Book Review: The Women's Fight: The Civil War's Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation


by Thavolia Glymph

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020. Pp. x, 380. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $29.49. ISBN: 146965363X

Women Coping with War and its Consequences

The Women’s Fight is the story of women, both North and South, who made sacrifices in order to survive the Civil War, and how they contributed to the significant political, social and economic changes that resulted from the conflict. Prof. Glymph (Duke) offers insights into the thoughts and opinions of many women during this important period.

Glymph provides glimpses of what women went through during the four years of war, their efforts to maintain the homesteads and families, even building new homes at need, and many other challenges.

Glymph contends that women in both sections had differed significantly among themselves as to the war’s purpose and also looks at how men attempted to control the ways women could contribute to the war effort. We see women’s struggles and victories, how they interacted with women across other regions of the country, and how they adopted non-traditional roles, which differed based on whether they were rich or poor, white or black.

Many women contributed to preserving the Union and ending slavery. While remaining racists in their beliefs, Glymph demonstrates that many wealthy and middle-class white women fought slavery by helping educate freed people during the war and during Reconstruction.

Glymph shows the different challenges faced enslaved women and their families during the war and those that arose after escaping bondage. With the threat of death and a return to slavery, they found ways to locate and seek refuge behind the Union lines throughout the South. Not all Union soldiers emerge as heroes. Some generals, such as William T. Sherman, looked upon former slaves as more mouths to feed and a burden.

People who had escaped slavery often had to contend with not being paid for work, as Union officers made money from their efforts, treating them as if they were still slaves, while families at times witnessed their mothers, wives and daughters being raped. As if this was not horrible enough, Glymph points out that the Confederates would often raid “Contraband” camps, capturing people and returning them to slavery. Refugees often lost their temporary homes in Union camps as the armies moved on, and were forced to find other places to live, work, and survive. Finally, these brave women with hope of a new birth of freedom, had to contend with the violence and brutality of the KKK following the war.

Emancipation brought many changes and opportunities but the promise of African American equality faded with the failures of Reconstruction and the rise of the Jim Crow era. Glymph scoured archives across the nation to ferret out heretofore unknown or little-used resources to tell the story of women in the Civil War, as can be seen in the numerous primary and secondary sources referenced. The book also has some splendid images, which supplement the text.

The Women’s Fight, a volume in the series “Littlefield History of the Civil War Era”, is a captivating and enjoyable read. Well-written, it is clear and moving, and this reviewer read it in one sitting, which many others may do as well.

Highly recommended.



Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. He earlier reviewed The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War, Civil War Places, The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863, and America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War.


Note: The Women’s Fight is also available in several e-editions.


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

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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