Free Shipping on Orders of $40 or More
The Divided Family in Civil War America

The Divided Family in Civil War America

by Amy Murrell Taylor
The Divided Family in Civil War America

The Divided Family in Civil War America

by Amy Murrell Taylor


$24.49 $27.99 Save 13% Current price is $24.49, Original price is $27.99. You Save 13%.

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


The Civil War has long been described as a war pitting "brother against brother." The divided family is an enduring metaphor for the divided nation, but it also accurately reflects the reality of America's bloodiest war. Connecting the metaphor to the real experiences of families whose households were split by conflicting opinions about the war, Amy Murrell Taylor provides a social and cultural history of the divided family in Civil War America. In hundreds of border state households, brothers—and sisters—really did fight one another, while fathers and sons argued over secession and husbands and wives struggled with opposing national loyalties. Even enslaved men and women found themselves divided over how to respond to the war. Taylor studies letters, diaries, newspapers, and government documents to understand how families coped with the unprecedented intrusion of war into their private lives. Family divisions inflamed the national crisis while simultaneously embodying it on a small scale—something noticed by writers of popular fiction and political rhetoric, who drew explicit connections between the ordeal of divided families and that of the nation. Weaving together an analysis of this popular imagery with the experiences of real families, Taylor demonstrates how the effects of the Civil War went far beyond the battlefield to penetrate many facets of everyday life.The Civil War has long been described as a war pitting "brother against brother." The divided family is an enduring metaphor for the divided nation, but it also accurately reflects the reality of America's bloodiest war. Connecting the metaphor to the real experiences of families whose households were split by conflicting opinions about the war, Amy Murrell Taylor provides a social and cultural history of the divided family in Civil War America. She studies letters and diaries to understand how families coped with division between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, and she traces the image of the "house divided" as it emerged in newspapers and popular fiction to describe the war-torn nation.—>

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807899076
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 11/04/2009
Series: Civil War America
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 336
Lexile: 1200L (what's this?)
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Amy Murrell Taylor is associate professor of history at the State University of New York at Albany.

Read an Excerpt

Divided Family in Civil War America

By Amy Murrell Taylor

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2005 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8078-2969-1


Abraham Lincoln warned in 1858 that a "house divided against itself cannot stand." His words, prophetic of the war that was to come three years later, continue to resonate today. That phrase-just one part of a much larger address-has become one of Lincoln's most recognizable contributions to our American political vocabulary. But those words were not unique to the nineteenth-century president. The image of a "house divided," or a family in conflict, was a timeless one that drew on a long tradition in literature and political thought. From the Bible to Greek tragedies to Shakespeare's works to the political theories of John Locke, the family has offered a common language for understanding the complexities of human relationships. For Lincoln, the family provided a rhetorical shorthand, allowing him in just six words to convey what slavery might do to the relationship between Northern and Southern citizens.

Lincoln was not alone in describing a nation in family terms. Historians across the globe have uncovered numerous moments in which family language and metaphor figured centrally in the imagining of nations-particularly nations in conflict. We can see this in the French Revolution, Russian propaganda during World War I, and the Cold War, to name a few examples. The widespread use of the family image raises important questions about national identity-where it comes from, how it is defined, and how attachments to family and nation coexist and reinforce one another. In the United States we can trace the roots of the family metaphor at least to the Revolution, as colonists imagined themselves as children of a tyrannical British father. The Civil War only amplified this association of nation and family with an outpouring of speeches and stories that joined Lincoln in comparing the nation to a divided house. Even today, in movies, Web sites, children's literature, and John Jakes novels, we continue to see the warring nation as if it were a quarreling family-or a war of "brother against brother." It has become a cliché, easily recognizable and frequently invoked. Less understood is why this image has taken root in American culture.

This book offers the first sustained historical study of the divided family in the American Civil War. It takes what we often consider to be just rhetoric or common sense and finds within this image something more meaningful for those who lived through the war. It was meaningful, on a profound level, because it was real. Thousands of families did divide in what was widely considered to be a shocking dimension of the Civil War. Brothers did fight brothers; even Abraham Lincoln had relatives in the Confederate army. The image of the divided family therefore captured something tangible and authentic about the experience of war. But, on another level, it offered to Civil War Americans a framework for making sense of new and unprecedented problems. How could a country that was once one nation be carved into two? How could fellow citizens kill one another? Americans looked to the vocabulary of family-deference and authority, affection and conflict-for guidance in framing those difficult questions. This book follows the interplay of these two levels-experience and language-to provide a social and cultural history of the divided family in Civil War America.

