Book Talk with Angela Esco Elder: Love and Duty

Between 1861 and 1865, approximately 200,000 women were widowed by the deaths of Civil War soldiers. They recorded their experiences in diaries, letters, scrapbooks, and pension applications. In Love and Duty: Confederate Widows and the Emotional Politics of Loss, Angela Esco Elder draws on these materials—as well as songs, literary works, and material objects like mourning gowns—to explore white Confederate widows’ stories, examining the records of their courtships, marriages, loves, and losses to understand their complicated relationship with the Confederate state. Elder shows how, in losing their husbands, many women acquired significant cultural capital, which positioned them as unlikely actors to gain political influence.

Love and Duty “examine[s] the rich subject of American funerals in the 19th century. . . . Esco describes how, among other things, widowhood arrived fast and hard for many Southern women during the Civil War. For example, Hetty Cary married the Confederate colonel John Pegram in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 19, 1865. Three weeks to the day later, she attended his funeral in the same building.”—New York Times Book Review

Watch Angela Esco Elder’s recent talk concerning Love and Duty hosted by the American Civil War Museum:

Angela Esco Elder is assistant professor of history at Converse College.