Women’s Views on the Civil War

Our processing work for the Digital Center for Americana pilot project is winding down. Over the last year, we’ve processed, conserved, described, and selectively digitized 51 collections at HSP that have ties to the Civil War.

We worked on the papers of President James Buchanan, Treasury Secretary and Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, General George G. Meade, Alexander H. Stephens (vice president of the Confederacy), and many others.

We also processed collections that provide insights into women’s views on the war, especially the Wister and Butler families papers (collection 1962) that I wrote about last month.

In that collection, researchers can learn more about what women like Fanny Kemble, Sarah Butler Wister, and Frances Butler Leigh thought about the war and its aftermath.

But the collection also offers interesting Civil War-era commentary from family friend Jeannie L. Field Musgrave.

A few of the images of Jeannie Field Musgrave saved by her friend, Sarah Butler Wister.

Jeannie was the daughter of a prominent New York Republican, David Dudley Field (1805-1894), and a lifelong friend of Sarah Butler Wister. She wrote to Sarah about her views on the war, and relayed pieces of the military and political information that her father had received through his political connections.

Jeannie also popped up elsewhere in the collection, among the papers of William Rotch Wister. She wrote to him on June 30, 1861, and included a ribbon favor she had made:

Keep the favor, my dear Mr. Wister, until you are tired of it, or of what it is intended to represent, devotion to our flag, whether you can show that devotion in the field or not. Women are so powerless in these stirring times that each one of that unhappy sex feels eager to do her little [part] toward exciting the patriotism and stimulating the efforts of those who can do anything for our country.

I am very sorry that any difficulties should have intervened to prevent your taking your troops to the war, for though I do not doubt that you will serve truly the cause of liberty wherever you may be, still I like to see all who are not tied at house by that troublesome anchor, a wife, going forth to do battle for it . . .”

The finding aid for the Wister and Butler families papers is now available online.

UPDATE: To learn more about HSP collections that provide insights into women’s lives during the Civil War, visit our online guide.

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