Five Tri-State Women During the Civil War: Views On the War
By Claudia Lynn Lady
Carl Degler stated in his recent history of women and the family in America that, as sources of information, letters and diaries have one obvious advantage they "can reveal people's values, attitudes, and motives as well as their actions." This is certainly true of the letters and diaries written during the Civil War by Mary Gilchrist of Lebanon, Ohio; Mary Aleshire of Gallipolis, Ohio; Henrietta Barr of Ravenswood, West Virginia; Eugenia Thackston of Barboursville, West Virginia; and Frances Peter of Lexington, Kentucky. These personal papers reveal the women's feelings toward family and friends, their everyday activities, and the impact of the Civil War on their lives and attitudes. Most importantly, as these women expressed themselves on diverse topics ranging from love and marriage to war and slavery, their writings shed light on the values of middle-class women living in the mid-nineteenth century. In an article published in the previous issue of this journal, an examination of the diaries and letters of these women detailed their personal relationships and daily activities during the war years. As outlined in that article, the doctrine of domesticity shaped the lives of nineteenth-century women and the five women of this study proved no exception. According to this concept, home and family constituted the center of a woman's life in which she should properly devote herself to the nurturance of her loved ones. The writings of all five women reveal that home and family were of utmost importance in their lives. Domesticity was an integral part of their personalities. The Civil War, while challenging their minds and expanding their range of activities, did not lead any of these women to reject the themes of home and family. Rather, these women ventured into new realms of activity out of necessity, out of the need to protect themselves and their loved ones during wartime. Their letters and diaries provide a view of women who balanced the demands of wartime life against the values of a traditional one. In the end, the shattering experience of war broke into their sphere of domesticity only rarely. However, in addition to recording details of personal relationships and daily activities in their diaries and letters, these tri-state women expressed their thoughts and opinions about the Civil War its tragedies, its personalities, its frustrations, its politics, and its intrusion into their lives. The Civil War affected all five area women directly or indirectly. These women, as did thousands across the nation, "privately recorded their experiences, reactions, and innermost thoughts" concerning the Civil War years. At a time in which nineteenth-century women were expected to express opinions on one subject domesticity they freely cast judgments on men and politics in the privacy of their diaries. The longer the war continued and the greater the casualties became, women increasingly criticized policy decisions and policy makers. Such criticism is reflected in the comments of the tri-srate women, who discussed the trials and fortunes of war, appraised wartime policies and figures, and patriotically espoused their cause. Whether writing of the status of blacks, the merits of Johnny Reb versus Billy Yank, the personality of a local commanding officer, or the difficulty of discovering the truth in a land of propaganda, these women wrote with wit, intelligence, and strength. Though not unbiased, their writings show that women could make the kind of intelligent assessments of political and social issues which the nineteenth-century world thought beyond their mental capabilities. Besides showing that tri-state women had perceptive views of current events, the diaries and letters of the five women also reveal that they moved outside the bounds of convention by expressing their views publicly. Henrietta Barr, whose diary is filled with her political and military judgments, was more than willing to discuss her opinions with men, as the following diary passages indicate. Mr. Ben Davenport spent the evening with us. Had quite a political discussion. He was decidedly "Union" in his sentiments but (to do him justice) he is the only Unionist I ever saw who was at all reasonable or would listen to reason. In spite of all we failed to convince him of his errors and we are of the same opinion still. Mr. J. H. Brown of Kanawha (called Judge by the Wheeling Convention) called to see us today. Got into a political discussion. Of course we did not agree. He said many hard things of the South but pretended to be in such good humor all the time it was impossible to be offended. In the border communities where military control frequently changed from one side to the other and where frustration abounded, women publicly expressed their loyalties and views outside of their homes and among the enemy. In Lexington, Kentucky, Frances Peter wrote of two women who vehemently expressed themselves, the first in support of the Union, the other in support of the cause of the South: I heard say that a young lady who lives on the hill while Morgan's cavalry was passing her house [the Southern leader, John Morgan, who was a native of Lexington], said to her sister well I cant stand this any longer. I must say what I think & "Look here" said she to one of the fellows "I say Hurra for Lincoln (I mean the President of the