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Women in Civil War Texas
Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi
By Deborah M. Liles, Angela Boswell
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 2016 University of North Texas Press
All rights reserved.
"Everyone Has the War Fever"
Anglo-Texan Women Prepare for Secession and War
Starting with the presidential election of 1860, many Anglo-Texan women involved themselves in the politics of secession and supported the war through the early months of the following year. Pro-secession newspaper editors published women's letters and heralded their efforts in the first months of the war, balancing their public portrayal both as delicate symbols of hearth and home, worthy of defense, and as steadfast inheritors of their Revolutionary War grandmothers' strength and honor. These newspapers recorded the activities of many women who marched in parades, wrote to newspapers, attended political gatherings, pledged boycotts, presented flags, gathered to sew clothing and tents, raised funds, and urged enlistment. Flag presentation speeches, usually delivered by county belles, displayed the passion of women, many of whom appear to have been well educated, while the formation of women's "militias" demonstrated that Texas women and girls were not afraid to pick up a rifle. It all seemed so glorious before the summer battles of Manassas and Wilson's Creek, when the war began to bring on "days of weariness and nights of sorrow."
American women were still sixty years away from national suffrage, but a substantial number were interested in the political issues of the day, even in the more conservative South. During the presidential election of 1860, both Texas Democrats and Constitutional Unionists called upon the ladies to attend political barbecues, the first in Dallas and the latter in San Antonio. At a Huntsville barbecue on November 3, 1860, the ladies presented a transparency with the inscription "We had rather be the widows of State Right patriots than the wives of submissionists." After Lincoln's election, Anglo-Texas women became even more public in their support of a political cause: secession.
In anticipation of upcoming struggles, citizens of Independence, including almost 100 women, held a large political meeting on November 17, 1860, and raised the "Lone Star Banner" in the center of the public square. Young ladies of the local Baylor University also unfurled a lone star flag from their boarding house. The Bellville Countryman noted that concerned women were in attendance at another town meeting the following day, and that they were as patriotic as women in the American Revolution. The women of Indianola presented a "Lone Star Flag" to a pro-secession procession that marched to the "largest and most enthusiastic meeting ever held in Calhoun County." And in Corsicana, Mrs. Emily Middleton noted in her November 24 diary entry that she had visited a friend who was making cockades for "a company of young gentlemen." The ladies had presented the cockades along with a flag "given ... as a testimonial of their approbation of their course in the political movement of secession occasioned by Lincoln's election." She noted that she was not a politician but that "it seems absolutely necessary that action must be taken in the case, and some measures taken to preserve the rights of the South. May the Ruler of the world guide those to whom the direction of our affairs is given, and a peaceable adjustment be made." These actions and concerns show how many Texas women avidly followed the rapidly developing political situation in the South, indicating with their presence and their handiwork that they stood beside their menfolk in the steps they were taking toward independence.
Women's support of the war, either for the North or for the South, could be seen in various activities in the late months of 1860. In a rare flag face off in late November, the Unionists of Kaufman rang the bells of both churches and the hotel, and then a procession of ladies marched to the Methodist church "bearing a handsomely wrought flag, the workmanship of their own hands." In support of their connection to the anti-secession cause, they had made "a Union Flag — the star spangled banner — the stars and stripes, or National Flag." Miss Kate Parsons addressed the district judge "with much grace and elegance," but he, in turn, lectured her and the others on the proper relationship between the federal union and the states, suggesting that it was the North that had disrespected the once glorious flag that "under its broad stripes and bright stars we have our rights under the Constitution, or die in the defense of them." The Unionist crowd took their flag to a nearby store where it was "thrown to the breeze." The next day the bells rang again, and this time Miss Sallie Gibbs presented the community with a blue flag with fifteen white stars, one larger than the others, representing the Southern states and Texas. After an appropriate response, the flag was taken to the top framework of the incomplete new courthouse "and streamed away to the north under the pressure of a brisk wind, ominous of the defiant attitude of our people."
