Gender and the Civil War

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dr. Nina Silber of Boston University will be speaking on how gender can help in understanding the Civil War, as part of the Turning Points in History lecture series. Randyl Nielson/UVU Review

A short time after the South seceded from the union, 150 years ago this year, a war which caused brother to turn against brother broke out.

Scholars have referred to the Civil War as a “brother’s war.” However, Dr. Nina Silber of Boston University, believes it was as much a woman’s war as it was a man’s.

On Wednesday, Silber will be speaking about why gender is important in understanding the Civil War. The lecture will take place in the Library Auditorium (LI 120), as part of the Turning Points in History lecture series, presented by the History department, from 7-8 p.m. on Sept. 22.

“It is important to recall that women, perhaps as much as men, became enmeshed in the sectional conflict,” Silber writes in the Organization of American Historians Magazine of History.

According to Silber, gender is what created the ideology that differentiated the North and the South. It was this ideology that gave both sides a sense of the importance of family, relationships and defending the home, though this was done in different ways for both the union and confederate soldiers.

“In many ways, the history of women’s involvement in the Civil War is a history of tension and constant struggle to reconcile images with reality,” Silber writes in the OAH Magazine of History. “Influenced by Victorian notions of gender behavior, women and men both struggled to understand their new roles and responsibilities in ways consistent with their 19th-century sensibilities.”

According to Silber, women were called upon in both the North and the South, to make patriotic sacrifices for those they loved and for their country. Yet, it was somewhat difficult for women in the South to contribute, because they were often discouraged from doing the work of a slave.

Because of the more rural setting in the South, men were defending their place at the head of their family and home, says Silber. While men in the North, who were in a more urban setting, had the idea of separate sphere’s, a man was in charge of business matters and a woman was in charge of the home.

Silber suggests it is possible that this mentality aided somewhat in the triumph of the North because the northern soldiers were more united in defending the Union, their country, while southern men were merely defending their homes from invasion.

Silber has been able to examine the attitudes and ideology of men and women in the Civil War through letters written back and forth between soldiers and loved ones.

“It gives people a whole new perspective when thinking about the Civil War,” Silber said, in regards to letters. “This gives another way of thinking, it gets you in the mindset of the every day person.”