United States if you don't know) & hurra for the Union & the union soldiers." The first day the rebels came in to Lexington Miss Carrie Preston [daughter of Confederate General William Preston] went down to Main Street & amused herself by tearing up & trampling on a union flag. Women in the divided localities could express their loyalty in a lesss aggressive, but certainly courageous fashion, by refusing to take loyalty oaths. Barr noted the events which transpired when occupying Federal troops tried to force Southern sympathizers in Ravenswood, West Virginia, to take an oath of allegiance to the Union: As I expected we shall have no more peace or quiet while Dan Frost is in the place. He sent up this morning his Lieut. (A cutthroat looking thing) and Capt. Gilpin to compel us to bake the oath. Of course, we declined doing so. We are threatened with the consequences, which are that we shall be taken to Wheeling in the morning, receive horrid treatment, and then we "shall be glad to take the oath." (Very glad, indeed!) Their eloquence and insolence making no impression with us, they leave in disgust. At every house but one, where they made the attempt, they met with similar success. Our women are made of the right stuff dear good creatures. Acting as part of a group, women often found the means to express themselves. In September 1862, when John Morgan's men marched to Lexington "the secesh ladies paraded about with the stars and bars in their hands & streamers of red white & red on their dresses or bonnets." The capture of Lexington by the Federal troops did nothing to deter the Southern sympathizers from demonstrating their loyalties on the street in the spring of 1863. Peter wrote, "The secesh ladies kept a great bowing and saluting of the prisoners yesterday, and the new Provost Marshall Col. Sigfried is said to have warned them that the next time they do so they would be sent to Camp Chase or `Dixie'." Union sympathizers in Ravenswood also expressed their views and indeed did not confine those expressions to actions considered "ladylike," as noted by Barr after the Rebel defeat at Buffington Island in July 1863. She wrote disgustedly, "to cap the climax the Union women visited the Confederate prison captured at Buffington Island in hordes to gloat over their suffering and insult them. Some of them spit on and abused the bodies the dead." As the previous passages indicate, tri-state women, like the Southern women studied by Douglas S. Freeman, did not during the Civil War years "adhere strictly to the principle that a woman's place is in the home." They did espouse views and opinions, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly, dealing with topics other than the domestic circle. Beginning in 1860, "women showed increasing interest in politics." Several of the tri-state women commented on political issues of the day in their writings. Their remarks demonstrate a basic understanding of the questions coupled with the biases consistent with their background and loyalties. The status of black slaves in America, so important a cause of the split between the states, evoked strong feelings among the women. Anne Firor Scott, in her study of Southern women, found many references to slavery throughout their diaries and letters, references which were filled with antagonism. She discovered "most southern women who expressed themselves on the peculiar institution opposed slavery and were glad when it was ended." Reasons for this opposition to slavery were mixed. As one Southern diarist wrote, it was impossible to know whether abolitionist feelings among Southern women were "in sympathy with the colored race or with their owners." Some women resented the complex psychological and occupational burden of managing large numbers of slaves. Dealing with slaves led to both hatred and love disgust for the troublesome or slow slave and close love for loyal house slaves or mammies. These feelings led to a general dislike of the South's peculiar institution. Other women felt slavery was an ultimately degrading evil for the male masters, contributing to the sins of miscegenation and sadism. The easy availability of black slave women caused much resentment among white women, who by nineteenth-century precepts were supposed to remain faithful while their husbands found sexual diversion in the slave community. Mary Chestnut, perhaps the most prominent female Southern diariest of the war years, noted in her Diary from Dixie: "Mrs. Stowe did not hit the sorest spot. She makes Legree a bachelor." Other women found similarities in the status of females and slaves which led them to advocate abolitionism as well as women's rights. For example, Sarah Grimke, a leading abolitionist unusual for her sex and her southern upbringing, wrote, "a woman's condition resembles, in some measure, that of the slave, who, while he is denied the advantages of his more enlightened master, is treated with even greater rigor of the law." So for a variety of reasons, many women opposed slavery. Of the five tri-state women, two were members of nonslaveholding families Mary Gilchrist and Mary Aleshire. Neither of these women mention the institution of slavery in their diaries and letters. Perhaps this indicates that they did not consider emancipation to be the cause of the Civil War. The other three women Henrietta Barr, Frances Peter, and Eugenia Thackston were members of slaveholding families