gardenia image    Meet Some Nifty Ladies

It has been said:  If women were in charge...there would be fewer wars, and they would be short in duration.  This is based on a theory that--unburdened by the primal male ego--women tend to be more practical in their approach to conflict, more willing and able to compromise; ergo, they are more apt to reach detente, and in less time.

In my research I have encountered interesting ladies -- strong, practical, outspoken, loving and caring, witty, jealous, audacious -- some of whom are listed below.  Their brief biographical data and/or publications are provided for your enjoyment.

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Duke University's Special Collections Library has a very nice selection of writings by and about notable Civil War Women and African-American Women in the South.  Click here to go to Duke. 

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  • Varina Howell Davis, "The Mississippi Rose" - Born 1826 near Natchez, Ms. Second wife of Jefferson Davis, she was a doe-eyed beauty from an aristocratic family in Mississippi.  Intelligent, ambitious, deeply religious, an accomplished hostess and lively conversationalist with a serious interest in politics, Varina was well-suited to life as a politician's wife.  She was devoted to her husband, bearing him 6 children, one being born and another dying tragically during the frantic years of the War.  Eighteen years younger than her husband, she nonetheless wielded great influence over him in personal matters.  Many southerners looked upon her as being "pushy".  Some of Davis' frailness and distracted manner in later years was due to her well-intentioned but misguided ministrations.  For example:  Varina forced him to sniff chloroform and rubbed it on his temples, in an attempt to cure his insomnia.  By the end of the War, she was called "that Western Squaw".  An officer's wife said, "He looks badly--old, grey and wrinkled.  But she is enormously fat, and very cross and ill-tempered."  Yet, through all the family's public and private trials, Varina provided Davis with loyalty, companionship and a great reserve of strength.
  • Mary Custis Lee - Great-granddaugter of Martha Washington and heiress to several estates.  She married Robert E. Lee two years after he graduated from West Point and bore seven children, in spite of being an invalid for much of her life due to arthritis.  When not traipsing around the country with small children in tow (in typical military wife fashion) she billeted temporarily at her family seat, "Arlington".  When the Union government confiscated Arlington, ultimately creating a cemetery for northern troops there, she was devastated.  Even in later years she declined official invitations to visit her former family home, feeling it had been violated by strangers.

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  • Sallie B. Putnam - "Richmond During the War (Four Years of Personal Observation.  By a Richmond Lady.)", 1867.  Reprinted in Collector's Library of the Civil War, Time-Life Books, 1983.  The reprint can be obtained thru used book dealers.  Sallie was an objective observer and her work is a valuable source of information for anyone researching the War of Northern Aggression.  She was there for the duration--from Davis's inauguration, the Richmond bread riots and "rolling bandage" for the troops, to the burning and evacuation of the Confederate capitol. Sallie gives us details about the devastation of war and the deprivations experienced and overcome by those who endured it on a daily basis.  Good stuff!
  • Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut - Diarist; b. Statesburg, SC 1823.  Daughter of a distinguished lawyer, governor, congressman (Stephen Decatur Miller), Mary was born into the life of wealthy southern planters.  At 17 she married James Chesnut, Jr., who served in the U.S. Senate before resigning his seat to become active as a member of SC's secession convention.  (Chesnut rose to BG in the Confederate army and served as an aide to President Davis).  Mary was well educated and articulate and was imminently qualified to record the feelings, beliefs and actions of the South.  Of the many diaries kept by women during the Civil War, hers is clever and detailed and is considered an important source on the life of the Confederacy.

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  • Rose O'Neal Greenhow ("Wild Rose") - Spy, b. about 1816, Washington, DC.  Raised on her family's Maryland farm, she moved to her aunt's fashionable Washington boarding house as a teenager.  A beautiful, ambitious, seductive woman, Rose disappointed an army of suitors by marrying Dr. Robert Greenhow, under whose tutelage she flourished.  When war broke out in 1861 Rose, a widow with four daughters, organized an espionage ring.  Among her friends were presidents, senators, high-ranking military officers, and less important people from all walks of life--many of whom played roles (some unknowingly) in her espionage.  Sealing her identification with and loyalty to Southern interests was the political instruction she received from John C. Calhoun, one of her closest companions.  In late 1861 Rose was imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison, where she continued to gather and forward vital information to the Confederates.  News of her activities gained her tremendous popularity among Southern sympathizers.  After being brought to trial in spring 1862, Greenhow was deported to Richmond, Virginia, where cheering crowds greeted her. That summer President Davis sent her to Europe as courier; she stayed there, collecting diplomatic intelligence and writing her memoirs, until recalled in 1864. Rose sailed on the blockade runner, Condor, apparently bearing dispatches urgent to the Confederacy.  A Union ship gave chase near Wilmington, NC, and forced the Condor to run aground on a sandbar.  Fearing capture, Rose persuaded the captain to send her and two companions ashore in a lifeboat.  In stormy seas the small vessel overturned and Rose O'Neal Greenhow drowned, dragged down by the $2,000 in gold sewn into her clothing.  She was buried with honors in Wilmington.   Click here to read her obit and view photo.   Or to see some of her papers, courtesy Duke Univ.
  • Belle Boyd - Spy, b. 5/9/1843 or 1844, Martinsburg, Va.  Labeled "That Secesh Cleopatra" by New York newspapers.  Reckless, thriving on night rides, by the age of 21 Belle had been reported about 30 times, arrrested 6 or 7 times and imprisoned twice.  Prison didn't slow her down much--while in Washington's Old Capitol Prison, Belle managed to put messages in India rubber balls and toss them through the bars on the window to an accomplice.  Despite her popularity, not even her staunch patriotism could compensate for behavior that scandalized well-bred Confederate ladies.  Her preference for traveling alone, tendency to strike up acquaintances with soldiers (from both sides) and visit officers in their tents, left her open to criticism.  Belle's natural flair for the dramatic enabled her to become an actress after the War.  She also lectured audiences on her wartime escapades, and in 1865 published a dramatic account of her exploits, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison.  She was wildly popular in both the North and the South; people loved "La Belle Rebelle".  In June 1900, Belle died of a heart attack while performing in Wisconsin...penniless, but undaunted.

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    under costruction image       Sorry, I'm still working on this section -- can't find my books!

  • Constance Cary Harris - Wife of Jeff Davis' aide, Major Burton Harris, Mrs. Harris is another astute observer who was there for the duration...and took notes. Originally from           , she and her sister, Hetty (who married General Pegram), shared some harrowing times in Richmond.  Constance wrote "Recollections Grave and Gay" about her wartime experiences.  Excerpts of her account are found in Leaders of the Confederacy, published by
  • Some more interesting links:

       United Daughters of the Confederacy -- Virginia

       Civil War Miscellany -- Women of the War -- many photos & short bios

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