Further north in Dallas, which had partially burned in August, and whose conservative leaders at the time had blamed abolitionists for the destruction, another parade took place. On December 1 fifteen young girls, who were proclaimed to be as "innocent and pure as the early spring flowers of our prairies," led a procession from the Dallas Hotel to the county courthouse as they each held a banner with the name of a Southern state. A large crowd of "ladies and gentlemen" followed behind as local families, including wives and daughters, witnessed the event. One month later Austin followed with a similar demonstration. Behind the chief marshal, his assistant, and a musical band were "beautiful young ladies bearing the glorious insignia of so many [fifteen] gallant States, riding their spirited and beautiful steeds with ease and grace, and accompanied by their stalwart and chivalrous companions, presented a soul-stirring sight of youth, beauty and courage, animated by the noblest patriotism." They were followed by women on horseback, with and without flags. When they arrived at the site of the Old Capitol they raised a flag sewn by Mrs. Andrew N. Hopkins with the Lone Star of Texas surrounded by smaller stars up the 130-foot-tall flagstaff.
An anonymous Texas woman, assuming the pseudonym "Volumnia," wrote to the Austin State Gazette the day before the South Carolina convention commenced. She challenged the men of Texas to once again raise the Lone Star flag that had flown during the struggle for independence from Mexico when Texians had fought for "freedom without control." She asserted that Texas women, too, love their country and their homes, and they would love the men who would protect them. Volumnia saw the hand of Northern fanatics in the Indian raids and the slave insurrection panic just a few months previous and urged the Unionists of the state "to look upon these things as they really exist." If they did so, she knew they would support the cause of secession. During an era and in a region in which women seldom wrote politically, Volumnia spoke out forcefully in print, challenging men to do their duty as men and as Texans.
When necessary, the state's women could also take the political floor. In Crescent, Refugio County, no male leader volunteered at a secession meeting "when all at once, the banner of San Jacinto unfurled in her hand, appeared Miss Adams," who told the group:
Sons of Texas, it is not in the sphere of a lady to address a political assembly; but when the honor of her sex and the freedom of her country are at stake; when men are either deterred by danger, or slumber in indifference, it is her duty to raise her voice ... Sons of Texas, in the name of my sex, for the freedom of the South, I present you the coat of arms of Texas; protect it, we shall stand by your side!
Clearly many Texas women, while acknowledging the traditional separate spheres of men in politics and women at home, were finding it extremely difficult to stand on the sidelines, particularly if the men around them hesitated.
Women demonstrated their determination to support the Confederacy with their actions. When someone cut down the Lone Star flag in La Grange, the "patriotic town Ladies" immediately made another that was reportedly "made by fair hands, raised by patriots, is appreciated by true hearts, and shall be defended by freemen." On February 23, the day of the popular vote, the tableau of fifteen young ladies representing the fifteen Southern states was repeated in San Augustine, where Miss Martha Anderson gave a patriotic speech and presented a flag to the Red Land Minute Company. As this was taking place, in Port Sullivan, Milam County, those in favor of secession hosted a fine barbecue, attended by both ladies and gentlemen. Henry Pendarvis reported that he was "more impressed than ever with the firmness and patriotism of Texan ladies ... Capt. [Conway O.] Barton called on all the ladies in favor of secession to make it known by rising to their feet. To see who should be first on their feet was the greater struggle, for in an instant every lady, even down to the girls of 8 or 10 years, were up; not one kept her seat; they were all united."
As the new symbol of fifteen pure young sister states of the South emerged, Southern women searched for their historic potential to contribute to a cause. As early as 1767, before the American Revolution, the production and wearing of homespun clothing demonstrated women's commitment to home industry, simplicity, and democracy. An observant editor of the time wrote how "The industry and frugality of the American ladies much exalt their character in the eyes of the World and serve to show how greatly they are contributing to bring about the political salvation of a whole Continent." Symbolic homespun revived again with the Embargo Act of 1807, and then during the Nullification Crisis in the 1830s where the target was New England's textiles. At the beginning of the 1860s, New England textiles again became the focus of scorn as the South headed toward secession and war. The Crockett Printer reported that Ellis County women imitated "their grandmothers in days of yore, when oppression forced us from beneath the British yoke of bondage, almost as degrading as that of the servile masters of the North at present." It touted how they had formed "home spun societies," vowing to "wear and use all such articles of Southern make as they can possible [sic] obtain, in prefence [sic] to the Northern articles." An Alexandria, Louisiana, newspaper quoted a Texan as saying "This is a commendable spirit at any time, and particularly now in these decidedly revolutionary times, when each separate sovereignty [illegible] that it must look to its own resources, that we must depend upon our own looms and discard as far as possible all foreign fabrics." In the spring of 1861, homespun might have been the fashion, but within a few years it would become a necessity for many.
