Winner of the PEN Oakland–Josephine Miles Award
“A stunning portrayal of a tragedy endured and survived by women.”
—David W. Blight, author of Frederick Douglass
“Readers expecting hoop-skirted ladies soothing fevered soldiers’ brows will not find them here…Explodes the fiction that men fight wars while women idle on the sidelines.”
The idea that women are outside of war is a powerful myth, one that shaped the Civil War and still determines how we write about it today. Through three dramatic stories that span the war, Stephanie McCurry invites us to see America’s bloodiest conflict for what it was: not just a brothers’ war but a women’s war.
When Union soldiers faced the unexpected threat of female partisans, saboteurs, and spies, long held assumptions about the innocence of enemy women were suddenly thrown into question. McCurry shows how the case of Clara Judd, imprisoned for treason, transformed the writing of Lieber’s Code, leading to lasting changes in the laws of war. Black women’s fight for freedom had no place in the Union military’s emancipation plans. Facing a massive problem of governance as former slaves fled to their ranks, officers reclassified black women as “soldiers’ wives”—placing new obstacles on their path to freedom. Finally, McCurry offers a new perspective on the epic human drama of Reconstruction through the story of one slaveholding woman, whose losses went well beyond the material to intimate matters of family, love, and belonging, mixing grief with rage and recasting white supremacy in new, still relevant terms.
“As McCurry points out in this gem of a book, many historians who view the American Civil War as a ‘people’s war’ nevertheless neglect the actions of half the people.”
—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
“In this brilliant exposition of the politics of the seemingly personal, McCurry illuminates previously unrecognized dimensions of the war’s elemental impact.”
—Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering
Readers expecting hoop-skirted ladies soothing fevered soldiers’ brows will not find them here…It explodes the fiction that men fight wars while women idle on the sidelines.
Traces three narratives to argue that ‘there is no Civil War history without women in it.’ Women waged grassroots campaigns that informed the new concept of ‘Civilian as Enemy’—the trial of the Confederate spy Cara Judd altered martial law—and shaped the Union’s refugee policy and the terms of the peace. McCurry scrutinizes legal archives compiled by men, seeking glimpses of women they overlooked, whose voices enliven the book.
Correcting histories that erase women’s share in wartime work, McCurry reminds us that ‘Women are never just witnesses to war.’
As [McCurry] argues, women don’t just watch history from the sidelines; they make it, they act in it, they are very much part of it. To see women as innocent wallflowers in need of protection could prove a deadly mistake when women were serving as smugglers, scouts, decoys, insurgents, and combatants; ignore them at your peril.
Identifies a durable commitment to patriarchy that outlasted slavery and sustained white supremacy through the Civil War and beyond…McCurry sets out to view the South’s ordeal in the Civil War ‘through women’s eyes,’ a perspective too often ignored in histories of warfare.
Stephanie McCurry challenges us once again to look at the Civil War through a different lens. She demonstrates how women’s participation changed not only their lives but the very understanding of war itself—its laws, its mechanisms of violence, its legacies and aftermath. In this brilliant exposition of the politics of the seemingly personal, McCurry illuminates previously unrecognized dimensions of the war’s elemental impact.
As Stephanie McCurry points out in this gem of a book, many historians who view the American Civil War as a ‘people’s war’ nevertheless neglect the actions of half the people. Her account of Southern white women’s participation in rebel resistance, black women’s roles in their own emancipation, and the prostrated condition of the women as well as men of the planter class after the war paves the way to a better integration of women into the story of this era.
With uncommon comparative sizzle and a deep grounding in gender, legal, and racial history, McCurry has written a stunning portrayal of a tragedy endured and survived by women. Horror and hardship in this case have inspirited beautiful writing. Women’s War gives the legions of Civil War era readers a unique, unsettling, and enriching understanding of the conflict. Women were not mere witnesses to war; McCurry is our witness to how they died and lived through this cataclysm.
Eloquently refutes the idea that ‘women are outside of war.’ Building on a generation of scholarship, she reminds us that women’s stories both shaped and were shaped by the American Civil War.
- 2020, Winner of the Josephine Miles Book Award
- 320 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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