We need not reach far into the vast library of Civil War history to find evidence of divided families. The idea that two brothers, or a father and son, or a husband and wife could assume opposing stances in the war has both captivated and perplexed scholars, writers of fiction, and filmmakers since the first shots were fired over Fort Sumter. Family division has become one of the "curiosities" of the war, filling out war narratives with colorful images and dramatic flourishes. Stories of divided families almost always appear in some form in anecdote books, a staple of Civil War popular culture, under titles such as "Love and Treason" and "'Brother against Brother' Was Real." Biographies of some of the most prominent Civil War political and military leaders rarely fail to mention a personal connection to the enemy side. Many central figures of that era were split from a family member, including Confederates Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and their Union-sympathizing sisters, and U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden and his Confederate son. Indeed, the more one looks for evidence of divided families in the war, the more numerous they appear.

This book thus began with the impossible search for all-or almost all-instances of family division in the American Civil War. Finding these families involved searching for references in the many books that have preceded this one, reading anecdote books and following short leads, drawing on the memories of archivists, and taking seriously what have become, in many minds, folkloric tales and legends. The writings of contemporary observers energized this search. "There is scarcely a family that is not divided," one woman wrote from St. Louis in 1861, and a Virginian noted of his own divided family, "There are thousands of families in the same situation." Statements such as these, however, quickly made it apparent that this subject needed to be narrowed along several lines. I turned first to those families in which "division" meant open allegiance to the opposing sides during the four years of war. Many more families argued about the merits of secession and slavery prior to April 1861 or disagreed on the course of the war. But the families considered here are those in which disagreements translated into opposing national loyalties, evident through service in the army or an overt display of allegiance at home.

These families tended to live in one region of the country: the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia (and later West Virginia), Maryland, and Delaware, as well as Washington, D.C. These states-all slaveholding states of the Upper South-were widely acknowledged during the war for having the greatest concentration of divided families. As one Missouri newspaper observed in 1861, "Secession has broken up the dearest social relations in every community of the border slave States, turning son against father, brother against brother, daughter against mother, friend against friend." These words echoed what would become a popular belief during the conflict: that divided families were a border state problem that set this region apart from states farther north or south. The "border slave States," indeed, had become an increasingly self-conscious region by the eve of the war, known alternately as the "border states," the "middle states," and, in the words of a Virginia legislator, "the tier of friendly states" between the Union and the Confederacy. They comprised the area immediately north and south of the Union-Confederate border, where, as a Virginia newspaper explained, national loyalties in the 1860s could "give rise to ... reasonable doubt." It was here that slavery and abolitionism, Democrats and Republicans, industry and agriculture, urban and rural communities all existed side by side. This was the crossroads of American travel, too, as Northerners moved south to obtain land or to vacation, Southerners went north for education or employment, and Easterners moved west to seek new land.

The different cultures, economies, and politics of the nation coincided in this region, making it difficult, when the war came, to draw a political border between the Union and the Confederacy that would mirror the geographic border between North and South. Latent divisions within the border states instead gave rise to the protracted secession crisis. This was a region where some of the most significant compromises to stave off sectional conflict originated in the 1850s and where voters supported moderate candidates over the more radical Republicans or Southern Democrats in 1860. Yet it was also where consensus was elusive once secession came, as states either seceded reluctantly after months of debate, like Tennessee and Virginia (which eventually splintered in two), or remained in the Union despite vocal secessionist minorities. The governor of Kentucky, for instance, supported efforts to establish an alternative Confederate government in his Union state, while in Missouri guerrilla warfare continually drew citizens into violent confrontations. In this region where, as one Kentuckian put it, "treason & loyalty overlap," and where reluctant Confederates and latent Unionists lived side by side during the Civil War, the line between Union and Confederacy fell in unexpected places, dividing towns, cities, and rural communities. It almost made sense, then, that families living in this diverse and conflicted region would divide, too.

