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Heroism, or our perception of it, may depend on the degree of our sympathy with the cause in which one is said to be behaving heroically. The Southern women whose memoirs and diaries are collected by Katharine Jones in Heroines of Dixie: Spring of High Hopes certainly showed courage, determination, and fidelity to their cause during the American Civil War; but that cause is one that most Americans today, with the exception of a few neo-Confederates wanting a do-over of Pickett’s Charge, would find abhorrent. Therein lies the paradox and the interest of this book.Heroines of Dixie was originally a single-volume work of history, compiled and edited by Jones and published by the Bobbs-Merrill publishing company of Indianapolis in 1955. In that time, the Civil War Centennial was approaching, and excited Americans from all sections of the country looked forward to celebrating the shared heroism of the Blue and the Gray. Yet 1955 was also one year after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision that struck down de jure segregation of schools in the United States; and it was the year in which Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus for a white patron – an act of courage that helped to spark the modern Civil Rights Movement. In other words, it was a year that showed that the human-rights issues that had brought on the Civil War 90 years earlier were anything but resolved.Nineteen years later, in 1974, by which time much had changed on the civil-rights front, Heroines of Dixie was republished in two paperback volumes by Mockingbird Books, a Southern-leaning imprint (notice the Harper Lee allusion?) of Random House’s Ballantine Books division. When I looked at the cover, with its illustration of a woman whose dress apron combines a floral pattern with a Confederate battle flag, I expected a book that would present the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, an interpretation in which slavery is merely an “occasion” of the war rather than its cause, where gallant soldiers fight great battles over vaguely defined but putatively high-minded constitutional issues. And yet Heroines of Dixie: Spring of High Hopes contained some surprises. First of all, I must acknowledge in fairness that it’s impressive that, back in father-knows-best 1955, anyone was writing a work of women’s history. Any book that steps away from that era’s working definition of history as “dead white men doing great deeds” deserves acknowledgement. Secondly, Jones chooses well among Southern women’s diaries and memoirs from the Civil War era; her chosen diarists and memoirists include Varina Howell Davis, Mary Custis Lee, and Mary Anna Jackson, respectively the wives of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. Also represented in Jones’s pages is Mary Boykin Chesnut, the diarist whose Diary from Dixie is a classic of Civil War literature; Confederate spies Rose O’Neal Greenhow and Belle Boyd; and Augusta Jane Evans, a writer who was regarded as the pre-eminent novelist of the Confederacy. Jones’s “spring of high hopes” begins in 1861, when her women informants are excited about the Southern states’ secession from the Union and formation of the Confederacy, as when Betty Herndon Maury, daughter of oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, writes at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on June 27, 1861, that “I never saw anything like the spirit here. The women give up the greater part of their time either to nursing the sick or sewing for the soldiers. It is the same case throughout the South” (p. 51).As the war progressed, increasing portions of Confederate territory came under Union control, and Jones’s women informants express their resentment accordingly, as when Cornelia Peake McDonald of Winchester, Virginia, describes the Union occupation of her town in March of 1862 and emphasizes the townspeople’s anger at being back under the Stars and Stripes. For other women of the Confederacy, the privations of war went beyond the humiliation of occupation by the enemy; they found themselves close to the battle lines. Constance Cary of Richmond witnessed the carnage wrought by the battle of Seven Pines in May of 1862, as the many wounded from the battle were brought back into the Confederate capital: “Ambulances, litters, carts, every vehicle that the city could produce, went and came with a ghastly burden; those who could walk limped painfully home, in some cases so black with gunpowder they passed unrecognized. Women with pale faces flitted bareheaded through the streets, searching for their dead or wounded” (p. 156).The third way in which Heroines of Dixie: Spring of High Hopes surprised me is that Jones does not engage in selective editing; these Confederate women talk in an uncensored manner about everything, including their holding of fellow human beings in bondage. Julia LeGrand, writing from occupied New Orleans in December of 1862, reveals the mix of paternalism and paranoia that characterized the antebellum master class when she sets forth her belief that African Americans who have claimed their own freedom have somehow been “enticed from their good homes and induced to insult their masters. They now lie about, destitute and miserable, without refuge and without hope” (p. 207). Painful as these words are to read, they do hold historical value; they reveal the mindset that led the white South to think it somehow had the “right” and the “duty” to control the lives and destinies of millions of fellow human beings who had done them no harm. It is intellectually honest of Jones to include testimony like that of LeGrand – testimony that reflects the grim ideological and racial underpinnings of the Confederacy.Heroines of Dixie: Spring of High Hopes ends on the eve of Gettysburg, and the story of these women is picked up in a second volume that is subtitled Winter of Desperation. This collection of primary-source documents from Confederate women of the Civil War South is revelatory, sometimes in ways that editor/author Jones may not have fully intended.

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