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Rita M. BeanRita M. Bean, Professor of Education, University of Pittsburgh
In this book, Wilson & Clair describe the lives of 33 women who were wives of Civil War Generals. The title of the book, They Also Served, reveals a great deal about the viewpoints of the authors as they tell the tales of these remarkable women and their lives. Fundamentally, they demonstrated that the strength, courage, tenacity, and love of these women were influential in how their husbands lived and performed their duties.
Many of these women actively lived with their husbands at their postings, often putting themselves in danger. For example, Fanny Haralson Gordon, wife of Major General John Brown Gordon, left her two sons with grandparents and followed her husband to the front lines. When he was wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam), she cared for him during his recovery. Indeed, he claimed that he owed his life to her nursing.
Although I enjoyed reading about all of the wives, one of my favorite ladies was Julie Dent Grant, wife of Ulysses Grant. Mrs. Grant, who served as first lady during the eight years of Grant’s presidency, went on to work for women’s suffrage and also wrote her own memoirs. I was intrigued with the fact that six of these women became authors, some writing about their husband’s lives while others chose to write novels, memoirs, or children’s stories.
It is obvious that Wilson & Clair did extensive research to uncover the fascinating lives of these women. The stories are at times sad at times, somewhat humorous. But each one of these short vignettes captures not only the lives of these women, but provides important insights into the lives of their husbands at this important time in U.S. history. The book broadened my knowledge of the Civil War in a very personal way by telling the stories of individuals who were deeply affected by that war. But, most of all, the book illustrated for me the key role of women not only in supporting the work of their husbands, but as individuals with their own stories to tell.