and all three referred to slavery and their feelings about blacks in their writings. Their views of slavery were common among middle and upper class women of the Deep South. The impression one gets from the writings of Peter and Thackston is that they were primarily concerned with slavery as a troublesome form of labor. In referring to the supposed laziness of slaves, Peter wrote, "Sambo doesn't like hard work expecially [sic] if it has to be done regularly." In a series of letters to her husband concerning the acquisition of a nurse for their daughter, Thackston left an interesting perspective on working with slaves: In the choice of a nurse you must exercise your own judgment in regards to size & age, as far as color is concerned I prefer one not too black. Mulattoes are generally more sprightly and more cleanly in their habits. After acquiring the slave, Eliza, Thackston wrote her husband: She seems do have no idea of nursing or amusing a child and is very cross and bad disposed. I attend to baby altogether. I have caught her more than once in the act of slapping the child. She does some things very well brings water, etc. She is a likely negro and might do well if a tight rein was held over her. Evidently these two tri-state women did not feel that slavery was an absolute blessing in running their households. But as the Civil War came closer to home, they seemed less concerned with the management of the slaves than with the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation and the war itself on the slave population. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation. According to this document, all slaves in areas considered to be "in rebellion" were declared free. In other words, Lincoln declared black emancipation only in areas under Confederate control. Border states, Tennessee, and the sections of Virginia and Louisiana under Federal control were excluded. The practical application was, thus, very limited because Lincoln only freed slaves in states over which the federal government had no control. Peter's home state, Kentucky, continued as a slave state until after the war, and Barr's state, West Virginia, decreed gradual emancipation as a condition to being granted statehood. Although they were not immediately affected, Peter and Barr both had comments about the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Peter, a staunch Unionist, followed the Proclamation debates in the Kentucky state legislature and noted her support of a state legislator, one Mr. Marshall: Mr. Marshall in the Legislature made a very sensible speech the other day about all this disputing over the President[']s Proclamation. He says he thinks it is enough for the Governor & Legislature to declare it unconstitutional and not meddle any further but leave the matter alone. Henrietta Barr, displaying her disdain for the Union leaders in Washington, wryly noted her reaction to the Proclamation in her diary on the very day of Lincoln's decree: Today Lincoln's proclamation of freedom and equality to the negroes goes into effect. I do not apprehend any serious consequences from this new act of tyranny. All that could be done by the meddling abolitionists to render this unhappy race discontented and miserable has been done. They have failed in their efforts to produce servile insurrections, which the Southern people justly dreaded more than anything in regard to the War. . . . Anarchy and confusion rule supreme at the Federal Capitol. Neither Peter nor Barr appears to have felt the Emancipation Proclamation would have any immediate effect, as indeed, it did not. The presence of Federal troops in local communities seemingly caused more black unrest than any formal decree. According to one account, "most Negroes, as Federal troops neared, began exhibiting increasing restiveness, became impudent to their masters, and refused to work or submit to punishment for their misdoings." Henrietta Barr noted the common occurrence of slaves retreating from their community along with recently arrived Federal troops. In the of 1862, she wrote, "They [Yankees] are retreating across the river [the Ohio] as fast as possible. The Negroes and the ambulances with their sick and wounded are sent first. Before night the valuable darkies are over the line, hence bid adieu to `Dixie.' The combination of the war itself, the presence of Union troops, and the knowledge of Lincoln's proclamation seemed to combine to produce more and more black unrest. In May 1863, Barr wrote of the loss a slave named Edward: Upon enquiring for Edward to send him on an errand, I was duly informed by his august mother that he had left on the Logan proclaimed himself "free and equal" (with the Yanks). I should not be surprised to wake up any morning and find that "Mr. and Mrs. Keys", this independent young man's parents, had changed their base of operation. After three years of war and the idea of emancipation, Frances Peter observed: "ln fact the negroes throughout the country are no longer humble servants that they used to be. They are restless, impertinent, and discontented, neglect their work, and run off in great numbers." The war not only required adjustment among the slaves, but also among their masters. In a long discourse in her diary, Peter reveals her understanding of the tie between slavery and a healthy economy. It is an undoubled fact that we are much nearer emancipation now, than even last year