Women's Diaries from the Civil War South
A Literary-Historical Reading
“This is an essential discussion for scholars and students in autobiography studies, women’s studies, and history. . . . It explores dissimilar experiences of women in the Confederacy, an important approach that provides contrasts and contradictions to overgeneralizations commonly applied to these types of texts.”—Amy L. Wink, author of Tandem Lives: The Frontier Texas Diaries of Henrietta Baker Embree and Tennessee Keys Embree, 1856–1884
“Traditionally, narratives of war have been male,” Sharon Talley writes. In the pages that follow, she goes on to disrupt this tradition, offering close readings and comparative studies of fourteen women’s diaries from the Civil War era that illuminate women’s experiences in the Confederacy during the war.
While other works highlighting individual diaries exist—and Talley notes that there has been a virtual explosion of published primary sources by women in recent years—this is the first effort of comprehensive synthesis of women’s Civil War diaries to attempt to characterize them as a distinct genre. Deeply informed by autobiographical theory, as well as literary and social history, Talley’s presentation of multiple diaries from women of differing backgrounds illuminates complexities and disparities across female wartime experiences rather than perpetuating overgeneralizations gleaned from a single diary or preconceived ideas about what these diaries contain.
To facilitate this comparative approach, Talley divides her study into six sections that are organized by location, vocation, and purpose: diaries of elite planter women; diaries of women on the Texas frontier; diaries of women on the Confederate border; diaries of espionage by women in the South; diaries of women nurses near the battlefront; and diaries of women missionaries in the Port Royal Experiment. When read together, these writings illustrate that the female experience in the Civil War South was not one but many.
Women’s Diaries from the Civil War South: A Literary-Historical Reading is an essential text for scholars in women’s studies, autobiography studies, and Civil War studies alike, presenting an in-depth and multifaceted look at how the Civil War reshaped women’s lives in the South—and how their diverse responses shaped the course of the war in return.
SHARON TALLEY is a retired professor of English at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. She is the author of Southern Women Novelists and the Civil War: Trauma and Collective Memory in the American Literary Tradition since 1861, Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death, and Student Companion to Herman Melville.