Book Review: Women's War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War


by Stephanie McCurry

Cambridge, Ma.: The Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2019. Pp. xiv, 300. Illus., notes, index. $26.95. ISBN: 0674987977

Women Experiencing and Shaping the War

In her latest book, Prof. McCurry (Columbia), the author of the prize-winning Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, takes a different look at the role of women in the Civil War. After an introduction in which she reminds us that women not only experienced the conflict but also by their actions helped shape it and their society, she examines three facets of this influence.

In “Enemy Women and the Laws of War,” McCurry discusses how actions of women who engaged in espionage, sabotage, and out-right armed resistance, confounded contemporary ideas about their roles, and, using the case of the Confederate spy Clara Judd, shows how the actions of these women helped shape the “Lieber Code”.

“The Story of a Black Soldier’s Wife” looks at how the U.S. Army proved unable to understand or cope with the masses the African-American women who fled from slavery to the Union lines, leading to confusion and much suffering.

“Reconstructing a Life Amid the Ruins” uses the Reconstruction experience of how upper class, slave-holding Gertrude Thomas adapted to a greatly reduced way of life and social status.

McCurry doesn’t mention the Confederacy’s hypocritical manipulation of the pretense that women were “above” war for propaganda purposes, such as denouncing Benjamin Butler’s “Women Order” or condemning as “barbaric” the imprisonment of spies such as Judd or Rose O’Neal Greenhow, while at the same time executing many Unionist women for “bridge burning” or merely “disloyalty.”

Women’s War is a breakthrough work, and essential reading for any serious student of the Civil War.


Note: Women’s War is also available in several e-editions

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close