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Book Reviews

These are some reviews from a recent issue of The Civil War News:

 


“All Things Altered”: Women in the Wake of Civil War and Reconstruction

by Marilyn Mayer Culpepper.

Illustrated, softcover, notes, bibliography, index, 376 pp., 2002. McFarland & Company Inc., P.O. Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, $49 ppd.


This well-written book, which provides an excellent overview of the Reconstruction era in the South, primarily details how Southern women who had supported the Confederacy reacted to the Civil War’s aftermath. As author Marilyn Mayer Culpepper points out, they had to cope with the daunting emotional, financial and social challenges of their new world. She includes many vivid excerpts from the writings of remarkable Southern women of diverse backgrounds.

One of Culpepper’s most compelling chapters deals with the South’s ruined economy. After the war, thousands of Southerners faced dire poverty. They could not pay their property taxes, operate their businesses profitably, or repay their loans. Many women, including those who had been wealthy before the conflict, struggled to obtain food for their families.

The author devotes special attention to Susan Darden, Virginia Smith Aiken, Anna Logan, Jo Gillis and Sally Perry. She points out that most of the excerpts she has selected from their diaries and memoirs have never been published before. Although these five Southern women are not very well known, Culpepper notes that the difficulties they faced are typical of the problems that confronted many of their peers. For example, Perry suffered a sad fate that was all too common. After her husband was killed in battle, the grieving widow eventually lost her home due to financial straits.

Culpepper points out that many Southern women, who had made important contributions to the war effort, continued to play active roles in society during Reconstruction. They set up charity events to benefit veterans’ families, joined organizations to take advantage of social and educational opportunities, and worked to memorialize fallen Confederate soldiers. However, Culpepper observes that Southern women were not as enthusiastic as their Northern counterparts in pursuing the right to vote.

The author, who has done a great deal of careful research, writes with verve and assurance. She does not seek to make sweeping generalizations about the complex Reconstruction era. For instance, she notes that while some Southern employers tried to exploit their black workers, others treated the former slaves fairly. By presenting her material in such a straightforward way, she encourages both scholars and general readers alike to think for themselves.


Linda G. Black

Linda G. Black earned her M.A. at Trenton (NJ) State College. She has written articles for Civil War magazine and Gettysburg magazine. She is working on biographical accounts of little-known war nurses.


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