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Women During the Civil War

Intro  |  Lucy French  |  Nannie Haskins  |  Matilda Franklin  |  Love Letters

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Carte de visite of Mrs. Stanley, Nashville, Tennessee, ca. 1862-1865
Gilbert M. L. Johnson Papers

Women on both sides exerted remarkable influence on their menfolk during the Civil War. In letters to their husbands, sons, and brothers, women encouraged their soldiers to fight on for their cause. This was particularly true among Confederates in West and Middle Tennessee. West Tennessee was overwhelmingly supportive of the Confederate cause, and its women often wrote fervently about their feelings. Though Middle and West Tennessee were Union occupied by 1862, many women could not keep their feelings to themselves. East Tennessee had been a bastion of Unionism from the beginning, and women with Confederate sympathies there were uncommon.

The Federal-controlled Memphis Bulletin published a plea in a September 20, 1863 editorial that called for rebel women to help restore peace to the Union. The piece opened with an appeal to the women who used their influence "in producing the present terrible war that is filling the land with graves, and clothing every household in mourning . . . to do all they can to end it." It went on to say:

Lt. Thomas B. Cooke

Carte de visite of Lieutenant Thomas B. Cooke, Fisher's Company, Tennessee Artillery (Nelson Artillery)
Nashville, Tennessee, ca. 1861-1863

Lieutenant Cooke was killed at the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May 27, 1863.
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

In the inception of the present war, the influence of Southern women was generally enlisted upon the side of rebellion, even more so, if possible, than that of the other sex. This was done by appeals to passion, to sympathy, and to revenge — three influences above all others powerful in their affects on the female mind. While strong, brave and sensible men held back, their wives, mothers and sisters, urged them forwards. A species of insanity seemed to posses their minds . . . They literally compelled innumerable men and boys, their own husbands, cousins, lovers, brothers, sons, who would most gladly have remained at home, to take up arms and go into the rebel armies. They are responsible for the death of thousands who have perished of sickness, toil, hunger, sword, bullet and bayonet . . . Yes, if the moldering corpses that lie in their charnel houses, heaped hideously together at Shiloh, Fort Donelson, at Corinth, at Murfreesboro — if they could speak, how many a hollow voice should we hear: "Sent here by my sister; my wife, my MOTHER!" . . . There are at this day in the rebel armies great numbers of young men who would gladly return home but dare not. They understand, that, if they were to leave the service to which in an evil hour they devoted themselves, they would be under the ban of bitter indignation and scorn of rebel women. These women, we mean only the portion of them we have been referring to, incapable of remorse or regret for all the ruin they have wrought, are keeping up their unnatural and most accursed work . . . These builders of pyramids of skulls do whatever they can, by all the arts of provocation and encouragement and blandishment, to keep up the strife.

Despite the hyperbole in the editorial, the bulk of Civil War women's letters and diaries at the Tennessee State Library and Archives are principally those that reflect support of the Confederacy.


Lucy Virginia French
Lucy Virginia French

Lithograph of Lucy Virginia French, from Women of the South Distinguished in Literature by Mary Forrest, 1865
Library Photograph Collection

Virginia and John Hopkins French lived with their three small children in McMinnville, Warren County. The slave-owning family was devoutly loyal to the Confederate cause. Already a well-know writer, Lucy identified her profession as "Authoress, Poet" on the 1860 census. French kept a journal in which she made lengthy observations on politics, society, and the war. By 1863, she was describing Lincoln as a "dictator."


Nannie Haskins
Nannie Haskins and friends

Carte de visite of Nannie Haskins (front/left), Hattie Donoho, Janie Moore, and Dora Judkins, 1862
Nannie E. Haskins Williams Papers

Nannie was a teenager from a prominent Clarksville family when Federal troops occupied the town in 1862. Into her diary, the young "secesh" poured her patriotic feelings for the Confederacy, her devotion to her soldier brothers, and her dislike of the "Blue tail flys" who had turned her hometown into a garrison.

On February 22, 1863, Nannie awoke to church bells pealing and cannon firing — she was sure that Confederate General John Hunt Morgan had come to have a turn at the Yankees. What she was hearing instead was the Federal celebration of George Washington's birthday. Nannie remembered the joy she had once felt on that anniversary. She wrote angrily that the Yanks had taken away Southerners' rights and that her heart ached upon seeing those "villains celebrate the nativity of that great man." She was sure that if Washington's ghost could rise up, it would proclaim itself a rebel. Thankfully, "we have another Washington in our noble [Jefferson] Davis."

