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The American Civil War experienced greater casualties than any other American war thus far. Totals are estimated to be around 560,000 deaths with twice the number of deaths caused by disease than battle wounds, several thousands more were left with injuries that would impact their daily routines for the rest of their lives.[1]

As mentioned above the majority of fatalities were not accrued on the battle field, but in the camps where unsanitary conditions created breeding grounds for disease. The most common disease during the war was chronic diarrhea due to vitamin deficiencies.[2] In order to understand the significant toll of disease on the Union army here are some statistics to create a clear and distinct picture. A total of 6,000,000 illnesses were treated in the North alone however only 425,000 of those occurred on the battlefield. In addition, diarrhea/dysentery affected 711 per 1000 men and various camp fevers affected 584 per 1000 men. Some further enlightenment, in one Union regiment of the 937 soldiers only 79 were healthy enough to fight after disease had spread through the camp in only a few short weeks.[3] Clearly, disease was a seriously detrimental issue of the Civil War, no man was left unaffected by these ailments and as the statistics show it’s hard to believe that any were truly healthy.

Unsanitary conditions and lack of understanding about the importance of cleanliness also contributed to mortality rates. Author Richard H. Shryrock, of the article, “A Medical Perspective on the Civil War,” quoted Philadelphia surgeon W. W. Ken, “ ‘We operated in blood-stained and often pus-stained coats. . .with undisinfected (sic) hands. . .We used undisinfected (sic) instruments. . .and marine sponges which had been used in prior pus cases and only washed in tap water.’ ”[4] The main cause of death after an injury was hemorrhaging and infection. A chemical named Lister was used during the war but surgeons only used this once they realized the wound was infected. This method was reactive rather than proactive; if surgeons had sterilized wounds from the onset the casualties would have been greatly reduced.[5] Surgeons lack of knowledge regarding medicine practices certainly attributed to the number of deaths however as compared to previous wars the medicine practice had improved during the Civil War.[6]

At the time of the war and even today there is a negative stigma attached to Civil War surgeons. The inadequate supplies, tools, sanitary conditions, and medicine however was the leading cause of death during the war. True many surgeons had little schooling but many did the best they could under the circumstances. There was little in the way of numbing medicine (often whiskey or morphine, both in short demand) so many men felt very distinctly the pain or surgery.[7] The Civil War was a hard time to be a soldier, medicine and surgery notwithstanding

When I first started researching medicine of the Civil War I was hoping to find more information on amputations but the statistics are unclear. Many amputations were unsuccessful due to hemorrhaging and infection. If a soldier was shot in the abdomen region his chances of survival were slim. Often it was better to be shot in the leg or arm where hopefully the broken bone would be amputated, leaving a soldier with a missing limb but alive nonetheless. The minie balls were especially harmful to soldiers, the size and weight nearly always left the soldier with irreparable injuries.[8] The number of pictures of amputated limbs of the Civil War would make many believe that the majority of deaths were a result of battle injuries. Today modern medicine has found several treatments for disease virtually eliminating it as a source of death in combat, instead wounds and injuries are the leading cause of American military deaths today, a complete reversal of 150 years ago.

* An interesting side note from Swiss physician Edwin Klebs in the 1880s: “ ‘. . .the greatest and most admirable success has been attained by the North Americans in military medical work. This history of the war of the secession has to show a display of medical and scientific activities that leave anything that ever since has been achieved in Europe way in the background. . .’ ”[9]


[1] Harold Ellis, Review of Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs, by Alfred Jay Bollet, British Medical Journal 325, no 7356 (2002), 170 http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.colostate-pueblo.edu/stable/25451894 (accessed July 4, 2012).

[2] Ellis, 170.

[3]  Michael A. Flannery, “Civil War Medicines: Approaches for Teaching,” OAH Magazine of History, 19 no. 5 (2005), 42 http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.colostate-pueblo.edu/stable/25161979 (accessed July 4, 2012).

