August 14, 2008

Bonnet Brigades

As part of the research for my next book, I’ve been delving into the social aspects of the war much more than the military ones. Much of this is fairly new to me, which is just the way I like it as I always try to take my learning and research experiences in fresh directions. Of special interest is the role of women in the Civil War, which has currently led me to Bonnet Brigades: American Women and the Civil War, written by Mary Elizabeth Massey and first published by Alfred Knopf in 1966.The book was part of The Impact of the Civil War series that was planned by the Civil War Centennial Commission and edited by Allan Nevins. Based on the back panel of the jacket, there were to be fifteen volumes in the series, all of which dealt with some non-military aspect of the war. The book is still in print but under the drab title of Women in the Civil War.

According to the flap, the author “shows how the war exerted a significant influence on the development of women in the Union and the Confederacy.” An early review from Library Journal states that the work "presents a comprehensive yet readable account of a long-neglected aspect of American history. Massey contends that the Civil War aided women's emancipation by creating ‘nondomestic opportunities’ for them as industrial workers, writers, and even spies.” Almost concurrently, series editor Allan Nevins disliked the original name, asserting in his bibliography that the book featured “A poor title for a splendid book; all important facets of women in wartime have been covered in a scholarly and colorful manner.” Clearly this is a scholarly book, in fact the bibliography mentioned below describes it as "a standard text," but I’m wondering if a newer work has since replaced it?

First edition copies in collector’s condition can be had but are not cheap, as evidenced here. Expect to pay $50 or more for a desirable copy.

ADDENDA: As I've written before, reference books and bibliographies are the core of any superior book collection. Those wanting to seriously research women and the Civil War will need to examine (or even obtain) Women and the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography by Theresa McDevitt.

"The first reference work to draw together the stories and studies of women in the American Civil War, this annotated bibliography offers access to the literature that documents the history of women who experienced the war, changed it, and were changed by it. Offering nearly 800 entries, it lists both primary and secondary sources, classic and current works, and items in print and available on the Internet. Drawing together over one hundred years of writings, Women in the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography is an invaluable resource for readers and researchers interested in this neglected topic. During the American Civil War women played a highly significant role, yet modern writers often overlook their experiences and contributions. Women in the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography is the first reference work to focus exclusively on women in the war. Sections list sources on such diverse topics as women as nurses and medical relief workers, women's changing economic roles, their lives as refugees, as spies and scouts, or in military camps. It also looks at the literature on the miscellaneous topics of women in public, wives of politicians and military commanders, family life, and women on the wrong side of the law."

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