When I first started visiting Civil War historic sites I was mildly surprised that the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) erected many of them. Since soldiers did the fighting I had expected that the Confederate Veterans, or their sons, would dominate the Southern monument building. But over the years I’ve learned that Southern women were generally fiercely committed to the Confederacy.
Most recently I read a report to Congress on conditions in the Southern states after the war. The author was Benjamin Truman, who was a New Englander and an aide to Andrew Johnson during the war. He spent eight months in the South, visiting every former Confederate state except the Carolinas and Virginia. In his May 1866 report Benjamin wrote, “Over southern society…[women]…reign supreme and they are more embittered against those whom they deem to be the authors of all their calamities than are their brothers, sons, and husbands.” Certain war stories illustrate, or explain, the resentment.
For example, while Union Captain Julius Ochs was assigned to a unit guarding the St. Louis-to-Cincinnati railroad, his wife was caught trying to smuggle quinine in a baby carriage across an Ohio River bridge to Rebels in Kentucky. Somehow Captain Ochs got the charges dropped, but his wife’s dedication to the South persisted. After the war, she joined the UDC while her husband became a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans organization. Their eldest son, Adolph, became a Chattanooga, Tennessee, newspaperman. Shortly before the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Adolph bought a failing New York newspaper, added the slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” to its masthead, and launched the New York Times toward national prominence. At her funeral, Adolph’s mother had her coffin draped by a Confederate flag.
Phoebe Pember was in her late 30s and a widow when she was called from Georgia to be chief matron at one of the five divisions in Richmond’s Chimborazo hospital. Bye and bye a young convalescent soldier named Fisher became a staff favorite. One night a nurse rushed to tell Pember that something was wrong with Fisher:
Following the nurse to [Fisher’s] bed, and turning down the cover a small jet of blood spurted up. The sharp edge of a splintered bone must have severed an artery. I instantly put my finger on the small orifice and waited for the surgeon. He soon came—took a long look and shook his head…No earthly power could save him.
The hardest trial of my life lay before me; the necessity of telling a man in the prime of his life…that there was no hope for him.
“How long can I live?”
“Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery.” A pause ensued. He broke the silence at last.
“You can let go—“
But I could not. Not if my own life trembled in the balance. Hot tears rushed to my eyes, a surging sound to my ears, and a deathly coldness to my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me and for the first and only time in four years, I fainted away.
No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. Continue reading