- In the Shadow of the Enemy: The Civil War Journal of Ida Powell Dulany
In June 1862, a band of Yankees came riding toward the house at Oakley, a farm in Fauquier County, Virginia. Inside, only a few women and slaves remained to greet them. Recording the incident in her diary, Ida Powell Dulany described “plant[ing] my back against the corn house door, determined to resist their taking the little left me to the last” (99–100). Her resistance worked, but only for the day. Dulany spent the bulk of the war fending off similar raids, worrying about her absent husband, and desperately trying to hold her plantation together. Contributing to a growing scholarly discourse on women’s wartime experiences, Dulany’s diary, now published in the Voices of the Civil War series, provides excellent firsthand evidence of the ways in which Southern women experienced conflict (from a distance and up close), supported their husbands in other than their traditional roles as submissive wives, dealt with changes to the slave system that supported them, and directly faced the collapse of feminine protections.
Ida began writing in her diary soon after her husband, Henry (“Hal”) Grafton Dulany, left in July 1861 for cavalry training. According to editors Mary L. Mackall, Stevan F. Meserve, and Anne Mackall Sasscer, she became “the decision maker” on the 850-acre farm and “had to provide food, clothing, and medical care for everyone on the place” (xvii). Like many Southern women, Ida acted as deputy husband while Hal was gone, and her diary reflects the ways in which she stepped outside her role as mistress with the help and support of her husband. For example, she was pleased, after selling some cattle in October 1861, to receive a letter from Hal who commented, “I think you did excellently well with your cattle” (31). Ida’s diary and Hal’s letters help historians reconstruct shifting marital roles during wartime. Conversely, Ida’s effort to fight depression and project a cheerful image among family and peers demonstrates how women acted in ways consistent with their feminine image to uphold the morale of their families and male relatives in battle. Idea rejoiced when a friend told Hal that she seemed “well and happy;” though in reality, she wrote, “that is utterly impossible” (32).
Ida and Hal clearly had an affectionate relationship. In August 1861, she wrote that “the longing I have to see my darling Hal no pen or tongue can tell” (14). Hal’s letters, which the editors helpfully include with Ida’s diary, provide evidence of his teasing but loving manner. These documents reveal a companionate marriage in the heart of slave society and challenge [End Page 92] traditional ideas about Southern relationships.
Ida’s diary also sheds light on the subtle ways in which slavery unraveled during the war, shaking the foundation of Southerners’ identities. During the early war years, Ida’s slaves resisted subtly, refusing to prepare dinner and obey orders. However, by January 1862, her slaves began leaving Oakley for good. Ida was shocked at their “impertinen[ce]” and angered at their “disloyalty.” “Poor fools!” she wrote, “I am afraid that in any event they are destined to suffer severely for their folly” (92).
On top of this, Ida’s interactions with the Union army became more serious as the war progressed. In early 1862, she expressed a feeling of being “constantly annoyed” by the Yankees’ visits, but she gave food to polite soldiers (70). However, in December 1864, after two years of raids, Union soldiers arrested her and held her prisoner at a Union camp in exchange for a slave she had agreed to free. Ida wrote that she faced her jailors with defiance, though she had never anticipated “being held as a hostage for a free negro” (182). Although she was quickly released, her experience highlights how war and emancipation challenged established gender and racial lines.
Throughout the diary, Mackall, Meserve, and Sasscer provide...