Archive for the ‘Civil War Sesquicentennial’ Category

Love Is a Battlefield: Courtship and Marriage in the Civil War

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Marriage certificate of Nancy and Ceasar Coleman, Edward J. Gay and Family Papers, Mss. 1295.

Marriage certificate of Nancy and Ceasar Coleman, Edward J. Gay and Family Papers, Mss. 1295.

Confederate nurse Kate Cumming observed that the Civil War was “certainly ours as well as that of the men.” Though she undoubtedly meant to convey that women were not immune to the harshness and devastating effects of war, a less extreme arena in which women and men shared a common wartime experience was on the battlefield of love. As with many other social institutions, the Civil War affected traditional customs surrounding courtship and marriage. In honor of Valentine’s Day, this blog post highlights letters and other historical documents that reflect wartime wooing.

In addition to contributing to mobilization and the ongoing war effort by forming aid societies, sewing and knitting clothing and articles for soldiers, raising money, nursing, and visiting the wounded, women wielded another mobilizing weapon– affection. Popular songs and poems, peer pressure, and their own sense of patriotism led many unmarried women to favor soldiers over those who did not fight. As Louisianan Amelia Faulkner wrote a friend, “girls ought to have nothing but soldiers for their beaux and if all girls thought as we do, there would be more companies leave this state.” Further, she offered to find her a beau from among the men where where she lived, “all soldiers, too, for I your friend would offer you nothing else.”

Nineteenth-century antebellum America put a premium on the traditional roles of wife and mother. In the South, the expectation that white women would marry was even more acute; unmarried women were out of place in a societal hierarchy that supported slavery, and there were few acceptable options for southern women outside of the bonds of matrimony. When the Civil War broke out, many couples married quickly before a fiancé left for battle. The impending departure of a suitor for the scene of war might also heighten affection. For example, after Abigail Kent received an unexpected visit from her suitor she wrote, “Before he was dragged off into this war, I think I appeared sufficiently indifferent,” but, she further confided , “now I show him my true feelings for fear that each meeting will be our last.”

The influx of soldiers from across the South, as well as the North, brought young women into close contact with potential suitors about whom they knew little. But the threat of becoming an “old maid” trumped tradition, leading many to marry after making only a short acquaintance, and without familial blessings. The romance of Joanna Painter Fox and George Waddill provides an illustrative example of how the rules of courtship and interaction between the sexes became more lax. Fox, a Natchez native who served as a Confederate nurse, met George Waddill, a druggist from Baton Rouge, at the hospital in Lauderdale, Mississippi, where they both worked. The couple had known each other at most a year before they wed, and Fox’s mother had not met the prospective groom. She broke the news to her mother:

Mother, I have news to tell you which I hope you won’t blame me for. I was married last month on 26th to the one I have spoke to you so often about but then I did not think of marrying until this was was over but we both changed our minds and married while Billy was with us. The ceremony was read by W.C. Harris, an old friend from home and now a stationed Preacher at this place or near here. Ma the only thing that worries me is that you did not see us married.

Such haste could have disastrous consequences, as the story Frank Adams related to his sister illustrates. He wrote of a Confederate officer who, after his death, was found to have married several women in Louisiana as the army moved around the state. He adds, “I have heard of at least a dozen of the same kind.” These polygamist soldiers took advantage of the nomadic life the war fostered.

If the war brought greater acceptance of marriage after brief acquaintances, emancipation and Federal officials’ efforts to regulate the marriage of freedmen also provided an opportunity for slave couples to formalize existing relationships. For former slaves, participation in legal marriage was also an early assertion of freedom. Like many freed slaves, Nancy and Ceasar Coleman, who worked on Edward J. Gay’s Plaquemine, La., plantation, sought to legalize their relationship by officially marrying through the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. The certificate shown here is one of 55 such certificates in the collection, all dated June 7 or June 11, 1864.

The examples given here are just a sampling of the resources available in Special Collections on the subject of courtship and marriage during the Civil War. One, the rediscovered Civil War letters in the Gras-Lauzin Papers that are cited here, have recently been made available online through the Louisana Digital Library. Comprised of 71 letters written to Henrietta Lauzin of West Baton Rouge, principally from her friend Amelia Faulkner and Confederate soldiers Francis F. Palms and Frank Babin, they provide a very focused resource for relationships between men and women in wartime.

