The Civil War changed the lives of Southern women in ways they could not have imagined. They lived with anxiety, fear and loneliness. As the war ground on, many felt an increasing sense of desperation and depression. The lives they had known were lost. One confided to her journal that she was "almost on the borders of craziness."
Unprepared, Anxious and Alone
Women who had never performed the most basic tasks
found themselves faced with cooking, cleaning, laundry
and child care. A Virginia woman wrote, "I find myself,
every day, doing something I never did before." It was no
different in Phillips County. Mary Sale Edmondson, who
lived near Helena, wrote a friend, "I have never in all my
life been obliged to wait on myself before, and I am now
forty-seven years of age." Though their problems may
seem trivial, many women felt almost crippled by their
unpreparedness for the changes war brought.
Struggling to Survive
Women raised to depend on men for economic and
emotional security now had no one. Some had to find
jobs. Those on small farms worked in the fields. Mary
Edmondson struggled to keep the family plantation
afloat. Like most women, she knew little about
agriculture. More daunting was managing the slaves
she was dependent upon, many of whom were now
openly asserting their
desire for freedom.
Confrontations with Union Soldiers
The Union occupation of Helena in July 1862 increased
anxiety. Union patrols (scouts) scoured the countryside.
Sue Cook confided to her diary, "The first thing I saw
when I got to the road this morning was a scout had
passed in the direction of our house. I feared they had
caught brother, but they did not." Lucretia Roberts and
her daughter, Matilda—loyal Unionists—watched
helplessly as soldiers seized thirty wagon loads of
provisions from their plantation. One Southern woman
wrote, "I think sometimes that my trials are more than I
can bear." She was not alone.
Middle bottom: Currency issued by Helena Insurance Company
in 1862, before the Union Army occupied the city.
Helena Museum of Phillips County
Bottom right: Manufactured goods became almost impossible to obtain in the Confederate states.
By 1864, cloth cost ten times what it had in 1861. Women like Sue Cook, above, recycled curtains and linens; many took up knitting.
Sue Cook, courtesy of the Phillips County Historical Society