrearing patterns. Mid-nineteentíi-century fathers had moved away from the severity of Puritan evangelical attitudes that the child's will must be broken and had come to believe that children were pliable and could be bent and shaped as young plants by careful pruning. Such parents exercised authoritative influence, not authoritarian power, over their offspring. Relying on moderate discipline and voluntary obedience, Victorian parents nurtured their children and welcomed them into the world, anticipating their children's growth to maturity as responsible community members. But there were limits. They did not believe in sinful or dangerous indulgence so diat children became undisciplined, too free in behavior, spoiled, vain, or arrogant. The essential issue was that the child voluntarily obeyed the parents.2 The author acknowledges The University ofAlabama Research Grants Committee's support for a larger research project out of which this essay developed. 1 Journal ofJosiah Gorgas, 1857-1878, January 27, 1867, original in Gorgas Family Papers (University of Alabama Library, Tuscaloosa). Copies of a reasonably accurate typescript of the journals are located in the Gorgas Family Papers, Josiah Gorgas Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), and William Crawford Gorgas Papers (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C). The Civil War portion of the Gorgas Journal was published as Frank E. Vandiver, ed.,The Civil War Diary of General Josiah Gorgas (University: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1947). * Philip Greven, The Protestant Temperament: Patterns ofChild-Rearing, ReligiousExperience , and the Selfin Early America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), 151-260, and Philip J. Greven, Jr., Child-Rearing Concepts, 1628-1861 (Itasca, 111.. F. E. Peacock Publishers, Inc. , 1973), 4-5. For useful insight into a sample of Victorian British fathers see David Roberts, "The Paterfamilias of the Victorian Governing Classes," in The Victorian Family: Civil War History, Vol. XXXII, No. 3, ©1986 by The Kent State University Press 230CIVIL WAR HISTORY Josiah Gorgas's parenting exemplifies the family patriarch as "source, provider, protector, example, and judge," and offers an unusual opportunity for insight into the mind of a nineteenth-century American father whose relationship with his son may be examined over a period of twentyfive years through his journal and a voluminous family correspondence.3 These sources reflect a man who was not an indifferent father, who asserted his paternal authority up to a point, who was not hesitant to judge his son's growth harshly, who lacked the financial resources to be an indulgent or even benevolent father in a material sense, who saw fatherhood in terms of love and duty, not love and fear. Also, focus on the family relationship of the soldier-father and the doctor-son illuminates dimensions of their characters that biographers have heretofore overlooked.4 Well known as a military figure, Josiah was a Pennsylvanian, a West Point graduate, and a career U.S. Army officer who met and married Amelia Gayle—the plain but charming daughter of an Alabama governor who was later U.S. senator—while stationed at Mt. Vernon near Mobile in 1853. Josiah married into Amelia's aristocratic Mobile family, not she into his poor Pennsylvania one. When William Crawford was born the next year, Josiah became a doting father. Five other children followed in the next ten years; the eldest and youngest were boys. But the parents' pride and joy was their beloved Willie, of whom they expected the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 229-246
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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