[4] Richard H. Shryock, “A Medical Perspective on the Civil War,” American Quarterly, 14 no. 2 (1962), 162 http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.colostate-pueblo.edu/stable/2710639 (accessed July 4, 2012).

[5] Shryock, 163.

[6] Shryock, 164.

[7] Bollet, 170.

[8] Shryock, 162-163.

[9] Shryock, 169.

In the Mathew Reeves article “Reinterpreting Manassas,” he discusses the portrayal of African Americans at historic battlefields from the Civil War. Reeves brought up an interesting point in his article, how do you persuade the yeomen (the majority of the southern population) to secede and possibly take up arms against the North? He pointed out that southern elites were concerned that the yeomen would not support their decision.[1] As a means to help persuade the yeomen the slaveholders began to run a propaganda ads in local newspapers. These ads often cautioned non-slave holders about the horrors they would ultimately face if slaves were freed.[2] This information piqued my curiosity and diving further in to the matter I found an excellent article by James Oliver Horton, titled “Confronting Slavery and Revealing the ‘Lost Cause,’” Horton gives specific examples of the propaganda used by the southern elites.

Leaving no doubt that slavery was the cause of the war Horton examines just how the southern elite convinced the poor white farmers of the South to not only secede but also enter a civil war. Horton claims that, “by 1861 only about one third of southern families in the 11 seceding states held slaves, and the non-slaveholders always posed a potential problem for Confederacy unity.”[3]

One action taken was to run propaganda ads in newspapers across the South. Many newspapers published articles regarding the abolitionists’ intentions to remove slavery from the South when Lincoln became president.[4] To counterattack the abolition movement the South began writing articles that demanded the everlasting sanctity of slavery. Newspapers ran sentiments such as, “ ‘[t]he existence of slavery is at stake,’ ” and “ ‘We have dissolved the late Union, chiefly because of the [N]egro quarrel,’ ” the rhetoric quickly became irrefutable.[5]

A southern slaveholder and secessionist, Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, spoke to the yeomen declaring that institution of slavery made all whites privileged, without the it the poor whites would be no better than the blacks.[6] A Kentucky newspaper appropriately named, the Kentucky Statesmen, claimed, “pro-slavery men” were “true Southern men.”[7] The Louisville Daily hit nail on the head when it stated, “Do they wish to send their children to schools in which the [N]egro children of the vicinity are taught? DO they wish to give the [N]egro the right to appear in the witness box to testify against them?” they drove the nail home with the last statement, “AMALGAMATE TOGETHER THE TWO RACES IN VIOLATION OF GOD’S WILL.”[8] The eloquence used by the media and by southern elites proved very

affective. One white farmer spoke freely about his thoughts on emancipating slaves, “ ‘you Yanks want us to marry our daughters to niggers.’ ”[9] At the end of the day non-slaveholders ultimately sided with the elite slaveholders due to the fear of losing social status and intermingling of the races.

*I tried to locate the actual newspapers and speeches where of the propaganda but unfortunately either due to my lack of Internet and database browsing skills or simply the lack of information on the Internet, I was unable to locate them.


[1] Mathew Reeves, “Reinterpreting Manassas: The Nineteenth-Century African American Community at Manassas National Battlefield Park,” Historical Archaeology 37, no. 3 (2003), 126 http://www.jstor.org/stable/25617085 (accessed June 26, 2012).

[2] Reeves, 126.

[3] James Oliver Horton, “Confronting Slavery and the Revealing the ‘Lost Cause,’” Cultural Resource Management 21, no. 4 (1998), 15 crm.cr.nps.gov/archive/21-4/21-4-5.pdf (accessed June 26, 2012).

[4] Horton, 15.

[5] Horton, 15.

[6] Horton, 16.

[7] Horton, 16.

[8] Horton, 16.

[9] Horton, 16.

While reading Dixie’s Daughters by Karen L. Cox, she discusses briefly the role of women suffragists within the UDC, but at the same time eludes that many women were involved in the suffragist movement in chapter three, “Rise of the UDC.”[1] Not having much knowledge regarding feminism in the South after the Civil War, I decided to commit myself to finding out just how involved women of the South were in obtaining the right to vote, while upholding their Lost Cause ideology. In the Journal of Southern History, the article “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement of the South,” by Kenneth Johnson gives a brief history of the role southern women played.

