A Five-Year-Old Girl Meets her Confederate Father
Mrs. Doane remembers the hard work that had to be done on her South Carolina plantation while her father was away at war. Though they never saw any Yankees, Confederate soldiers were frequent guests at the Cumming’s home. Ragged and half-starved, these desperate soldiers took full liberties to raid their provisions, passing in hordes and killing their chickens. Mrs. Cummings, however, did not deny the ravenous soldiers food.
One of eleven children, Mrs. Doane (young Miss Cummings) lived with her family on a 3000 acre plantation in the low country of South Carolina at the fork of the Salkehatchie River. When word came late one afternoon that her father was among the Confederate soldiers who were passing through Salkehatchie but could not get away to visit his family, it took her mother no time to make plans. After giving her children their supper, she laid mattresses in the big covered wagon and put them to bed under the care of the faithful slave “Mudder.” A slave drove the wagon as Mrs. Cummings drove the buggy with a baby in her lap and her eldest son at her side. The experience of seeing her father and camping with the other families who had come to see their husbands and fathers was a thrilling memory that Mrs. Doane never forgot.
In addition to bravely carrying her family out to meet her husband, Mrs. Cummings also heroically saved the family cotton supply. Mr. Cummings had left the gin house full of cotton when he went off to war, and many of their neighbors were also endowed with large supplies of cotton. Upon hearing that the Yankees were coming, the neighbors decided to burn all the cotton rather than give the enemy of the pleasure of raiding their stores. When they tried to persuade Mrs. Cummings to do likewise, she replied that there was nothing she could do about it if the Yankees came and burned the cotton, but until that time, she would keep her cotton right where it was. Surprisingly, the Yankees never came, and Mrs. Cummings saved the cotton which would prove very profitable to the family in the years following the war.
The nation’s sudden emergence into the Civil War immediately transformed the South. The role of women grew vastly to include all of the responsibilities of men, as their husbands were away at war. At least at the beginning of the war, the romance of the military and its association with honor, courage, and glory was able to outweigh the reluctance of women to see their husbands leave them in charge at home. Women were rudely awakened from their effeminate habits and learned not to privilege their personal interests. All southerners seemed to realize that if the South were to survive, women had to be patriotic and assume the political interests of men. As the self-sacrifice of women for their loved ones gradually turned into the self-sacrifice of their loved ones, women were faced with a conflict between patriotism and protectiveness. Many women cared more deeply about their men than about the abstract cause of patriotism, and some broke down when the struggles of the war became too much for them. The experiences of southern women during the Civil War were vast and varied, but many heroines such as Mrs. Cummings rose up to defend the cause of patriotism that was steeped in the desire to assist their husbands in any way possible.
- American Life Historians, "A Young Girl Meets Her Soldier Father", The Library of Congress, http://frontiers.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/features/timeline/civilwar/soldiers/doane.html (accessed 16 April 2010).
- Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 9-29.