The home front as battlefront: interactions between union soldiers and southern women during the American Civil War

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University of Alabama Libraries

Union soldiers and southern women’s interactions during the American Civil War were more than passing exchanges between strangers. This project argues that their relationships had real effects on the battlefield and on the home front; they affected ideas about citizenship and republicanism; cultural notions of gender roles, racial difference, and socioeconomic status; and definitions of intimate space. Studying soldiers and women together reveals that wartime hostilities exacerbated conflicts over citizenship and inclusion in the republican nation. Focusing on these interactions demonstrates how individual Americans used wartime upheaval to redefine American citizenship. In addition, wartime exchanges between Union soldiers and southern women illuminate nineteenth-century social stratification, gender roles, and race relations. I argue that these interactions bridge a significant gap in the literature between studies of widespread antebellum social and cultural upheaval with the well-documented changes to gender, racial, and class barriers in the postwar period. The intermingling of soldiers and women during the American Civil War demonstrates the ways in which individual behavior, the fixity of racial divisions, and the supposed superior morals of socioeconomic elites, were constantly challenged by the actions of everyday people. This project frames these analyses through the lens of intimate space. When used in the context of the Civil War, intimate space reveals the tension in the relationship between the home front and battlefront by demonstrating that everyday actions in private spaces reverberated throughout the larger world of government and military decisions. In this way, intimate space encompasses not only “private” space—from privately owned land to the houses, slave dwellings, and other structures built upon it as well as to the human and inanimate property housed within—but also the relationships, labor, affective ties, and reproductive actions which occurred in these spaces. Ultimately, an analysis of intimate space reveals that southern homes were already political spaces even before the Union army set foot on southern soil, thus illustrating that the Civil War intensified rather than politicized southern homes. Examining relationships between soldiers and women reveals the complex political, social, and cultural ideas at the heart of the nineteenth-century American home and nation.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
History, American history