Southern women faced greater challenges in obtaining equal rights than their northern counterparts and had to approach it with even greater tact. In order to appeal to the southern men and maintain their Lost Cause crusade, southern women had to circumvent ways around a federal amendment. The Lost Cause was still very much in motion during 1912-1913, when women became more involved in their rights.[2]

The women of the South had to devise a plan that would placate their male politicians and simultaneously ensure their equality. There were two ways to obtain this: one join the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) on a federal level or two create a new association that upheld states’ rights and obtain their equality at a state level.[3] Southerner Kate Gordon, would take the lead in creating a new organization known as the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference (SSWSC) their ultimate objective was to, “’to obtain the enfranchisement of the women of the Southern States principally through the medium of state legislation and to promote the cause of suffrage throughout the United States’”.[4]

With two leading women’s rights organizations tensions began to rise between the NAWSA and SSWSC. The NAWSA or northern women’s suffragist organization believed that there were other ways to obtain equal rights (not through states’ rights) for women in the South. Kate Gordon now president of the SSWSC disagreed, even suggesting that the NAWSA was trying to promote reconstruction instead of women’s rights. In addition members of the SSWSC wanted to disenfranchise blacks.[5] Not all women of the South were part of the SSWSC, another party existed, known as the moderate southern suffragists, these women were members of the NAWSA.[6]

In keeping with the white supremacy reign of the South the women of the SSWSC had to ensure that while they promoted equal rights for women they did not condone equality for blacks. According to Cole, “Miss Gordon asserted that intelligent white women should be able to use the same means to protect themselves from colored women as the southern men used to protect themselves from colored men.”[7] This was part of the rhetoric in addition to maintaining states’ rights over federal control that the SSWSC hoped would appeal to democrat politicians in the South.

The SSWSC, especially in the beginning maintained a large membership but it became clear to many women that the SSWSC while honorable in maintaining the Lost Cause was not going to acquire equal rights. The democratic politicians had turned their back on the women who so valiantly restored their masculinity. In the end the SSWSC’s relentless pursuit to gain women’s equality through state’s rights, lack of support from democratic politicians, desire to disenfranchise blacks, and lack of members subsequently dismantled the organization. States’ rightists still carried on their devotion to the obtaining women’s rights without giving up the principles of the Lost Cause but they too in the end were defeated when the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920.


[1] Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (New Perspectives On the History of the South) (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 33.

[2] Kenneth R. Johnson, “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement in the South,” The Journal of Southern History 38, no. 3 (1972), 369 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2206099 (accessed June 21, 2012).

[3] Johnson, 370.

[4] Johnson, 371.

[5] Johnson, 372.

[6] Johnson, 373.

[7] Johnson, 374.

While reading The Reel Civil War by Bruce Chadwick and then watching the movie Gone with the Wind I found myself intrigued by Scarlett O’Hara and her fierce stubbornness to break the modern mold of traditional women while simultaneously sabotaging her own happiness. A woman with such strength and attitude did not fit the predominant southern belle image. The Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind looks and dresses like a southern belle and her animosity towards the North is in accordance with that of a southern belle, but all resemblance stops there. Her personality which has won over millions of audiences’ hearts depicts the strong spirited and newly liberated woman of the 1920s and 1930s.

Unfortunately there is little coverage regarding American women during the years shortly before and after the Civil War but according to A History of American Women by Carol Hymowitz and Michaele Weissman (this happens to conveniently be a fully accessible and free ebook on Google) women were independent during the war as is typically the case. Hyomowitz and Michaele state, “While the men were away fighting, women became managers, decision makers, heads of families, and income earners—roles that had usually been assumed by men.”* When the war began women readily “took up arms” at home and fought for the cause by providing many essential items such as clothing and food or becoming a nurse. Once the war ended many women were proud of their work. Hymowitz and Weissman state, “Many white Southern women saw themselves as the stronger sex. But though they acknowledged their independence, physical strength, and fortitude they never questioned the traditional image of woman as wife and mother.”** It appears the independent woman of the Civil War quickly relinquished the role given to her during the war, so why then did Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind create a southern belle character whose acquiescence does not conform to the typical southern belle of the 1860s and 1870s?

