|Date(s):||July 24, 1862|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
For months Elizabeth McCavock Harding waited for her husband, William Giles Harding. Federal forces contained him in Fort Mackinaw, Michigan between April and September of 1862 as a prisoner of war. During that time Elizabeth wrote to him frequently describing the state of health of their family and the state of the town of Nashville, Tennessee. She very much wanted to visit him and worried about his health.
As Elizabeth waited on the homefront she faced Union suppression of her own. Union troops occupied Nashville arresting prominent men and confiscating property. They insisted the Nashville locals take oaths of allegiance to the United States and have a pass in order to cross in and out of the city. Union officials would not permit some of Elizabeth's neighbors to return to Nashville after their refusal to take oath.
Disbelieving their warnings, Elizabeth eventually encountered the border control personally upon returning home one day with her children. An inferior officer stopped her carriage in the middle of the road and Elizabeth showed him her official pass. The official told her she could continue if she read the oath on the back of the pass and then asked if she objected. She firmly responded I have most decidedly adding that her reasons were numerous, and insuperable and her pass was legitimate because it had been issued just a few days before. The officer insisted that he had been under orders to let no one pass through who did not take oath. Eventually Elizabeth and her carriage driver weakened the officer's obstinacy until he compromised to grant her admittance if she and her children promised to give their word not to give any information (that might be detrimental to the Union) to any Confederate Cavalry that may visit her house within the next day. She and her children unhappily complied under the basis that they had no information to give and were admitted back into Nashville.
Southern women on the homefront felt a sense of duty in vocally expressing their loyalties to the war in order to support their suffering husbands. Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber argue that feisty confederate women no longer saw themselves as passive victims, and however unrealistic their fantasies of resistance, they had begun to form new expectations for themselves, while maintaining traditional expectations of their menfolk. The men left the women to represent their strong sentiments while they were away. Their husbands risked their lives fighting for their important ideals, so it was the least a woman could do to vocally support them. Letting down their resistance meant letting down their husbands and families, as well as their town. In Elizabeth's case, she was with her children and needed to go home. She did the thing most practical in compromising her pledge with the official not to share information to the confederacy but she created the excuse that she had no information to give to justify herself compliance and remain faithful to her husband.