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Women in the War

Had a request for this page from Steven and Derek.  Great Idea!

Women of the Confederacy

White women in the South threw themselves into the war effort with the same zeal as their Northern counterparts. The Confederacy had less money and fewer resources than did the Union, however, so they did much of their work on their own or through local auxiliaries and relief societies. They, too, cooked and sewed for their boys. They provided uniforms, blankets, sandbags and other supplies for entire regiments. They wrote letters to soldiers and worked as untrained nurses in makeshift hospitals. They even cared for wounded soldiers in their homes.

Many Southern women, especially wealthy ones, relied on slaves for everything and had never had to do much work. However, even they were forced by the exigencies of wartime to expand their definitions of “proper” female behavior

Nurses of the Civil War
Civil War Nurses
Women Civil War Soldiers
Encouraging Hearts, Strngthening Hands

Varina Davis First Lady of the Confederacy

The Southern Homefront.

William Ludwell Sheppard

In the Hospital, 1861, is a tribute to Southern nurses. Civil War nurses were sometimes called "angels of the battlefield," working long hours to heal and comfort wounded and dying soldiers.

After the initial months of the war, the South was plagued with shortages of all kinds. It started with clothing. As the first winter of the war approached, the Confederate army needed wool clothing to keep their soldiers warm. But the South did not produce much wool and the Northern blockade prevented much wool from being imported from abroad. People all over the South donated their woolens to the cause. Soon families at home were cutting blankets out of carpets.

Almost all the shoes worn in the South were manufactured in the North. With the start of the war, shipments of shoes ceased and there would be few new shoes available for years. The first meeting of Confederate and Union forces at Gettysburg arose when Confederates were investigating a supply of shoes in a warehouse.

By the end of the Civil War, Confederate money wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

Money was another problem. The South's decision to print more money to pay for the war simply led to unbelievable increases in price of everyday items. By the end of 1861, the overall rate of inflation was running 12% per month. For example, salt was the only means to preserve meat at this time. Its price increased from 65¢ for a 200 pound bag in May 1861 to $60 per sack only 18 months later. Wheat, flour, corn meal, meats of all kinds, iron, tin and copper became too expensive for the ordinary family. Profiteers frequently bought up all the goods in a store to sell them back at a higher price. It was an unmanageable situation. Food riots occurred in Mobile, Atlanta and Richmond. Over the course of the war, inflation in the South caused prices to rise by 9000%.

The women of Richmond rioted on April 2, 1863, until Jefferson Davis threw them all of his pocket change and threatened to order the militia to fire upon the crowd.

Women's roles changed dramatically. The absence of men meant that women were now heads of households. Women staffed the Confederate government as clerks and became schoolteachers for the first time. Women at first were denied permission to work in military hospitals as they were exposed to "sights that no lady should see." But when casualties rose to the point that wounded men would die in the streets due to lack of attention, female nurses such as Sally Louisa Tompkins and Kate Cumming would not be denied. Indeed, by late 1862, the Confederate Congress enacted a law permitting civilians in military hospitals, giving preference to women.

"The Civil War, Spies, Scouts and Raiders", Time-Life books, page 45

Southern woman and children would smuggle much needed quinine and morphine from the North into the Confederacy in the bodies of dolls like this one.

The most unpopular act of the Confederate government was the institution of a draft. Loopholes permitted a drafted man to hire a substitute, leading many wealthy men to avoid service. When the Confederate Congress exempted anyone who supervised 20 slaves, dissension exploded. Many started to conclude that it was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." This sentiment and the suffering of their families led many to desert the Confederate armies.

By November 1863, James Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War said he could not account for 1/3 of the army. After the fall of Atlanta, soldiers worried more about their families then staying to fight for their new country. Much of the Confederate army started home to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

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Mar 10, 201

Civil War Letters”, compiled by Doris Simmons Clark Moore, 2004. RBP 000009, p. 62–64. Rufus Brooks Mann Papers. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
Hardship on the Home Front — Texas Women during the Civil War
Although the landscape of Texas does not bear as many of the intense battle scars of the Civil War as several other states, the effects of the conflict took a heavy toll on its citizens. Confederate conscription laws put into effect in April 1862 required all able-bodied men to enlist in the army.[1] As the war persisted the women and children left behind were forced to adapt to the changes brought about by a nation divided for five years and the reality that their husbands, sons, and brothers may not return. To lead their families through the hard times of war, these women shouldered the difficult burden of responsibility for the education of their children, the production of crops and other foodstuffs, and maintaining the health of the community, among other concerns. Letters written to male family members away at war helps shed light on their arduous tasks.