Sources of Quotes (in order in which they appear)

Amelia Faulkner to Henrietta Lauzin, April 14, 1862, Gras-Lauzin Family Papers, Mss.5.

Entry of August 29, 1862, Abigail Means Kent Diary, Obadiah Pearson Amacker Family Papers, Mss. 1604.

Joanna Painter Fox to her mother, October 14, 1864, Waddill Family Papers, Mss. 4578.

Frank Adams to one of his sisters, July 2, 1864, Israel Adams Family Papers, Mss. 3637.

Special Collections Co-Sponsors 2013 Historic Natchez Conference, April 17-20

Monday, April 8th, 2013

LSU Special Collections is proud to co-sponsor “From Civil War to Civil Rights,” the 2013 Historic Natchez Conference, April 17-20, 2013.

Natchez Under the Hill, Gandy Collection, Mss. 3778.

Natchez Under the Hill, Gandy Collection, Mss. 3778.

Headquartered at the Eola Hotel in downtown Natchez, the meeting offers a full program of free lectures on centuries of Natchez and the Lower Mississippi Valley’s history, narrowing to a particular focus on the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.

The keynote speaker, William C. Davis, will speak on the Civil War at its sesquicentennial. Setting the stage for the antebellum era, scholars will discuss the archeology of the Natchez area, steamboat transportation on the Mississippi River in the early 18th century, and empire in the Colonial Natchez period. Additional presentations examine political violence and armed conflict during the Civil War and post-bellum era, occupation of Natchez by federal troops, African American sailors serving in the Mississippi Squadron, merchants and the rebuilding of Natchez after the war, and plantation life. In relation to the latter, LSU Special Collections Assistant Curator of Books Michael Taylor will present “The Library of Rosedown Plantation: A Case Study in Researching Nineteenth-Century Private Libraries.” Further program highlights explore the 1965 Natchez boycott, the Mississippi Freedom Movement, and social and religious aspects of civil rights activism in Natchez. The conference will also feature a screening of the documentary film When I Rise.

Visit for full program information and to register. Though there is no charge to attend the talks, registration is requested and you must purchase a ticket for the receptions.

The Historic Natchez Conference fosters the study, preservation, and appreciation of the Natchez region by providing a forum for established scholars, graduate students, archivists, and the general public to share research, resources, and ideas. The meeting, which has been held almost biennially since 1994, continues its tradition of highlighting the role of archival collections in researching and interpreting the history of the American South. Natchez is heavily represented in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, which is the largest division within Special Collections. See our subject guide on Natchez for additional information about these collections.

Conference co-sponsors include California State University, Northridge; Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin; Historic Natchez Foundation; Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Natchez National Historical Park; and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Natchez Eola Hotel is offering a special conference rate of $89/night: (601 )445-6000 or For registration information and more details, contact the Historic Natchez Foundation: (601) 442-2500,,

This Means War: Civil War exhibition opens July 30th

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

“When within a few miles of B.R. [Baton Rouge] we met a great many of our fellows—soldiers torn and mangled; Oh! What awful sights which told us we were in the ‘fiery path of Mars’ and that the bloody work had actually begun, and was furiously raging….”

Soldier from the 4th Louisiana Infantry records his experience at the close of the Battle of Baton Rouge. Excerpt from William Y. Dixon Diary, August 5, 1862, in the William Y. Dixon Papers, Mss. 3423.

Dixon’s diary is one of many items, including manuscripts, photographs, contemporary publications, sheet music and children’s books, on display in the exhibition “Old Times Here Are Not Forgotten: Remembering the Civil War,” at Hill Memorial Library from July 30 – November 2012. The exhibition is presented in commemoration of the ongoing Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War and the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Baton Rouge on August 5.

“A Brilliant Victory”

Monday, July 18th, 2011

On July 21, 1861, Union and Confederate troops faced off in the first major land battle of the American Civil War, the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run).  Samuel Rutherford Houston, a Presbyterian minister from Virginia, notes in his diary the rumors and newspaper accounts of the battle:

Sab. [Sabbath,  July] 21: We have reliable intelligence that a battle was fought between the Federals and our men below Charleston…[Federals] routed, many killed…The Dispatch calls it ‘a brilliant victory…’

July 23: A rumor has reached us that a telegram to Newburn Depot announced another battle at Manassas Junction (on Sunday)  and another victory for the Confederates! …A letter from one of the company to which Willie* belongs states that on last Thursday they all marched to meet the enemy at a point about 20 miles below Charleston near where the battle mentioned (Sun 21) above was fought on the day previous – we look for the mail of tomorrow with intense anxiety – whatever the intelligence may be I trust we shall have hearts  [illegible] (if it be sad) to perfect submission with God’s will and if it be chearing [sic] to give him all the glory … How unhappy the condition of this land – the victory gained at Mansasas will I fear great[ly] exasperate the foe and cause them to redouble their efforts…

*presumably William Paxton Houston, Samuel’s eldest son.