In March — with the cannonading outside town too loud for her to study — Nannie imagined that her "bonnie grays" were retaking Ft. Donelson. She declared that she was "perfectly disgusted with the color blue."

Additional excerpts from Nannie Haskins' diary are available for viewing on the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).


Matilda Franklin
Matilda Franklin

Matilda Franklin, ca. 1860s
Archives Photograph Collection

Matilda was a former slave and the servant of Martha Armfield of Beersheba Springs. Martha was married to the infamous slave trader John Armfield. He drove thousands of chained and shackled men, women, and children to Natchez, Mississippi. The journey took seven to eight weeks. The slaves were sold from pens.

Franklin died in Sumner County on February 10, 1878. Her obituary stated:

Although retiring and diffident, she never missed an opportunity to speak a kind word of advice and counsel to both white and colored friends, often assuring the latter that to be respected and have friends they must do right and respect themselves. She did her part well, and although in an humble station, her exemplary life and triumphant death are a bright example for us all.


Love Letters
Letter from J. Wes Broom to Miss G. A. Brigham

Love letter from J. Wes Broom, Port Hudson, Louisiana, to Miss G. A. Brigham, Stewart County, Tennessee, March 27, 1863
Brigham Family Papers
PDF of entire letter

J. Wes Broom, an officer in Company E, 49th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, CSA, illustrated the first page of this love letter with military engagement scenes — most likely from the recent Federal attack on Port Hudson. The Confederates held Port Hudson until summer, when it surrendered after a long siege. Broom addressed Miss Brigham as "Beautiful Lady" and mentioned his travel to the "cold Lakes of the North." This would indicate that he had been a prisoner of war, probably at Johnson's Island or Camp Douglas.

Letter from Captain Roswell E. Kingsley to Nannie J. Kingsley

Love letter from Captain Roswell E. Kingsley, Trenton, Georgia, via Chattanooga, to Nannie J. Kingsley, Greene County, Tennessee, ca. 1863
Tennessee Confederate Widow's Pension No. 5576

In another love letter, Captain Roswell E. Kingsley wrote to his wife, Nannie:

Darling . . . I think you have the purest heart that women ever possessed and that to me you are ten thousand fold the dearest being on this whole earth, I love you but too fondly . . . [In one] of the darkest hours of the late retreat, while in the line of battle waiting for the enemy I got off my horse and set down by a tree and leaned against it, and in a moment I was in sleep when I had the most delightful dream I ever had, I thought I was with you and in the greatest enjoyment of our natures are capable of experiencing . . . when in an instant I was awakened by the loud shrill crack of our guns and the enemy was upon us. This is literly [literally] true, but you wont [won't] write why is it? Your husband, R. E. Kingsley

Letter from Oliver Caswell King to Katharine Rutledge

Love letter from Oliver Caswell King, Poor Hill, Sullivan County, Tennessee, to Miss Katharine "Toad" Rutledge, Blountville, Sullivan County, Tennessee, February 13-20, 1863
Oliver Caswell King Letters
PDF of entire letter

Captain Oliver Caswell King, a Confederate cavalryman from East Tennessee, was also a man in love. He wrote dozens of ardent letters to his fiancée, Katharine "Toad" Rutledge, during his Tusculum College days and Civil War service. They were married in 1863. His letters are often eloquent and playful as he teases her, offers his advice on books, talks about his wartime experiences, and expresses his passion. This letter was written in three sittings.

On the 16th, he volunteers advice on Toad's friend Nan, who "talks too much" and is versed in "the mysteries of tattling and gossiping." He thanks Toad for her gift of pickles and herbs, and then gets to the point of asking if she has talked to Uncle Crockett and Aunt Sally about their engagement. On the 20th, he again warns Toad about Nan, who could be "easily led astray by those who have grown old in evil doing."


Mrs. White

"Mrs. White, sister of Miss Wright, Memphis, Tenn.," ca. 1860s
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

John Hunt Morgan and Martha Ready Morgan

Carte de visite of General John Hunt Morgan and Martha Ready Morgan, ca. 1863-1864
Mattie Ready was from Murfreesboro and married Confederate General John Hunt Morgan in 1863. Lucy Virginia French later hosted a wedding reception for the couple and left a detailed description of the evening in her "war journal" (which is in the manuscript holdings at the Tennessee State Library and Archives).
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

The Hero of the West

"The Hero of the West," a poem about General John Hunt Morgan, Sandusky Bay, Ohio, August 13, 1862
The poem was copied into an autograph book by a prisoner at Johnson's Island.
Samuel Dold Morgan Papers

Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain sheet music, New York, New York, 1917
The song is about a girl who waits for her love on Lookout Mountain.
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection