He loves me. He is a Yank.
Augusta Jane Evans’ 1864 Confederate war novel Macaria instructed Southern women how to show their patriotism, beat the North, and keep their slaves. Its lesson? Forget marriage, and send your man to war. Our protagonist Irene Huntington sends off her boy in grey, admonishing him that “I want neither your usefulness nor mine to be impaired by continual weak repining.” One reviewer, calling herself “Fidelia,” expressed doubt that any woman could resist the “dark and glorious Russell,” but Irene’s willingness to sacrifice her Happily Ever After on the altar of the Confederacy does not jettison romance—if anything, it makes the novel more committed to love as an ideal. As Irene assures Russell (and her readers), “absence has no power over a woman’s heart.”
My research on the diaries of some single Southern women shows that they not only embraced the romantic-political ideals of sentimental literature like Macaria, but also wrote about their own romantic lives accordingly. Like the reviewer “Fidelia,” real-life belles such as the novel-loving Tennessean Myra Inman were drawn both to heroic soldiers and to the dream of sacrificing a grand romance for the sake of a noble cause. Of course, to sacrifice a grand romance a young woman first had to have one, but that was relatively easy to come by when the cavalry camped on Myra’s fields. The only problem? The cavalry was wearing blue.
Myra Inman was 16 when Lincoln was inaugurated, an event she marked without comment in her diary, between description of the weather and a report of how many valentines she had received that year (three). In May of 1861, just weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter, Myra was discovering new opportunities for flirtation afforded by the war. That month, she learned to fire a gun—”John Traynor held it,” she reports—and as battles raged, she knitted socks for soldiers and joined a local Soldier’s Aid Society with her mother and sister Rhoda.
Most of all, though, Myra’s war was spent reading, sometimes for whole days at a time: magazines like Harper’s Weekly, and sentimental novels such as Beulah, Adam Bede, My Sister Minnie, and even Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
As the war dragged on, Myra’s politics became increasingly fierce, indicting the Union army in her diary as a “cowardly and low-bred foe” made up of “low-down Irishm[e]n.” This antagonism toward Union soldiers was sorely tested, however, when the Yankee Cavalry came to town in September of 1863. Myra and her family were initially distressed by the demands of Union soldiers, who confiscated “corn, potatoes, pork, salt,” and “never pa[id] a cent and besides talk very insulting to us.” Yet by February of 1864 Myra and her sister were begrudgingly entertaining soldiers and “soften[ing] their hearts towards us Rebs.” This awkward sociability quickly evolved into a more heartfelt attachment between Myra and a Union officer, Lt. Simmons.
Myra found herself drawn to Simmons, who brought her the novels and magazines she loved. He wrote poetry for her, and eventually proposed. Myra felt clear affection for “LS,” as she called him in the diary, but dreams of marriage were encumbered by thoughts of the Confederacy. “He loves me. . . he is a Yank. He filled my heart with doubt regarding General Johnston’s success,” she wrote in March of 1864, and later, “if only we can gain our independence. . . I would sacrifice anything.” Anything—including, evidently, a burgeoning romance. A month after this fretful declaration, Myra obliquely wrote “I gave LS an answer at home.” That answer was no.
Myra Inman may eventually have “given up” on Southern independence, as she confesses in her diary, but to quote Irene Huntington, from Macaria, that loss had “no power over a woman’s heart.” Like a sentimental heroine, Myra proved her romantic and political virtue through her choice of the moribund Confederacy over mere personal happiness. As her romance crumbled alongside the Confederacy, Myra privately doubted her ability to “love the Union again.” For this real-life Yank and belle, the North and South remained impossible to reconcile.
If you’re interested in Civil War diaries, Pro-Union Southern belle Josie Underwood’s passionate and poignant diary was most likely shared with close friends as she wrote. Her 19th-century social network bustled with dozens of friends, but now her hundreds of Twitter followers can read her daily entries as part of the Kentucky Frazier Museum’s Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration—[@KYCivilWarDiary]. In addition, the University of Iowa is attempting a web 2.0 solution to archive backlogs in the form of crowd-sourced transcription of Civil War Diaries. Finally, you might take a look at an online version of “Hearts at Home: Southern Women in the Civil War,” a 1997 exhibit of the University of Virginia Library.
Amelia E. Serafine is working on a PhD in history at Loyola University Chicago with a focus on gender and print culture. She is particularly interested in historicizing expressions of love, sexuality, and romance.