People are getting more accustomed to the idea and do not think it near so terrible as they used to. It is rather significant that at the present writing it is considered nearly if not quite as cheap to buy negroes as to hire them. Clothing and food being so much higher than in former times. Everything is tending to decrease the value of the negro as a servant, and to make a great many people look forward to the time when this state will be a free one. The time is not yet come for such a change; but unless the "signs of the times" are very deceptive, it will be affected in due course of time. Emancipation and the presence of troops did not gurantee a former slave an easy life. After learning that emancipation did not mean freedom from work, the Peter slaves exhibited little desire to leave the security of their master's household. As a Union supporter, but also a woman accustomed to dealing with slaves, Frances Peter sarcastically wrote of the black reaction to the idea of work after freedom: . . . And I have noticed that since Mr. Lincoln['s] January proclamation, and since they [the slavesl have found out that the soldiers make them work just us hard if not harder than their masters they don[']t takes as much interest in them and are not near as willing to do things for them as when the army first cnme here. For instance when the hospitals were first brought here, they were very poorly supplied with comforts, and had to depend a great deal on the ladies. A great many of the ladies here sent food to the sick three times a day, each lady having a patient or sometimes two or three to whom she sent his meals regularly. My sister Lettie was one. . . . During all last winter this went on and I noticed that the servants were always willing to make bread, mush, or cook anything Lettie might want, no matter how much they might have to do, or go to the hospital at all times and in all weathers and put themselves to any amount of trouble and inconvenience to wait on the soldiers. And the servant whom Lettie generally sent with the things, would often, when Lettie thought it was too bad weather or that we had nothing worth sending beg to be sent and persuade Lettie until she consented to send. But now (though it is very seldom there is occasion to send as the Government supplies everything) if asked to go, they seem to think it is doing you a favor for them to consent and seem to have lost all interest in it. Related to emancipation was the controversial issue of the induction of blacks into the Union army. While implemented reluctantly, the practice of recruiting blacks was begun in 1862 when General Rufus Saxton was empowered by the federal government to recruit not more than five thousand black volunteers. By the end of the war the Union army contained 178,895 black men. These soldiers were often used for camp chores, but black troops effectively engaged in combat in several places, particularly South Carolina and Florida. The use of black troops for battle duty caused a great uproar in the Confederacy .The South considered the practice a violation of civilized rules of war and even in a time of urgent need rejected black recruitment for the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis proclaimed thay any captured white officer leading black troops shoud be treated as a felon, rather than a prisoner of war. Barr and Peter both recorded their reaction to fighting black soldiers. Henrietta Barr expressed her belief that blacks, being inferior were best cared for within the institution of slavery .Her attitude was paternalistic. With respect to using blacks in combat, she felt sorrow for the blacks and disgust for their white liberators: They [Ohioans] seem just now to be divided between abject fear and pressing negroes into their army "to subdue the unholy rebellion." They are too cowardly to fight their own battle so they steal all our contrabands' and force them to take up arms against their rightful owners. I really feel sorry for the poor silly dupes (I mean the negroes). Frances Peter, on the other hand, displays no benevolent attitudes towards blacks. Her feelings seem to be primarily disdain and disgust the black race. In the following passage, Peter assesses the suitabi]ity of the black as a soldier: The negro regiments that have been raised at Port Royal and elsewhere have proved a failure, the negroes refusing to work and deserting on every occasion and of the celebrated Kansas rcgiment only 148 are left and Gen Rufus Saxton has petitioned to be removed to some other command as he is tired of the negro and everything about him. So say some of the papers, and others make out that everything is going well and the black soldiers, are so patriotic and etc. I doubt it. The first account is by far the most probable. From all I have observed of the negro he is much too a[d]verse to work. too timid to make a good soldier, and has got it into his head that liberty means doing nothing. I think it is acting agninst the Constitution to make soldiers of the blacks, and however much the abolitionists may say to the contrary, they will find in the end that this arming & equiping of negro regiments is a mere wast of time and money. A few months later, Peter reacted fearfully to the news of a mutiny among the black troops: The 1st Carolina negro regiment mutinied against their officers lately. . . . There have been some other cases lately in which the negro has