Letter from Mollie Mann to Rufus Mann, October 21, 1863. RBP 000003. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
The Rufus Brooks Mann Civil War Letters, generously donated to the Texas General Land Office by Ray and Doris Moore in 2008 and housed in the GLO Archives, provide a unique and personal look into the lives of Texas women during the Civil War. The letters offer important insight into what life was like for tens of thousands of women thrust into the role of head of household. [2]
Mollie and Rufus Mann were married for just eight months before Rufus enlisted in the Confederate army. He departed for Arkansas, leaving Mollie in Mt. Vernon, Texas with their newborn son, her mother, and her sisters. Mollie wrote to Rufus regularly, keeping him updated on the happenings in and around Mt. Vernon.
At a time when women’s status in society consisted mostly of household duties and caring for children, the vacuum created by the men in the community was unmistakable. Women were suddenly required to handle the household and business finances, civic duties, and other obligations that were traditionally handled by men. As such, Mollie took over many of her husband’s responsibilities, and wrote to him about her experiences.










Letter from Mollie to Rufus Mann, 26 July [1864]. RBP 000005, Rufus Brooks Mann Papers. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
Before enlisting in the army, Rufus was a teacher at a local academy. In several letters, Mollie mentioned that she and her sisters were taking turns teaching for several weeks or months at a time, sharing the work so as not to get behind on the growing responsibilities at home. She tells Rufus:
…I have heard no particulars except that she has a school of some 14 pupils and teaches in a room in the yard…Mag is teaching with Mrs. Brown again this session. Julia is at home.[3] …I taught this week, Ma wove and the girls spun.[4]
Union blockades on the Mississippi River and along the Texas coast almost immediately caused major shortages of basic necessities in Texas. To alleviate this, the women preserved food and sewed clothing to be sent to their husbands, brothers, and sons serving in the army. In October 1863, Mollie wrote to her husband that crops were good, however, with the high prices and the large slave population consuming their share, there was little left to benefit the farmer. To counter the shortages, local commissary stores in neighboring Mt. Pleasant stockpiled food and supplies to see that the community made it through tough times. Mollie also worked to preserve as much food as possible, as food scarcity became commonplace.

The lack of proper nourishment often led to sickness and disease. Treatment options were limited as most medical supplies were kept for use by the Confederate troops. In several of her letters, Mollie describes the various illnesses that plagued the community, including whooping cough and a horrible case of conjunctivitis (pinkeye) that spread through the family, rendering them blind for days. Because of the lack of proper medical care, an illness like whooping cough or the measles would strike and rapidly spread through the town. Mollie writes to Rufus:
Mrs. Dyer has just returned from a meeting where her child was exposed to measles and hooping cough which terrifies me very much. Wirt would stand a poor chance to get well of measles now and hooping cough would doubtless continue in the family until fall which I would consider certain death to all new comers…. I am in very poor plight this morning to write at all . . . Ma was blind 12 days, I was about 20 and the most acute suffering part of the time that I ever felt. Tho I knew the eye to be a most sensitive organ I never could have imagined the intense pain that could be felt in so small a compass. We have lost two months and suffered dreadfully. . . It is decidedly the greatest affliction we have had in our family for years . . . There has been more sickness in this county this year than has been known for years.[5]
Adding to the stress of supporting the family during difficult times, another agonizing concern for the wives and loved ones of soldiers at war was that one day they may receive the news that their husbands, brothers, or sons had been killed in battle. Mollie expressed this throughout each of her letters to her husband. Her one wish was to have him returned to her unharmed. July 1864 she writes to Rufus,
When I think of the weary life you have to live, and compare our present life and circumstance with what it might have been, I sometimes think it is hard, too hard to endure. For a time I strongly hoped for peace. I still hope, but not with that confidence I could wish. I fear we will not be so blessed for many years.[6]
I pray the Lord to take care of you and keep and guard you from every evil and danger and one day restore you to your ever loving and devoted Mollie.[7]
At the end of the war, her wish was granted and Rufus returned to Mt. Vernon, where they lived together for many years.[8]













As men returned home and fell back into their everyday lives, the women who so readily stepped up to assume their duties were not prepared to give up their newfound independence and social responsibilities. The Civil War brought about a change in gender equality not just in Texas, but throughout the nation, with women commanding a greater presence in community and social affairs than ever before.
[1] Public Acts of the First Congress of the Confederate States, CHAP. XV. — An Act to amend an Act entitled “An Act to provide further for the public defence,” approved April 16, 1862.
[2] To access the Rufus Brooks Mann Civil War Letters online, go to the following link and enter Mann into the “Class” field:
[3] Letter from Mollie Mann to Rufus Mann, October 21, 1863. RBP 000003, Rufus Brooks Mann Papers. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
[4] Letter from Mollie to Rufus Mann, January 7, [1864]. RBP 000004, Rufus Brooks Mann Papers. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
[5] Letter from Mollie Mann to Rufus Mann, October 21, 1863. RBP 000003
[6] Letter from Mollie to Rufus Mann, Sunday Morning July [1864]. RBP 000006, Rufus Brooks Mann Papers. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
[7] Letter from Mollie to Rufus Mann, 26 July [1864]. RBP 000005, Rufus Brooks Mann Papers. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
[8] “Civil War Letters”, compiled by Doris Simmons Clark Moore, 2004. RBP 000009, Rufus Brooks Mann Papers. Archives and Records, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas.
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