Soldiers on the Home Front

Homespun Heroines

While some women chose to accompany their loved ones into the fray, others made their contributions closer to home. While it is known that women in communities banded together to form militias to protect their community, little is written about them. One such organization, the Nancy Harts, is the exception. Other women worked alone to protect their home from advancing forces or thwart the enemy through sabotage or espionage. Many of these women remembered their war years as the most exciting of their lives because of the ever-present risk and the challenge of performing daring deeds for their cause. Militias Customs and conventions of the day restricted women, particularly Southern women, from participation in the war effort except through ladies’ aid societies. However, some middle- and upper class women took a more active role in the defense of their homeland by forming military companies. These “drill teams” were formed throughout the Confederacy, and “for the first time southern women found they could participate in male activities without losing their right to be called a lady.”

The North also formed such militias early in the war but they soon disappeared, possibly because there was no perceived threat to their home. Using William J. Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics as a guide, the ladies learned to shoot, drill and march. They were often formed in girls’ schools across the Confederacy, such as the military company formed at the Wesleyan Female Institute in Macon, Georgia. But little is known about these groups, for after the war, the Southerners were interested in returning to the “old order” rather than “promote the notion that women had the right to engage in traditional male activities.”

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