The people who experienced a schism in their families were not satisfied with that conclusion, however. Mid-nineteenth-century Americans idealized the family as the foundation of social and national stability-it was not supposed to give in so easily to the weight of adversity. Family members, of course, were known to have their differences and to argue about politics in the years leading up to the war. But many expected that in a time of war, when it became necessary to assume a public stance on one side or the other, their families would close ranks and present a united front. Americans believed then-as some historians do now-that men and women would act as a cohesive family unit, that their loyalty to family would coincide with their loyalty to country. Yet quite the opposite occurred when border-state residents chose to put a nation before their family and to become their kinsmen's public enemy. The division of Civil War families thus struck a powerful blow to popular expectations, forcing people to step back, question old assumptions, and reconsider the meaning of family and its role in shaping national loyalty.

To explain what they called this "tragedy" and "horror" of war, border-state men and women looked deep within themselves to understand why their family members assumed opposing national allegiances. They turned to personal letters and diaries, at times writing long, introspective analyses of their conflict. A close reading of their words, particularly those of the white middle and upper classes who left behind the most extensive written record, anchors this study. The first three chapters explore how members of these families tried to understand one another's motivations and actions during the latter part of the sectional crisis and the first few years of the war. Chapter 1 examines conversations between fathers and sons, Chapter 2 follows the interactions between men and women during courtship and marriage, and Chapter 3 explores the relationships between brothers and sisters. Each of these chapters reveals that family division went beyond the oft-cited "brother against brother" and centers instead on particular relationships that triggered the greatest dispute about two critical-and still debated-questions of the Civil War: What motivated individual family members to align themselves with one side or the other? And why did they fight? Few agreed on the answers to these questions, and many argued vigorously about the meaning of their division.

The story that emerges from these families is one of borders tested and boundaries challenged. Attempts to understand why a Union-Confederate border had broken through their household inevitably led these individuals to search for answers in the deeper social borders between gender and generations. To varying degrees, family members came to view their divided national loyalties through the more familiar lens of family conflict, as crises of duty and authority rather than of slavery and secession. Coming-of-age struggles between sons and their fathers, for example, were a part of everyday life in midcentury families; it followed then, in some minds, that this generational conflict, rather than something strictly political, could explain why sons assumed public stances in opposition to their fathers. Border-state families thus turned to the language of gender and generations to describe their internal breakdown: they took what was unfamiliar-wartime division-and made it familiar by cloaking their arguments in the existing vocabulary of domestic conflict. Their words, expressed in moments of frustration and candor, articulate beliefs about family life that often go unspoken in nineteenth-century sources. They talk about what it meant to be a son or a father, a wife or a daughter, and the meaning of those positions in the context of a military and political war.

This book focuses on individuals who often lived in the same household and were bound together by close emotional, financial, and blood ties of kinship. Certainly "family" meant many other things, too, and could encompass a wide range of relationships. But relations between extended family or intimate friends are relevant to this study only when those relationships appear to have been a significant part of a man or woman's wartime life. The reason for this focus is simple: wartime divisions within the nuclear family were the most intense and surfaced in family correspondence far more clearly-and with far more frustration-than divisions involving extended kin. This may reflect the high expectations that had come to surround nuclear family relations in midcentury America. Between the Revolution and the Civil War, the combined forces of political independence, religious awakenings, and commercial and industrial expansion all helped foster an idealization of the father-mother-child family structure. Such a family was meant to be an emotional sanctuary, a small and child-centered refuge from public life that replaced traditional patriarchal authority with affection and love. Few families ever measured up to that ideal; those that came the closest were typically members of the white middle or upper classes, especially those in the urban North. Yet far more people across the nation, and in the border region, embraced this ideal anyway and grew frustrated when their wartime divisions exposed their inability to achieve it. Their attachment to this domestic model both exacerbated their conflicts and, as we will see, offered a guide to reconciling their divisions. The nuclear or "modern" family, and particularly the gap between that ideal and the reality, is therefore critical to understanding the domestic dramas that unfolded in border-state society.

