Buy this book at
To Past Reviews Index
Back to Last Page

Confederate Women
Beyond the Petticoat

Bell Irvin Wiley

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Greenwood Press, London, Barnes & Noble Books (in US)

Published : 1975, (1994 in US)

Copyright : Bell Irvin Wiley 1975

ISBN-10 : HB 0-837-17534-8
ISBN-13 : HB 978-0-837-17534-8

Publisher's Write-Up

Southern women of the 1860's, as here revealed with the help of their own letters and diaries, were decidedly not the clinging vines described in romantic writings of later years. In a very real sense, the tragic Civil War was, for the Confederates, a women's war. Women were ardent in advocating secession. Women were indefatigable in running farms and families and infirmaries while their men fought. Throughout the hopeless war, the women conducted themselves in ways that earned the solid respect of their men, and in ways that won for women the first measured gains toward equality.

Before the Confederacy was crushed, real hunger spread across the South. Clothing and shelter were hard to find. Inflation raged. Confederate women were subjected to unimaginable hardship; the farm wife and the aristocratic belle suffered alike, and often together. They wrote to husbands and sons in service. Their early letters were strong, confident, and encouraging. Later letters became poignant, often imperfectly masking forebodings of further calamity. But even during the war's desperate final months, a complaining letter was a rarity. Confederate women were strong, and they were proud. Bell Irvin Wiley writes at length of such extraordinary women who endured hardship with little or no complaint.

Column Ends


Reader Reviews

Why not Submit a Review your own Review for this book?

Review by Molly Martin (300906) Rating (9/10)

Review by Molly Martin
Rating 9/10
Confederate Women - Beyond the Petticoat in particular details lives of three Southern women who were members of the Southern aristocracy. Mary Boykin Chesnut, Southern Intellectual, Virginia Tunstall Clay – Clopton, an Alabama Belle and Varina Howell Davis, First Lady, Wife and Mother. Photographs include the ladies mentioned as well as children of Jefferson and Varina Davis, Mrs Phoebe Yates Pember, Georgia Confederate Women on visit to their husbands, a Mississippi widow, Rebecca White Barfield of Mississippi and Cpt Sally L Tompkins the found and head of Military Hospital. This is not a story book. It is a work illustrating the lives of Confederate women. Mary Boykin Chesnut is well known to historians because of the notes/journal entries she kept before and during the war years. Much of what we know today of day to day life for those living in the desperate South is due to the Chesnut notes.

Mrs. Chesnut was a bit of a equivocation; she hated slavery, she enjoyed the benefits and comforts it furnished. Virginia Tunstall was born in Nash County, North Carolina. She grew up in Alabama, was a popular Belle, buried two husbands, and lived to enjoy her 90th birthday. Varina Howell was also Southern born; Natchez. She traced her roots to ancestors who fought in the Revolution. Both Virginia Clay – Clopton and Varina Howell were married to politicians and spent time living in Washington DC.

The chapter entitled ‘Women of the Lost Cause’ recounts actions of many women whose names are lost to history. Women of all classes worked in factories, planted fields, cut firewood, cared for the living and buried the dead while their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers were off fighting for the South. A little realized fact today is that most in the south were not slave owners, women born in the south were quick to encourage males to enlist in the fight for the south, not for slavery. Women smuggled arms, medicines and scarce items under their hoop skirts and carried information to military leaders. A few women disguised themselves as men, enlisted and fought alongside male troopers. Others accompanied husbands to the battlefields, or made clothing for the soldiers, or laboured in hospitals caring for the wounded and ill.

On the pages of Confederate Women - Beyond the Petticoat Writer Wiley presents a well organized, easily read record of a number of Confederate women. He offers the reader a peek into the lives of three women of privilege as well as a glimpse into the thoughts, actions and behaviour of a great many women throughout the south during the war years. Women, places and deeds all come alive under the skilful pen of Wiley. What might have been only set of dry facts laid upon a previous layer of drier facts springs to life for the reader. We are carried into Mary Boykin Chestnut’s frustration with those around her or the distress Virginia Clay experienced as she sought to bear a child. We feel the pain and tiredness, the worry and fear of common women as they struggle to provide for themselves, their children and await the husband and other family who are far away fighting the hated ‘Yankees.’

Excellent choice for the pleasure and study reading list. ‘Civil War Buffs’ will find the book of particular value. Those who enjoy reading historical works for the sake of history will like Confederate Women - Beyond the Petticoat no less. Confederate Women - Beyond the Petticoat is a good choice for the high school history teacher.

Enjoyed the read, happy to recommend.
Molly Martin (30th September 2006)

Back to Top of Page
Column Ends