Desertion from the Cause: North Carolina Women in the Civil War

Zebulon VanceDesertion from the Cause: North Carolina Women in the Civil War

By Lizzie Dietzen

Greensboro Historical Review, Vol.1 (2008)

Introduction: A Confederate official from North Carolina wrote, “Desertion takes place because desertion is encouraged…And though the ladies may not be willing to concede the fact, they are nevertheless responsible…for the desertion in the army and the dissipation of the country.” Citizens of the Civil War era faced drastic social, economic, and political problems along with constant anxiety over battlefield events. No region of the United States faced these difficulties more acutely than the South. As husbands, sons, and brothers went off to war, women faced a new and dynamic role in the Southern Confederacy. In North Carolina, poor women who initially embraced secession became alienated over time due to inflation, speculation, and impressment by Confederate government officials. Stuck in a patriarchal vacuum and unable to rely on state or national officials for safety and security, many women of North Carolina lost hope in the Confederate cause and encouraged the desertion of loved ones on the battlefront. It is important to analyze the implications that faced these women to clarify a facet of why the Confederacy lost in its endeavor for independence.

The political climate of North Carolina in November of 1860 stood in sharp contrast with neighboring states to the south. Only a small minority of North Carolinians saw the election of Abraham Lincoln as a viable threat to their well-being which secession was asserted as their “only legal action.” To counter this anti-secession thought, secessionist commissioners from the Deep South were sent to the Upper South states to pass the gospel of secession along. Jacob Thompson, a commissioner sent to North Carolina, stated with oratorical fervor the absolute humility that would face the sacred South should she submit to the authority of the new Republican administration. Despite Conservative attempts at compromise, propaganda and undoubtedly corrupt politics finally led North Carolina out of the Union on May 20, 1861.

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