Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Women and Civil War Military Justice: Review of Lowry, Confederate Heroines

From HCivWar via H-Net, a review of Thomas P. Lowry, Confederate Heroines: 120 Southern Women Convicted by Union Military Justice, which brings together the history of military justice during the Civil War, and women's history. The reviewer, Ethan S. Rafuse, Department of Military History, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, finds some disappointments with the book, and also we might wonder how the story would look different if broadened to include other women (e.g. Union sympathizing women, free or slave, white or black, caught by the Confederacy, smuggling contraband across lines like some of the Confederate women in this book). But gender and military justice is an interesting topic, as Elizabeth Hillman shows in her book, Defending America: Military Culture and the Cold War Court-Martial. And in spite of the limitations of Lowry, he provides the interesting story in one chapter of a woman thought by the Union to be "unsexed" by her bold actions in support of the Confederacy. Here's part of the review:
During the last decade and a half, Thomas P. Lowry, M.D., has carved out a distinctive place for himself among Civil War historians. He has done this by seeking out and uncovering previously unknown or relatively obscure sources and using them to produce informative studies on topics that have yet to receive much attention from historians. Included among these works are studies of military court-martials, an overview of sex during the Civil War, and an examination of how Abraham Lincoln dealt with cases from the military justice system that came to his attention.[1] In Confederate Heroines, Lowry applies his fine research and writing skills to the task of uncovering and chronicling over one hundred cases in which southern women were arrested and tried by Federal military courts for various crimes during the war.
Lowry has produced an interesting and informative book. He sets up his study with a preface and an introduction that briefly discuss nineteenth-century ideas regarding women's roles in Northern and Southern society, how scholarship has been distinguished by an increase in interest recently in the various roles women played in the Civil War, and how the stories of the women in his book in particular "can be seen as evidence of the tectonic, if temporary shifts in the dynamic between men and women" that occurred in the Civil War (p. ix). These are followed by a chapter on cases from Missouri, Maryland, and Tennessee in which readers are introduced to individuals such as Zeidee Bagwell of St. Louis; when her letter, expressing devotion to the Confederacy, happened to come into the possession of Union authorities in the city, she was sentenced to confinement in her home, directed to take an oath of allegiance to the Union, and forced to post a $1000.00 bond.

For the rest, click here.