Women And the Sphere of Domesticity

During the times of the American Civil War, there was a “Sphere of Domesticity” that most American women lived under. The Sphere represented the traditional way of domestic life for women, such as performing daily chores such as caring for children, cleaning, clothes making, and/or cooking. But in similar fashion to the new, revolutionary ideas of the mid-19th century, the idea of acting outside the Sphere became popular among most American women. The women that chose to act outside the Sphere of Domesticity sought to perform activities such as voting, paid work, public speaking, political involvement, and fighting in the war. However, the men that backed the old, traditional ways inhibited most women from acting outside the Sphere of Domesticity. These men included Union General Benjamin Butler, who created “The Woman Order”. The Order gave the Union soldiers occupying New Orleans the right to treat the local women anyway they wished. This was mainly because the Southern women protested and reacted violently to their Northern occupiers, so the Order stated that these women should not be treated with respect as ladies due to their actions.

However, women had a larger part in the Civil War than just simple protestors. Some women, such as Louisa May Alcott, worked as nurses on the battlefields and acted outside the Sphere of Domesticity. Alcott worked as a nurse at a hospital in D.C., making observations to the mismanagement of hospitals. She assisted many wounded soldiers and eventually became an author. Other women started soldier aid stations and sent supplies. Inventor Martha Coston finished her late husband’s design of communication flares for the United States navy, allowing ships to communicate across the sea with tricolored flares. Southern women Rose O’Neal Greenhow and Belle Boyd both became Confederate spies who gathered information on the Union Army. These women were considered heroines for their stolen information that led to several Confederate victories.


One of the most important women who acted outside the Sphere of Domesticity was Harriet Jacobs (above), an escaped slave that spread the public opinion on how terrible slavery was. She wrote a great deal about the inhumane treatment of slaves and she even wrote for the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. Jacobs recorded and documented the donations given to refugee slaves, all the while caring for these refugees and drawing more donations. Jacobs went on to create a school and a hospital, acting outside of her original occupation of a slave, and well outside the Sphere of Domesticity that attempted to prevent women from achieving the great accomplishments so many others have made. (Picture of Harriet Jacobs found at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Harriet_Ann_Jacobs1894.png)


The Civil War Journal

April 15, 1861 – Journal Entry 1

Reading, Massachusetts

My name is Floyd J. Hasselbank, and I will be joining the war effort. Three days have passed since the Separatist attack on Fort Sumter. I still can’t believe that there are American people trying to tear this country apart. I heard my friends Finn and Jake talking about the draft, and they told me it’s time to fight. We need to protect our homes and country, they claimed. They said the war would end quickly in victory. I was not so sure, but for whatever reason, I agreed. Mr. Ross from down the street handed me an American flag to hang on my store in Reading. I’m only 18 years old, what do I know about war? 

May 1, 1861 – Journal Entry 3

Union Army Camp, Virginia

After I had volunteered, I had been stationed in a small army camp somewhere in Virginia. I have learned to shoot and march, but my group seems to be full of boys my age. I don’t know if any of us were truly ready for war. We are supposed to attack the Separatists so that they would become demoralized. There’s talk of a Union blockade to cut of Separatist supplies.

June 6, 1861 – Journal Entry 8

Union Army Camp, Virginia

War. Today, in the early morning, a squadron of Separatists found our camp and began to fire with their rifles. I was told that the Separatists would charge us with bayonets, but most kept their distance. I then started noticing men dropping dead around me, then I realized that the Separatists used what General Moters called “Minié balls”, which are accurate bullets that tumble when they hit the body. I got shot in the left arm, Ryan pulled me out of the line of fire. He brought me to Doctor Robert and asked if I needed an amputation. Doc said that it was a simple arm fracture and that a wooden splint could be applied. Thank God that I can still write. Who knows what horrors I had to face if my arm had to be amputated.

February 25, 1862 – Journal Entry 17

Hampton Roads, Virginia

My arm still has not healed, so General Moters has sent me to work in the Union Navy, claiming that I’m better off at sea than I am on land. I’m supposed to board the “USS Monitor”, it’s a monster of a ship. It’s an ironclad, meaning it’s iron coated and it has a rotating turret gun. My new general is named John Marnston.

March 9, 1862 – Journal Entry 19

Hampton Roads, Virginia

We, the crew of the USS Monitor are lucky to be alive. The Separatists had their own ironclad, “the USS Virginia”. Its iron ram destroyed several other Union warships but our scouts reported that the ram had broken. The Monitor engaged the Virginia in a firefight that lasted for what seemed like eternity. Our rotating turret blasted away at the Virginia’s iron coat with little effect. The Monitor eventually had to retreat, but so did the Virginia. The battle, I believe, will go down in history as a draw.


I believe that despite all of the personal dangers and sacrifices I have faced, I am proud to serve my country.


