A portrait of young elite white women in the Civil War South.

The Confederate Belle uses diaries, letters, and memoirs to uncover the unique wartime experiences of young elite white women in Mississippi and Louisiana during the American Civil War.

In the plantation culture of the antebellum South, young women were groomed to enhance their family’s status through their education, accomplishments, appearance, and by marrying well.

The Civil War changed all that. In the wake of secession, women of all ages embraced sacrifice and submission for the Confederate cause. Domestic patriots sent their menfolk off to war, cheered the troops, attended sewing societies, knitted socks, rolled bandages, and nursed wounded soldiers. On the home front, southern matrons struggled to maintain plantation life in the face of mounting Confederate defeats, Union occupation, and a crippling economy of scarcity.

Elite young ladies, who had been prepared for the ballrooms of southern society, now confronted a wartime passage into womanhood characterized by privation, domestic responsibility, and the loss of male kin and future husbands.

This study, drawing on over one hundred manuscript collections, examines the lives of young elite white women as they tried to navigate their way through a world that pitted patriotic sacrifice against marriage, and wartime practicality against gentility. Their unique Confederate bellehoods would shape the ways in which they viewed themselves and the changed social landscape during the war, and after it.

Reviews

“Roberts deftly portrays the predicament of young Confederate women, caught between the conventions of their upbringing and the risks and uncertainties thrust upon them. … Through graceful expression and perceptive analysis of her subjects’ writings, Roberts evokes paradox and persistence, continuity and change.”—Betty Brandon, author of Hidden Histories of Women in the New South.

“Roberts’s carefully nuanced study, sensitive to the tensions in changing social roles, brings a long-needed generational perspective to the study of the war’s impact.”—Choice Magazine.