One aspect of their ideal that troubled divided families the most was the relationship-or the border-between public and private life. The family was defined in part by its physical and emotional distance from political, military, and economic affairs: these two "spheres"-the private and the public-were not to overlap but were to be separate and distinct. Yet, as numerous historians have documented in recent years, the line between public and private was far more permeable in reality and never as neat as promised. This insight has led to a reconsideration of some of the most significant events and trends of the nineteenth century, and the Civil War is no exception. Wars, by their very nature, transcend public-private boundaries. An acknowledgment of this has led historians to argue that the war looks different when the connections between "homefront" and "battlefield" are considered. For some, pressures emanating from the homefront proved to be a drag on military progress; for others, families helped explain how and why men took up arms and fought the way they did. The war was fought not solely on the battlefield but also penetrated-and depended on-the most intimate facets of life.

Divided families are intriguing in part because they openly acknowledged the permeability of the border between homefront and battlefront long before historians began to see it in hindsight. Divided relatives viewed the presence of war in their families as an intrusion, a sign of dysfunction, and they responded with a vigorous defense. Their translation of the conflict in domestic terms was, in part, an effort to reinscribe a division between their private lives and the public world of war. They tried to minimize their discussion of politics and redraw boundaries that would, they hoped, restore normalcy. They continually defined and redefined, in explicit language, what was "private" and what was "public," what was "domestic" and what was "military" or "political." And their words are revealing. Not only did these men and women acknowledge the connections between these two spheres, but also, driven by the war to document their daily experiences in diaries and letters, they went a step further and resisted these linkages. Their eagerness to defend a border between public and private-their use of it to deflect wartime stress-may be one reason why this domestic ideology continued to resonate throughout the nineteenth century despite a much more complicated reality for most families.


Excerpted from Divided Family in Civil War America by Amy Murrell Taylor Copyright © 2005 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




Chapter 1 Union Father, Rebel Son

Chapter 2 Marriage and Courtship

Chapter 3 Brothers and Sisters

Chapter 4 Border Crossing and the Treason of Family Ties

Chapter 5 Border Dramas and the Divided Family in the Popular Imagination

Chapter 6 Reconciliations Lived and Imagined

Chapter 7 Reconciliation and Emancipation


Appendix: A Note on Numbers and Sources





Henry Lane Stone

Antonia Ford and Joseph Willard

Two West Point "brothers" and a slave

"The Return Home," Harper's Weekly

"The Tearful Convention," Harper's Weekly

"Naughty Boy and Uncle Sam," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

"'Uncle Tom' and His Grandchild," Harper's Weekly

"Testing the Question," Harper's Weekly

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A fascinating study of actual families, North and South, white and black, divided by war. . . . Taylor writes well, easily mixing absorbing details of family dysfunction with cogent and complex analysis.—Journal of American History

Taylor's deeply researched and thoroughly readable book is the first social and cultural history of Civil War-era divided families. . . . The dynamic portrait painted here ably renders any simple stories as much more complicated and complex narratives, and therefore ultimately much more historically satisfying.—Civil War History

[The Divided Family in Civil War America] is a sophisticated and multi-faceted treatment of an ambitious topic. Taylor makes as significant a contribution to gender and family history as she does to that the on the Civil War home front, and her book deserves a wide readership from those interested in either field.—Journal of Southern History

Taylor provides us with a convincing interpretation of the ways in which Americans used familiar ideas, behaviors, and rhetoric to cope with the colossal failure of family that was one aspect of the Civil War. Her work adds considerably to studies of Civil War popular culture and family life, her sources are comprehensive and well-mined, and her writing is thoughtful and at times downright lyrical. Well done.—American Historical Review

Broad, deep, and thoroughly current.—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

A rich, new perspective on the Civil War.—Virginia Magazine

A deeply researched and well-written book.—Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A must for any historian who wants to know more about how war affected the people who lived in the border states, both before and after the conflict.—North Carolina Historical Review

Taylor engages us in thinking about the divided family in a more complete way through the sheer variety of her perspectives. . . . Interesting and well-written.—H-Minerva

A valuable book on a fascinating subject, and Taylor has provided a valuable historical service by giving voice and personalities to the often characterless stereotypes of the divided family. . . . Well-written and well-constructed. . . . A compelling study of the divided family within American popular culture, and a testament to the importance of family within everyday society.—H-South

Customer Reviews