The diary is part of the Samuel Rutherford Houston and Family Papers, Mss. 3451, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Our little village was in the greatest excitement…”

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Yesterday, April 12th, marked the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Ft. Sumter, the event that began four years of bloody Civil War.

In this letter from Special Collections’ Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Sara E. Ker Butler of Le Carpe Plantation, Terrebonne Parish, La., writes her sister-in-law, Margaret Butler, and relates news of the bombardment and war excitement in Houma: “those who wished to go (nearly all had signed an agreement to that effect, among them some who ought to be home, taking care of their wives and children).” She also relates news of the capture of Ft. Sumter, thankful to hear none were killed on either side and credits U.S. Major Robert Anderson “with trained gunners must have tried not to hurt anyone.” She discusses how she feels it is impossible to have enthusiasm for “our side,” admitting we should defend our rights but a war of brother vs. brother is awful.

View Butler’s letter in its entirety in the Louisiana Digital Library:,609

This letter is from the Margaret Butler Correspondence, Mss. 1068, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La.

The Dear Ones at Home

Monday, December 6th, 2010

LSU Libraries Special Collections presents the exhibition “The Dear Ones at Home: Women’s Letters and Diaries of the Civil War Era,” December 6, 2010 – April 30, 2011 at Hill Memorial Library.  Marking the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which started April 12, 1861, the exhibition explores the variety of women’s experiences during the war and its impact on their worlds.

Drawing on the rich manuscript holdings of the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, “The Dear Ones at Home” reveals what life was like on the home front, as women as well as men mobilized for the war.   The exhibition displays photographs from the collections, including a daguerreotype of Varina Howell Davis, as well as illustrations from Harper’s Weekly.

Letters and diaries written by women at the time show how, as nurses, and home front organizers, they supported or hindered the Confederate effort. As sweethearts and wives, they used their powers of affection to compel or dissuade men to serve.  On April 14, 1862, Amelia Faulkner of Faulkland Plantation in Louisiana wrote to her friend Henrietta Lauzin of Baton Rouge that “girls ought to have nothing but soldiers for their beaux and if all girls thought as we do, there would be more companies leave this state.” But that same year, Mary Pugh, of Lafourche Parish wrote to her husband Richard “you have done enough now to satisfy yourself and everyone else so come now if only for the sake of your little wife.”

Documents show how women faced the perils of battle and occupation.  In a letter to a female friend, J. Young Sanders Jr, wrote. “My gentle friend, never come in contact with the enemy’s brutal soldiering, if it is avoidable. ..but flee them as you would a hideous pestilence.  They wage war upon women and feeble old men.” Ann Wilkinson Penrose’s diary records her fury when the Federals came to arrest her father in New Orleans: “My blood boiled, I felt possessed with fury, … I made my way down as fast as I could with my crutches … I felt as if I could strike them to the ground.”

Additional items reflect women’s political attitudes and their reactions to the end of war and slavery.

Prepared by LSU Curator of Manuscripts Tara Laver and Exhibitions Coordinator Leah Jewett, the exhibition explores how women responded and adjusted, or not, to wartime changes in the customs of courtship and marriage, death and mourning, women’s work and gender roles, and religious observance and faith, as well as race relations.   Manuscript reminiscences of the war years and contemporary and modern published works of fiction and non-fiction are featured, including several antebellum pieces by African American women writers.

Also on display is a complete set of prints from artist Edwin Forbes’s Life Studies of the Great Army (1890). Forbes travelled with the Union army, sketching images of camp life as a special correspondent for the contemporary publication Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News. After the war he completed etchings based on his war-time sketches, compiling them for his work Life Studies.

In association with the exhibition, as part of Women’s History Month, Alecia P. Long, LSU Assistant Professor of History, will give a talk titled “(Mis)Remembering General Order No. 28: Benjamin Butler, the Woman Order, and Historical Memory” at noon on March 2, 2011 in the Hill Memorial Library lecture hall.

The exhibition and lecture are free and open to the public.


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