A Woman’s War Revised: Slave Women on the Civil War’s Battlefields

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:40 AM
Room 204 (Hynes Convention Center)
Thavolia Glymph , Duke University, Durham, NC
Civil War battlegrounds are hallowed spaces in American history and memory.  Visited by millions each year, they recall the sacrifices made in the name of Union and freedom as well as the struggle waged by the white South against both.  They recall the human toll of 620,000 casualties.   The story these battlegrounds tell, however, fails to account for all the war’s military actions and casualties.  It is a story hemmed in by the notion of the battlefield as a gendered and mapped space of men and guns.  Civilians or non-combatants may sometimes get in the way but they are not a part of the real work of war.  Focusing on the Mississippi Valley, I argue in this paper for a redefinition of the very meaning of the term “battlefield” to include contraband camps and plantations, including and especially Union-sponsored plantations, sites that witnessed Confederate military excursions targeting enslaved women and children who had registered their resistance to slavery and their commitment to freedom by fleeing.  Confederate forces not only treated them as combatants by waging war on them but often did so in flagrant violation of codes of military conduct.  On the war’s extended battlefields, black women and children died in record numbers, many brutally massacred.  This paper tells that story, and thus revises the historiographical narrative of “a woman’s war” embedded as well in popular memory.
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