attacked the white. I am afraid now that that negroes have got arms in their hands, and so many notions of freedom in their heads that before the war is over it is not improbable that we may have to fight them as well as the secesh. By the fall of 1863, Peter believed she had found a solution to the problem of finding useful employment for black troops mining coal in eastern Kentucky: Gen Fry had better take his negroes when they have done working on the rralroad and set them to mining the coal on the Big Sandy. It would be a very good thing if he was to think of it. But I think it would shame the k[e]y people because they ought ti have done it themselves years ago. Apparently support for the Union and for black slavery were not incompatible attitudes in the view of Frances Peter. Barr and Peter both lived in border areas of divided loyalties though ultimately their regions remained in the Union Kentucky by the presence of Union troops, West Virginia by secession from the Confederate state of Virginia. Both women watched state politics with interest. In the following excerpt from her diary, Peter discusses the struggle to keep Kentucky in the Union and overcome the influence of the Copperheads, Unionist Democrats who opposed Lincoln: There are said to be 30,000 troops in and around New York City. I was sorry to see in the papers that a good many of their officers were Copperheads or secesh, but in New York and most of the Northern states the people are not so strict with the class as in Kentucky . . . we have had to struggle too hard to keep ourselves in the Union and under the old flag ever to let Copperheads grow and flourish; we know it is necessary to beware of them as of the reptile whose name they bear. . . . While Frances Peter could be happy with Kentucky as a Union state, Henrietta Barr was decidedly unhappy with the Union status of her West Virginia home. The decision to secede from Virginia and establish a Union state was far from a unanimous choice of the people of the region. Most opponents of secession considered the act illegal and refused to participate in the election on the ratification of a new state constitution. Henrietta Barr was those who considered the movement for statehood illegal and unrepresentative of the citizenry. In the fall of 1862, she commented on the selection of a state legislature to draft a constitution: Nothing to ruffle the smooth current of our lives but an election Saturday for the Wheelong legislature. . . . These proceedings as usual are a perfect farce. There are no expressions of the voice of the people, only of Dan Frost, Armstrong & Co., [leaders of the Union occupying forces in Ravenswood] aided by the bayonets of the two companies of soldiers. The next month, Barr reacted to the news that the bill creating the new state of West Virginia had passed in the United States Congress: . . . it is reported that the new state of Va. has passed both houses of Congress. But the President will veto the bill on the grounds of its "unconstitutionality." This is the most laughable joke Linclon ever was guilty of. Even the Union people are a little dubious for the same reason but are in favor of it, as one of them said "because it is a military necessity." In May 1863, state officers were elected in the new state. Barr remained unchanged in her sentiments about the formation of the state and wrote of the election: Today there is an election going on for officers under the new state. From Gov. down to constable is to be voted for. No doubt the candidates will be elected as they will MEET with no opposition. They are uniform their sentiments, i.e., they are all Black Republicans. Convinced that the new state of West Virginia was illegal, Barr apparently dismissed it as another consequence of war and a reflection of a corrupt and confused federal government. The women followed not only political news, but also the careers of soldiers and the course of the war. As they relied much on rumor, this proved no easy task. Mary Gilchrist, at school in Cincinnati, wrote after hearing of the fall of Fort Sumter: We heard since dinner that Fort Sumter had been surrendered but I do not believe one word of it. I do not know what I do believe. We hear so many things contradicted. The passage of time did not improve Gilchrist's sources of information. In 1865, four years after Sumter's fall, she hoped for the end of the war, noting in her diary, "Friday there was a rumor of the surrender of Lee & After illuminating & rejoicing generally we heard [i]twas all a canard." The circulation of rumors was not the only cause for the distrust of information. People living in the divided border communities depended for their news on the occupying military officers. Frances Peters wrote when the Southern forces occupied Lexington in the fall of 1862: One of the doctors . . . brought Pa a Cincinnati Gazette the first we had seen since the rebels came here (for they have possession of the post office & don[']t allow any papers or letters to pass without being sent first to headquarters & anyone writing from here has to show the letter to the General). Kirby Smith [Confederate general] issued an order that anyone who should be found reading northern newspapers should be arrested. Peter happily noted in her diary after the return of Union troops to Lexington, "We had today the pleasure of reading once more the Observer and Reporter which has resumed