Sunday, June 19, 2011

Civil War Sunday-Civil War Figures as Fathers

A fellow blogger had a very good suggestion for my Civil War Sunday theme days.  She suggested I blog about less known figures or events of the Civil War (perhaps even subjects of YA books)...I am going to take her up on that suggestion but, in honor of Father's Day, I am going to blog today about well known Civil War figures but in a less well known setting - their role as fathers.

To understand this, you have to understand the cultural context of the 1860's.  In some ways this post is going to be depressing, but such was life in the mid 19th century.

1.  Infant mortality was high, and even if your child made it past infancy, the father was rare who did not lose at least one child in childhood or young adulthood.
2.  Fathers could forbid their daughters from marrying a prospective suitor - but then, it didn't always mean the daughter would obey. (and, obey was the word for that cultural context.) Jefferson Davis faced this decision with his daughter, Winnie, when she fell in love with a Yankee, the grandson of an abolitionist.  And, just like today, sometimes parents must watch their children as adults come to tragic ends.
3.  Then as now, many fathers had to be absent from home frequently, leaving their wives to be both mother and father.  This was the case with all the below Civil War figures.
4.  Many fathers found themselves as single fathers when their wives died in childbirth. The solution, in many cases, was to marry again as quickly as possible.
5.  Although losing children was a fact of life, it caused great sorrow to the grieving parents.  Sometimes they didn't recover.  (Mary Todd Lincoln, in part.)  There was not much that could be done in those days for depression.

The following information is taken in part from "After The War-The Lies and Images of Major Civil War Figures After the Shooting Stopped" by David Hardin.  
Again, I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the people of the Civil War.
 Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four sons.  Only two outlived their father.  One beloved son, Willie, died while Abraham Lincoln was in the White House and both Abraham and Mary took the death very hard. 

Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina had six children, four boys and two girls.  None of the boys outlived their parents.  Jefferson Davis's son Joseph, died at the age of 5 in April of 1864 from injuries suffered in a fall from the Confederate Executive Mansion.

William Tecumseh Sherman and his wife, Ellen, had four children.  As with Lincoln and Davis, Sherman lost a son, Willie (was this a bad luck name?) in 1863 at the age of 9.  A third son, born in 1864, died at the age of 6 months. Still another son, Tom, became a Jesuit priest but later descended into insanity and died in Louisiana.  Quoting from "After the War:  "The son of the despoiler of Georgia lies in the Jesuit cemetery in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, next to the Jesuit grandnephew of Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy's vice-president."

And finally, Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Custis Lee (George Washington's granddaughter) had seven children.  Unlike the other major figures above, Lee's children all lived into adulthood.  One, Custis Lee (a Major General in the Confederate Army), lived into his 80's.

History is a lot more than dry statistics and memorization of battle dates.  It is the people, their culture, and events and how people react and are affected by them.  And, we should all be thankful that modern medicine spares many modern parents what these people of 150 years ago had to go through as fathers (and mothers).

Next week, I hope to write about a  local New York Civil War soldier who played a part in several historic events before he died in 1864 in Atlanta.


  1. Great Father's Day post! These are the details that make "ho-hum-history" into the interesting cavalcade of personal lives, group choices, and eventful happenings that truly are history.

    Looking forward to next Sunday's peek into this slice of time.

    **Katy M
    Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at
    Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

  2. Love that Jeff Davis's daughter fell for a Yankee!


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