- Women in Civil War Texas: Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi ed. by Deborah M. Liles and Angela Boswell
Women in Civil War Texas: Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi is an ambitious work that seeks to fill a gap in both Civil War and Texas history, while demonstrating both the similarities and differences between women in Texas and women in other parts of the South during the Civil War. The book represents another milestone in the maturation of southern women’s history and brings into focus the specific experiences of Texas women, putting them center stage whereas most other works, at best, have noted them in passing. It won the 2017 Liz Carpenter Award for the best book in Texas women’s history.
Featuring a helpful introduction and eleven essays that are more contextual than biographical in nature, Women in Civil War Texas ties its broad subject matter together by focusing on the diversity of Texas women’s experiences in the 1860s. Some chapters consider public activities and writings of women, while others use race or politics as the lens to analyze [End Page 104] women’s lives. Unionist women are represented in chapters on German women and women in North Texas, by Judith Dykes-Hoffmann and Rebecca Sharpless, respectively, both written with insight and perspective that provide useful interpretations and reinforce the complex nature of Texas during the Civil War. The book’s final chapter, by Deborah Liles, adds to this sense, building on the frontier narrative and demonstrating the multiple layers of women’s lives during this time period. Liles shows how the Texas frontier was a world away from much of the war’s milieu, noting that in this part of the state, “women adapted out of necessity for survival, which had little to do with Victorian ideals and standards of living” (266).
In a book rich with detail of women’s lives, Linda Hudson’s impressive analysis of Texas Supreme Court decisions that affected black women in the Civil War era is particularly insightful. Drawing on some 297 court decisions, Hudson demonstrates the changing nature of legal decisions for black women on issues ranging from freedom to divorce to murder. A more personal case study is Dorothy Ewing’s biographical piece on Caroline Sedberry, which shows how an ordinary woman responded to her husband’s long absence during the Civil War and the intertwined emotions of fear, confidence, and grief that she lived through as she ran the family’s Bosque County farm.
Taken as a whole, Women in Civil War Texas successfully demonstrates how several factors made the experiences of Texas women during the Civil War different from women in other parts of the South. Sharing a border with Mexico and featuring a vast western frontier, Texas was the newest and least-settled state in the Confederacy. It was also the state most distant from most of the war’s military encounters. The bright side of being removed from the battlefields was offset by the complications of distance when family members entered the war; the less invasive presence of Union forces for Confederate women was more complicated for those women who supported the Union.
Women in Civil War Texas is a welcome addition to southern women’s history, Texas history, and Civil War history. Similar to other important recent works such as Jesús F. de la Teja’s Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016) and Catherine Clinton’s Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the American Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2016), this collection emphasizes the complexity of Civil War history and the important issues still deserving of historians’ attention. By putting Texas women at its center, it also demonstrates the diverse range of women’s experiences that deepen our understanding of this unsurpassed national conflict. [End Page 105]