The final political measures were taken to separate Texas from the federal Union and join it to the Confederacy in February and March. Military companies started forming, and each community seemed compelled to present a flag as part of a civic commitment ceremony between the men and their families and friends they were swearing to protect. Accounts of these ceremonies, many in great detail, filled the newspapers for months. One of the first was for the flag of the Clarksville Red River Rangers on February 22, which was described as an "Independence Flag" with a "solitary star" prepared by the ladies. Miss Margaret Anderson, age twenty-one, a teacher and daughter of Rev. John Anderson, the head of the Clarksville Male and Female Academy, spoke on behalf of the community. As she assured the men that the local citizens were behind their men, she recalled the proud history of the Texas Revolution and asserted that with the election of Lincoln "the South has no other honorable course to pursue, than to withdraw from a compact into which she entered, or submit to the trampling under foot of her dearest rights." She told the men, "If the frenzy of the North shall compel you to take up arms to fight for heaven-born liberty, and your sacred rights, you will be engaged in a noble and glorious cause. ... if fight you must, remember! [T]here is much at stake, and much will be required of you. Remember you will be accompanied by the prayers and best wishes of innumerable friends and kindred."
In late April, the W. P. Lane Rangers had assembled in Marshall before riding toward the western frontier. The local ladies had sewn a banner that displayed the Confederate national flag with eight stars on one side and a lone star flag on the reverse. On one of the sides was painted "'Semper Paratus,' W.P. Lane Rangers, by the ladies of Marshall. April 20 1861." As in Clarksville the women exhibited their support for their men and the cause when Miss Sallie O. Smith delivered her speech from atop an elegant white horse. She lauded the young men assembled as "the gallant inheritors of the renown and valor of the Alamo and San Jacinto." She told them that although the women they left behind would wield no sword or rifle, "be assured that in our bosoms burns a patriotism as lofty — a courage, in our appropriate sphere, as daring — and a heroism as chivalric, as that which nerves the brawniest arm which wields the battle-axe, and cleaves down the foe upon the field of carnage." Yet, if the need arose, she advised the "Lincolns and Sewards and Garrisons of the day hear it and tremble — then some Southern Penthesilia, some Joan — not of Arc, but of Texas; some Boadices, burning with Southern fire, shall leap from her retirement, and full panoplied, like Pallas from the head of Jupiter, shall brandish her sabre and call, like avenging spirits from the deep, another hundred thousand heroines to avenge the wrongs of their brothers and their country." Such stirring rhetoric both supplied the needed moral support for the men as they rode off into unknown circumstances and suggested the frustration of women left behind to wait and watch. If needed, as Miss Smith proclaimed, the women of Texas were willing to take up the legendary mantles of the heroines of history and mythology and strike for their menfolk and the Confederacy.
A May Day party at Jonesville, in eastern Harrison County, became the site of the flag presentation to the Texas Hunters, later a company of the Third Texas Cavalry. The Marshall Texas Republican reported how twenty-two-year-old Miss Eudora Perry, the daughter of a local physician and planter, delivered a speech with "many eloquent passages, and combined appropriateness of thought, felicity of expression, and purity of diction." The flag, made by the ladies, was emblazoned with "Texas Hunters" in gold and the scene of a successful stag hunt, with huntsmen admiring the kill, attended by their hounds. The reverse side was a national Confederate flag with thirteen white stars. While these unique company flags were usually soon sent home in favor of regimental standards, the Texas Hunters' was reportedly the first Confederate flag to fly over Springfield, Missouri, later that summer.
In another ceremony a courageous Eleanor Gregg, daughter of Episcopal Bishop Alexander Gregg, and a mere seventeen years old, presented a national Confederate flag to the Tom Green Rifles, later Company B, Fourth Texas Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia. She spoke in the chamber of the House of Representatives in the state capitol, perhaps the first woman to do so, and told the assembled crowd that the soldiers of Texas had a special heritage to defend, proudly won again and again since the fight for Texas independence. She challenged them to "fight for your cherished rights, fight for your own holy institutions. Yes, fight for your homes and firesides, for all the South holds dear." The prayers of their loved ones, particularly their mothers, wives and sisters would follow them, their new country would bless them, and God would sustain them to the end. With such moral support, how could they not succeed?
Excerpted from Women in Civil War Texas by Deborah M. Liles, Angela Boswell. Copyright © 2016 University of North Texas Press. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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