Rebel Women

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

Phoebe Pember

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.


My Civil War Books

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

To be released in May and available for pre-order: The Confederacy at Flood Tide


During the middle of the war British Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle visited the Confederacy for three months. He entered at Brownsville, Texas and departed from New York visiting every Southern state except Arkansas and Florida. One night in Mississippi his diary records:

We slept at a farmhouse. All the males were absent at the war, and it is impossible to exaggerate the unfortunate condition of the women left behind…They have scarcely any clothes, and nothing but the coarsest bacon to eat, and are in miserable uncertainty as to the fate of their relations, whom they can hardly ever communicate with. Their slaves, however, generally remain true to them.

Days later in Chattanooga Fremantle wrote in his diary: “It has often been remarked to me that, when this war is over, the independence of the country will be due…to the women; for [the men] declare that had the women been desponding [the men] could never have gone through with it; but, on the contrary, the women have invariably set an example to the men of patience, devotion and determination.”

During his voyage home from New York to Great Britain Freemantle took note of the numerous Northern male passengers of military age who were nonetheless civilians. “[I]f they had been Southerners, their female relations would have made them enter the army whether their inclinations led them that way or not.”

Sometimes, however, Yankees captured the hearts of Southern women.

On the night of March 8-9, 1863 Rebel guerrillas led by John “The Gray Ghost” Mosby raided Alexandria, Virginia only a short distance from Washington, D. C. Among other actions they captured Vermont Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton. The next morning embarrassed Union authorities speculated that spies in Alexandria must have helped Mosby and went looking for suspects.

They soon focused on a twenty-four year old beauty named Antonia Ford. She was known to be friendly with general Stoughton and rumored to be intimate. When Stoughton’s mother and sister visited from Vermont, they boarded at the Ford household. Antonia’s brother had died earlier while in Confederate service. Although the previous summer she provided information to Stuart, it is unlikely she played a role in the Stoughton abduction. After the war Mosby said Antonia was “as innocent as Abraham Lincoln.” Nonetheless, she was arrested and briefly imprisoned.

On the day of her arrest, Major Joseph C. Willard escorted Antonia to the courthouse. He was a part owner of the still-famous hotel bearing his name, presently located only a block from the White House visitor’s center. Within a year of his chaperoning duty, Major Willard married Antonia.


3 thoughts on “Rebel Women

  1. pooreboysingray

    Reblogged this on Poore Boys In Gray and commented:
    Francis Marion Poore spent December 1862 in Chimborazo Hospital No. 2 in Richmond, still recovering from the gunshot wound to the hand he received at Antietam.

    In mid-December, about a month before Francis returned to duty with his regiment, the famed matron Phoebe Yates Levy Pember arrived to care for him and the other men housed in Hospital No. 2. You can find my post about her here:


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