The Late Unpleasantness

There is nothing so painfully ironic as a war between countrymen. So when nurse Kate Cumming speaks bitterly in her 1864 diary of "our kind northern friends, who love us so dearly that they will have us unite with them, whether we will or no" it is hard to blame her.

Cumming is one of 23 Southern women whose memoirs and diaries Walter Sullivan, an English professor at Vanderbilt University, has collected in this anthology. The authors range from Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut, wife of U.S. Senator James Chestnut of South Carolina, to the spy Belle Boyd of Virginia, arrested first at 19, to Céline Frémaux of Louisiana, who was only ten when the war began. There are many wonderful stories here, some very moving. Several of these women were, like Mary Chestnut, from wealthy families; all were ruined by the war. By 1864, Céline Frémaux was so poor that her family made their own shoes—using cartridge boxes and belts for the soles, and velvet from an old hunting suit for the uppers. Sewn together with copper wire, these shoes would last for seven or eight wearings—enough for a month or two of church.

In that same year in Georgia, in the wake of Sherman's Army, Mary Ann Harris Gay traveled unescorted from Decatur to Social Circle—a dangerous trip at the time. In her first two days traveling she saw no living animal, not even a bird, other than a dog guarding the ruins of...

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