The Confederate Belle

Hardback
During the American Civil War, a new patriotic womanhood superseded the antebellum feminine ideal. It demanded that Confederate women sacrifice everything for their beloved cause of privilege, that they give up their men, their homes, their fine dresses and social occasions to ensure the establishment of a separate nation and the preservation of elite ideas about race, class, and gender. However, as men answered their call to arms, and southern matrons redefined their role as mothers and wives, Southern belles, having been prepared for lives founded on the attainment and expression of gentility, perceived the shortages, the loss of slaves, and the other repercussions of Federal invasion as an assault on the honor and status of their homeland. In The Confederate Belle, Giselle Roberts examines the lives of these young, elite, white women in Mississippi and Louisiana during the Civil War. Unlike their mothers, the belles were limited in their participation in household and community affairs. Aside from fancy needlework or embroidery, young women had little experience of heavy-duty sewing and knitting. Nor were they interested in politics, preferring to devote their time to visiting, music, reading, manners, society, and beaux. After being prepared for a delightful bellehood, the young women were suddenly forced to reassess their traditional rite of passage into womanhood and to compromise their understanding of femininity at a pivotal time in their lives. They found themselves caught between antebellum traditions and wartime reality. Rather than simply sacrificing their socialization for patriotic womanhood, the belles drew upon the conceptual framework of Southern honor to strengthen their understanding of themselves as young Confederate women. They used honor to shape and legitimize their obligations to the wartime household. They used honor to fashion their role as patriotic women. They even used honor to establish their relationship to the cause. By drawing on this concept, the belles ensured the basic preservation of an ideology of privilege. The Confederate Belle is one of the first works to examine the importance of Southern honor in defining and shaping the wartime lives of young Confederate women. Using diaries, letters, and memoirs to uncover the unique wartime experiences of young ladies in the South, Roberts looks beyond the romance and fanfare of war so often associated with young women to explore the real life of the Southern belle.