It appears that many southern white female writers began to include plot lines with a strong willed southern belle. According to the review of the The Belle Gone Bad—and Just Gone written by Carol S. Manning and reviewed by Emily Toth, “Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett, the quintessential bad belle, is smart, self centered, and mean when she has to be, and this is what saves her. It is also what makes the bad belle endlessly intriguing.”*** This new “bad belle” is indicative of women’s thoughts and feelings at the time the author’s wrote the stories.

Margaret Mitchell began writing Gone with the Wind the infamous love story in 1926 a time where women made many gains especially in the work arena and as a result they explored greater freedom in America than ever before. In the 1920s two types of women existed: the Gibson girl and flapper. Scarlett’s character combines the “bad belle” and flapper in to a synonymous character that intrigues and infuriates. According to the article Prosperity’s Child: Some Thoughts on the Flapper,” by Kenneth Yellis, in American Quarterly, during the 1920s their existed two types of women the Gibson girl (Melanie) and the flapper (Scarlett).****  Yellis expertly describes the dichotomy of these two vastly different types of women stating:

The Gibson girl was maternal and wifely, while the flapper was boyish and single. The Gibson girl was the embodiment of stability. The flapper girl’s aesthetic was motion, her characteristics were intensity, energy, volatility. While the Gibson girl seems incapable of an immodest thought or deed, the flapper strikes us as brazen and at least capable of sin if not actually guilty of it. She refused to recognize the traditional moral code of American civilization, while the Gibson girl had been its guardian.*****

It appears that whereas the bad belle Scarlett has no physical resemblance to the flapper her attitude fits perfectly.

Scarlett’s character takes a stand against the traditional roles of women, she even refuses to have any more children and seems withdrawn from the only child she had. In addition, she owns her own business, drinks, and will stop at no ends to ensure her own prosperity. Whereas most women were not at the point of giving up motherhood many were in essence sick and tired of the traditional and often boring role of women both historically and figuratively in literature. Women felt liberated during the Civil War and World War I having had the opportunity to break out of the traditional and mundane housewife role to realize their potential to provide and maintain for their families. In the Reel Civil War, by Bruce Chadwick, he admits, “Although about 25 percent of the women in America worked during the late 1930s and women had voted since 1920, they were still constrained, shackled by their role in the family and society.***** The 1920s saw greater advancements for women as compared to any other time in American history but ultimately women still felt frustrated as Chadwick admits and Scarlett O’Hara’s character proves. The proof lies with the stubborn and strong-spirited Scarlett who captured the hearts of women, their admiration depicts a desire to break the traditional mold. As a disclaimer I feel I should also say that whereas women admired her fierceness, her lack of caring for her child and any desire for future children along with her inability to find happiness were probably not sought after characteristics. It is her character as a whole that attracts audiences and the latter that makes a fantastic soap opera.

*Hymowitz, Carol, and Weissman, Michaele. A History of Women in America. New York: Bantam, 1984. chapter 9. (there were no page numbers online, sooo. . . sorry)

**Hymowitz and Michaele, chapter 9.

***Emily Toth. Rev. of The Belle Gone Bad: White Southern Women Writers and the Dark Seductress, by Betina Entzminger. South Central Review. Volume 22. Issue 1. (Spring 2005): pp. 120-122. JSTOR. Web. 13 June 2012.

****Kenneth A. Yellis. “Some Thoughts on the Flapper.” American Quarterly. Volume 21. Issue 1. (Spring 1969): pp. 44. JSTOR. Web. 13 June 2012.

***** Yellis, 44.

****** Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2001), 223.