circulation." Henrietta Barr, living in federally occupied Ravenswood, never registered the satisfaction displayed by Peter on the resumption of a trustworthy news source. Rather, her diary is a chronicle of frustration in dealing with the suppression of news by the Yankee occupiers. Always looking for news, Barr wrote in May 1862: Mrs. Hoyt lent us a paper. The news is rather encouraging for us. Although they try to conceal it. . . . We get no papers of our own. . . . It seems an impossibility for them to tell the truth. Suspicion of newspaper accounts could cause consternation and uncertainty for those eager for news of victories. This is demonstrated in Barr's account of the Seven Days Battle outside Richmond, June 25-July 1, 1862, the battle which marked Robert E. Lee's first victory and resulted in his placement as the commanding Confederate officer in the Virginia theatre. A hopeful Barr wrote: Read a paper containing a partial account of the great battle near Richmond. I am led to conclude from the manner in which things are garbled and suppressed that we (the S) have achieved a victory. God grant it may be so. News reliability scarcely improved in the next year: So we live, one day we hear an exciting tale which is pronounced unfounded on the next. I am getting so skeptical I am afraid I shall not believe the truth if I ever should be fortunate enough to hear it again. With newspapers scarce and unreliable, tri-state women tried to obtain information of the war from letters, friends, and passing soldiers. Such sources helped them to form opinions and several commented on the merits of the country's leading figures. Henrietta Barr admired Jefferson Davis, General Stonewall Jackson, and General John Morgan. After reading Davis's Inaugural Address given as he was sworn in as president of the Confederacy, she wrote, "With such an able and great man at the head of our government we will never have occasion to give up." But enthusiasm for a leader often turned to anguish in times of war, as when Barr recorded her feelings upon learning of the death of General Stonewall Jackson in the spring of 1863: Received the sad tidings of the death of the great and good Genl. Jackson who died from the effects of wounds received at the late battle of Fredericksburg [Chancellorsville] on Sunday, May 11th. A whole nation mingle their tears over this untimely end, cut off in the midst of his brilliant and useful career we can but lament and mourn. God's ways are not as our ways. He can raise up suitable Generals to supply the place of the lamented "Stonewall." To Him we look for aid and comfort. While judging many Southern leaders with approval, Barr viewed the Union leadership, particularly the generals, with feelings bordering on sarcasm. Of the military leadership in the fall of 1862, she noted, "The Feds. (as Usual) are in a peck of trouble about their Generals. Pope has been disgraced. Nearly all the commanders who are not killed are doomed to have the same fate." A few months later she noted again the predicament of the Union high command: Their Generals have given every general dissatisfaction. Poor old Mr. Burnside comes in for a share of the blame, because Gen'l Lee gave him that round thrashing at Fredericksburg. So it is with all their commanders, before they are tried the God of War is a mere coward in comparison. After the defeat (The almost certain result of a battle) the lowest private in the ranks stands higher in public favor. Frances Peter in Lexington unhappily shared Barr's disdain for the Union generals: "I wish we had a general that knew his business and could be trusted." The quality of generals notwithstanding, the tri-state women eagerly followed accounts of battles and the whereabouts of troops, friends, and family members. Mary Gilchrist, for example, registered her excitement and enthusiasm at the news of a Union victory at Fort Donelson in Tennessee and at Savannah, Georgia, in February 1862. Her comments on the differing reactions among her schoolmates also illustrate the tragedy common to the border states the divided loyalties among friends and family. Second hour P. M. heard Mr. Wilson say Ft. Donelson was ours. I leapt out of bed. shouted it to all the girls within hearing. never was so perfectly rejoiced in my life. Gen. Cary came in the evening bringing the news that Savannah had also been taken. What shall I say our joy was uncontrolled. Gen. Cary made a brief speech at the supper table and was encored by all save about half dozen seceshers flannel girl Hedrick & a few others God be praised who gave us the victory would that more of us could say that from our heart of hearts. Joy at the outcome of one battle could turn to sorrow in the aftermath of the next. A few months later, Gilchrist wrote of another victory in her diary this time a Confederate victory the Seven Days Battle outside Richmond, Virginia. . . . fighting before Richmond for several days. 7,000 of our men lost the first day 12,000 altogether. McClellan without being defeated was obliged to retire 17 miles. 