You are here

Robertson's book discusses the ladies

After the Civil War  the ladies
In his book, "After the Civil War: The Heroes, Villains, Soldiers and Civilians Who Changed America," James Robertson describes the work of women who participated in the war and what became of them after Appomattox. Here are a few.

Maria Isabella "Belle" Boyd
Penniless in London when the war ended, so she wrote her wartime memoirs as a Confederate spy. In 1866, she went on the English stage and then returned to the United States to rave reviews about her acting.

Over the years, she married three times, had several children, was committed to an insane asylum in California, returned to acting and did much to reignite North-South goodwill. She died in 1909. (Hated Yankees, tall, blue eyes, unattractive, outspoken).

Elizabeth Van Lew
Lived in Richmond and served as a Union spy. Ostracism and poverty were her life until getting a position with the Freedmen's Bureau. She was appointed postmaster of Richmond in 1869, where she introduced home delivery. She was a constant target of personal insults. Dismissed from postmaster duty, she moved to Washington and obtained a low-grade clerical position.

Returned to Richmond with no money but was helped financially by family members of men she had helped during the war. She lived in a cycle of being a recluse and a public person but was suspicious of everybody. Died in 1909. (Small, blue eyes, oversize nose, outspoken abolitionist and uncompromising Unionist, shrewd, resourceful, charming.)

Louisa May Alcott
Had an unhappy childhood and once contemplated suicide. She served as a volunteer nurse in military hospitals in Washington, D.C. As a result of a medication she was given when she contracted typhoid fever, she suffered from mercury poisoning and became a semi-invalid for the rest of her life.

She renewed her literary interests by editing letters she had sent home during the war and by publishing several novels, including "Little Women," which has never been out of print. She died in 1888. (Impressionable feminist, tall, broad-shouldered, early life in poverty and discouragement, serious, dressed in black or dark brown.)

Mary Todd Lincoln
Lived a life of anguish and unreality after the assassination of her husband in April 1865. Those first weeks were spent in a Chicago boardinghouse; she thought she was homeless and destitute, despite the fact that the president left her an estate. She offered her wardrobe and jewelry for public sale.

While she was abroad with her son, Robert Todd Lincoln, the Congress voted her a pension. When her son Tad died, Mary Lincoln became even more unpredictable and wild. She once attempted to jump out of a window to escape a nonexistent fire; it forced son Robert to have her declared insane and institutionalized for several months.

She returned to Springfield, Ill., to live with her sister and made some additional trips to Europe. She finally settled down and would sit in a dark room, dressed in widow's clothing, and had a number of health problems. She died in 1882. (Well-educated for her time, witty, vivacious, stubborn, passion for clothes, had outbursts of temper, suspected of Southern loyalties, opinionated, jealous, a flirt, began to display mental instability at death of son in 1862, avid devotee of spiritualism, erratic behavior.)

Clarissa Harlowe Barton
Visited hospitals during the Civil War to distribute food and other supplies, at first paying for them herself. She soon set up a network of churches, sewing circles, local communities and other contributors throughout New England.

Recognizing the need to tend to the wounded in the field, she cut through red tape and social convention and, with no authority or training, she assisted surgeons with amputations, dressed wounds and comforted the dying.

After the war, she established a bureau to collect the names of Union soldiers who were missing in action and recorded the names of thousands of Union soldiers who had died in the prison camp at Andersonville, Ga. She went on the lecture circuit to describe her war experiences, championed feminism, education, foreign aid and civil rights.

During a trip to Switzerland, she learned about the International Committee of the Red Cross and believed the United States should be part of it; she became president of the American National Red Cross in 1881. She died in 1912. (Rarely happy, grew up alone, strong-willed, uncooperative, barely 5 feet tall, unenthusiastic about fundraising for Red Cross, melancholic.)

The Lawton Constitution

102 SW 3rd, Lawton, OK
Classifieds: (580) 357-9545
Circulation: (580) 353-6397
Switchboard: (580) 353-0620