Book Review: A Woman’s Civil War

A Woman’s Civil War:  A Diary With Reminisces Of The War, From March 1862, by Cornelia Peake McDonald, edited, with an introduction by Minrose C. Gwin

Honestly, this book would be an amazing one except for the introduction by someone whose games of intersectionality and whose gender studies approach makes this book more of a chore to read than it otherwise would be.   If you want to enjoy this work and you have little tolerance for leftist political shenanigans, you would be best advised to skip the introduction and the tortured way that the author tries to cheer on the strange form of this work as being a revolutionary step for female authors and how the editor tries to downplay the pro-Confederate worldview of its plucky authoress, and get straight to Mrs. McDonald’s excellent writing for yourself.  This is a strange book which is part diary kept to please the author’s husband, who was a general officer with the Confederacy, as she lived on the front lines of the conflict in Winchester, and then a reminiscence of the end of the war after her exile and the death of her husband made the original purpose no longer necessary, and then reminisces of the beginning of the war that talk about happier and more glorious times for a Confederate widow like the author.

This book is more than 250 pages long and it begins with acknowledgements and an introduction that appears to be written for the express purpose of making the memoir and reminisces of a Confederate war widow acceptable for contemporary feminist audiences.  The editor fails to account for the general Civil War interest that this book would have for someone who finds her perspective to be rubbish at best.  Fortunately, though, this is only about 20 pages of garbage and the rest of the book ends up being a very interesting read.  The diary begins with a preface and then continues until she becomes a refugee in the summer of 1863 after Gettysburg.  The loss of her diary and then, after that, the loss of her husband led her to then write a pretend diary based on her memories after the war, where she then sought to make sense of her poverty as a refugee.  And then, after discussing the end of the war, she returns to recollect 1861 when the war could still seem glorious to a proud Virginian woman who had lost so much in the course of one of the worst causes for which men ever fought and died.

Indeed, the strange structure of this work is precisely what one would expect for a work written to appeal to Confederates.  The end of the Civil War was a grim time–and it was certainly grim for the writer, who had to beg for food so that she and her children could survive as refugees from the war-torn Shenandoah Valley, and the way that the book ends in the period before the beginning of the diary proper in March 1862 shows the author deliberately trying to remember the happier times before everything got so grim.  This is a book whose perspective is not one I particularly enjoy or agree with, but the author has such brave spirit and such loyalty to a doomed and foolish cause and ultimately such humanity despite the loss of her pride and dignity and social station and husband and one of her babies and so on and so forth that it is impossible not to admire and respect the author as she saucily deals with Yankees she despises and reflects upon the ruin of her comfortable middle class existence as the second wife of a Virginian professional.  And any book that provides a thoughtful perspective, even one that one happens to disagree with, is certainly worth appreciating when it is written with such verve and spirit as this one is.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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