0 horrors this war when will it end? The same day that Gilchrist, living in Cincinnati, wrote of the Seven Days Battle, Barr, living in Ravenswood, noted that "we gladly welcomed the gratifying news of the success of our arms near Richmond." Women who may have shared ties to their region, showed that their loyalties were far apart. Avid followers of military encounters, Barr and Peter both wrote of Lee's "Rebel Raid" into Pennsylvama and its effect on local citizenry. The Unionist Peter stated that "the secesh are in high glee about the raid into Pennsylvania and seem to expect the rebels will be here shortly." Barr simply expressed a hope for a respite from fighting in the border states, a hope certainly shared by Southerners as they watched their army progress into the North and live off that rich land. Barr wrote: Heard today of General Lee's forward movement into the enemy's country. He seems to carry everything before him. The valley of Va. is nearly cleared out of Yanks. A terrible panic exists in Pennsylvania, Ohio, even New York has caught the contagion. We of the border (I hope) will be let alone for a while. Following the news of the rebel raid into Pennsylvania one which ultimately led to the Yankee victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, and marked the turning point of the war for the North was no simple matter. As late as July 8, five days after the battle, Barr was still unsure of the outcome, writing in her diary, "The reports of the battle of Gettysburg are of such a contradictory character that we can learn nothing from them so we are still in the dark as to the true issue of the engagement." Henrietta Barr's attention soon shifted from the battle at Gettysburg to events closer to home. While Lee was fighting in Pennsylvania, General John Morgan, a Confederate cavalry leader, led a raid through Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. This raid caused a great deal of excitement in these states until it finally ended with the capture of Morgan and his men in July. Following the course of the raid, an enthusiastic Barr wrote: Morgan, we hear (for we get no papers) is in Ohio, playing smash with the railroads, telegraphs, etc. That's right, John, I believe in carrying the war into the enemy's country. Give them a little taste of what we have been enduring for two years past. For Henrietta Barr, John Morgan's raid had a heartbreaking climax. Morgan's troops attempted to cross the Ohio River into West Virginia near her home in Ravenswood. This attempted crossing resulted in the Battle of Buffington Island on July 19, 1863. Barr wrote: The firing of musketry and cannon continued about three hours, when it ceased and quiet succeeded which seemed almost like the stillness of death after the dreadful din. We could plainly see great clouds of smoke and dust rolling from the battlefield the result we cannot ascertain. . . . Later in the evening: there is a rumour that the Yanks hold the battlefield and have captured 1800 prisoners, so the day which commenced with such hope for us seems to have ended in doubt to some, despair, and to some, death. A few days later, a resigned Henrietta Barr had little to say: "Heard that Gen'l Morgan and force were captured by Yanks." The observations of tri-state women on troop movements shed light on the prevailing views of war in two major towns Cincinnati and Lexington. Gilchrist, living in Cincinnati, separated the only by the Ohio River from war-torn Kentucky, wrote of the lack of concern of Ohioans for troop movements across the river, "Great excitement the rebels have taken Cynthiana Ky too close quarters. why do people rise up and go forward to meet the enemy. how profoundly the Cincinnatians do sleep." However, the Yankees located south of Cincinnati in Lexington did not sleep. Frances Peter observed that the people "have commenced fortifying Lexington, earthworks are being thrown up about a mile out on all the roads, and batteries to be planted to defend them." The war apparently had quite a different effect on the citizens of two towns separated by less than one-hundred-fifty miles. Women in the hotly contested border states had the unique opportunity to observe soldiers of both the North and South. Henrietta Barr and Frances Peter compared Johnny Reb and Billy Yank in their diaries, comparisons which likely reflected their own sympathies. After the Battle of Buffington Island, Barr watched a parade of Southern prisoners marching under Yankee guard and wrote, "They [the Southerners] were a fine, noble set of men. Did not seem at all downcast. They formed a striking contrast to ruffianly looking Yanks who formed their guard." Peter, witnessing a similar procession after the fall of Lexington in 1862, wrote her feelings about the guards and the guarded. When our men were being sent off we couldn't help comparing them, so clean and gentlemanly looking & looking so well fed & the half starved, half clothed, dirty wretches who guarded them. . . . A few weeks later Peter then remarked, this time at length, on the differences between northern and southern soldiers: The guerillas & southern chivalry in general are very different from the Union soldiers. the latter will sit down anywhere you tell them and are not affronted if you bring them something to the door but always seem thankful & say it is too good for them. But the chivalry expect to be taken into the best parlor & have everybody in the house waiting on them. . . . There is another point of difference between the north & south. The northern men if they can't get anyone to wash for them will do it themselves. but the chivalry expect to have a "nigger" to do everything & if they can't get one will do without washing & everything else rather than help themselves. The Civil War clearly touched the lives of tri-state women, for their diaries are filled with observations on battles, troop movements, and soldiers. Economic distress and the difficulties of living in border states also brought the war close to home. Inflation was one of the most persistent and inescapable problems of the war period. According to one historian, "privation became part of the daily life of the Southern woman." In the tri-state area, goods became scarce and prices rose incessantly. Food, fuel, and housing were all hit hard by rising prices. In Lexington the cost of housing rose rapidly with the influx of refugees from war areas. By fall 1862, inflation had become an important issue to Frances Peter: "Fuel is very scarce at least for the Union people coal sell at 75 ct the bushell & hardly to be got for love or money. the secesh are keeping it all for themselves." In 1864, Peter recorded the high cost of living: Prices are very high. . . . Turkeys from $1.50 to $2.00. Fowls 40 cts apiece, butter 50 to 60 cts, bacon 15 cts per lb, Kid gloves $2.00, shoes from $1.25 to $3.00. The coarsest negro shoes not be had for less than $1.25 and other things in proprtion. For at least one tri-state family, inflation was not the only factor which made it difficult to get food. Henrietta Barr's family, living in occupied territory, was not allowed to receive shipments of food. Barr wrote of the restriction, her words reflecting her determination to resist the Yankee occupiers in particular, one Captain Russel who was in charge of supplies shipped on the Ohio River. Mother's groceries which she sent to Wheeling for some time ago came on the boat today. Although the merchant had procured a "permit" for the goods the cad [Russel] will not allow her to have them until she takes the oath, which she will never do for him. . . . Maybe they think they'll starve the "Rebels" out. The Rebs have such stout hearts they can live and grow fat on half what it will take to feed an abolitionist. The goods were reshipped to Wheeling. Women living in occupied territory routinely suffered the kind of harassment experienced by Henrietta Barr. As early as 1862, Barr felt that an enemy occupation caused women to lose "all the old sense of security." For Southern sympathizers in Ravenswood, feelings of iunsecurity resulted from the destruction of homes and infringements on privacy. On hearing of the latest exploit of Dan Frost, commander of Ravenswood's Yankee troops, Barr wrote, "heard the chivalrous Lieut. Col. [Frost] had burnt six houses thus rendering six families of secession symapthizers homeless. Glory enough for one day." While Barr's home was not threatened, her privacy was invaded in a number of ways. In her diary, she mentions the housing of troops on private property and disregard for private mail: We are much annoyed by a company who with their horses and wagons have encamped on one side of our yard. This in addition to the cavalry company on the other side have destroyed anything like privacy or comfort. Today one of the soldiers came in bringing me a letter from Aunt Eliza which this Lieut. had taken from the P. O. and opened and read. Saying there was "no thing" to him in it. The intolerable isolence of these people is almost beyond endurance. . . . In former times it was a penitentiary offense to open a letter. But everything like law, order or decency is subverted under the Lincoln government. Security was also shaken by the enmity of neighbors in border areas. If a tri-state woman "was thought to be out of sympathy with the majority or if she had men in the `wrong' army, her life could be hell on earth. She might be ostracized, threatened, intimidated, or expelled, and children taunted and their lives placed in jeopardy." Barr and Peter both mentioned in their diaries the problems of those holding minority views in a border- state community. For the Barr family, one annoyance was the stealing from their woodpile, "The Unionists (to carry out their spirit of revenge) commenced stealing our wood. They have reduced our wood pile to such a degree we shall have to make a fresh haul." Far more serious was the situation of the mother of Confederate General John Morgan, who lived in Lexington. Frances Peter, a neighbor of the Morgans, wrote, "Mrs. Morgan and Mrs. Curd [Mrs. Morgan's sister] were sent out of town as the people threatened to level their houses with the ground & Major Bracht [a Yankee officer] said he could protect them no longer." These tri-state women wrote much more in their diaries and letters than just gossip and trivia. They expressed opinions about politics, leaders, and the war itself, demonstrating an understanding of the issues involved. Because society dictated that women were not to voice publicly their opinions on topics other than domestic ones, these private writings are particularly valuable. These women, like many other nineteenth-century women, formed opinions on a variety of topics based on intelligent assessments of the political and social atmosphere of the war period. Additionally, these writings, particularly those of Barr and Peter, demonstrate that women would willingly discuss their views with men if given the opportunity. But, lacking the opportunity of a public forum, many nineteenth-century women resorted to writing down their thoughts for posterity. History has given them the last word.
West Virginia History Journal
West Virginia History Center