A Civil War Scavenger Hunt


            In class, we had to create a Civil War battle scavenger hunt. Each student (in my case, I was paired) was each assigned one battle to research and create a Google Doc on. My Google Doc can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ri3Eq25RypI9Gags14Rd0VfhMYFt0tw-X08QZrmjQvs/edit. Then, each student (or pair) had to create a printed QR code of the website URL of the Doc and bring the print to class. The prints were then scattered around the entire school, with each student coordinating with their predecessor and successor about the location of their QR codes so that each code would direct its scanner to the location of the next code. When all of the QR codes were scattered and each student knew the location of the QR code before and after theirs, then the scavenger hunt began.

            Overall, the scavenger hunt was an interesting but exhausting way to discover new information on important battles of the Civil War. After all the QR codes and their information noted, the students met back in class to discuss two major questions of the Civil War battles. First question, “What are some commonalties you can identify in the reasons for the results of the battles?” Students met online on the website Padlet to discuss their answers here: http://padlet.com/wall/ablockcivilwar1. The class came up with the general answer that the Union were more prepared for warfare with their superior industry production and transportation, but the Confederacy had strength in fighting will and moral.

            Another discussion prompted, “Post what you learned about was winning each theater of war (East, West, Naval). Was the victor winning all along?” Discussion found here: http://padlet.com/wall/ablockcivilwar. The class came up in a general consensus that the Union won a majority of the battles in the Western Theater. However, the Confederates won a great deal of battles in the Eastern Theater, with exceptions of the pivotal Union wins like Antietam and the Battle of Gettysburg. The Naval Theater was mainly won by the Union, given their better industrial productions and superior ironclads (the Confederate ironclads would break, as displayed in the Battle of Hampton Roads). However, the Naval Theater in general had no clear superiors, but the Confederates were usually the first side to retreat. (Picture of the Battle of Gettysburg found at http://www.personal.psu.edu/pyl5078/MainPagePic.jpg)


Civil War Statistics

            During the prelude to the American Civil War, roughly one-quarter (25%) of all Southern white families owned slaves. Despite the rather small percentage of slaveholding families, the South was eager to fight in the Civil War. As depicted in the chart below, the South had the greatest population of slaves in the entire United States and Southern slaveholders would have to fight for their claimed “property”. If the slaves became free, work shortages in the South would rise and the Southern white workers would have to assume the roles of their enslaved counterparts. Thus even non-slaveholding Southerners volunteered to fight for the continuation of slavery.


            Despite its great will to fight for its beliefs, the South was no match for the general superiority of the North. In terms of infrastructure, the Union (North) was more prepared than the Confederacy (South) for war. Consider the charts below. The North dominated in terms of population, labor (disregarding slavery), manufacturing, and transportation. The South, however, did represent 100% of the American cotton production, and during times of war, cotton production was nearly important as the steady production and transportation of supplies that the North provided during the war. Also, despite its agricultural society, the South was second to the North in terms of corn production. The North produced 396 million bushels of corn per year, beating the South’s 280 million bushel per year production. With superior population, the Union was able to draft troops and still have enough people for industrial work. With more industrial workers, the Union could produce more supplies and metal for its railroads. With more railroads, the Union could quickly and easily transport its supplies to its troops. In conclusion, the North was better prepared to wage the Civil War than the South.


            Most slaves lived on large Southern plantations, more than half of which could hold twenty or more slaves at a time. As seen in the chart below, a single master could own twenty or more slaves and would require a large plantation. Only 10% of all slaveholding masters lived in the cities, however, their slaves worked in the countryside farms and plantations. When the Civil War broke out, most slaveholders feared that their slaves would hear about the fight against slavery and attempt to join the Union. To gain support for the Confederacy, some slaveholders ordered their slaves to fight for the Confederacy on the promise (and sometimes lie) that they would be freed (or else killed) once the war is won for the Confederacy. If a Northern regiment passed the farm/plantation of a slave, one would imagine he would be torn between the decision to side with the Union or the Confederacy, unknowing of the eventual victor and what would become of slavery.



Causes of the Civil War

            The American Civil War was influenced by many political, social, and cultural conflicts of the early to mid 19th century. The events leading up to the war’s beginning spanned from the early 1800’s to its official declaration in 1861. These events consisted of attempted compromise to these conflicts, many of which became failures that could not prevent the war.

            In class, students were separated into groups and were each assigned a single event to research and present to the class in the form of a scrapbook. This scrapbook could either be a physical paper or an online collection. The entire class chose to create their scrapbooks online with the websites Prezi or Glogster. The scrapbook, made on a Prezi, is introduced by a one page essay that summarizes the main event. Then, six primary source images and quotations are analyzed in individual parts of the scrapbook. My topic was the Elections of 1860, the pivotal presidential elections that decided the Lincoln presidency and its negative reaction, the secession of the South. Despite my topic being concentrated on the 1860 elections, other research was made for historical background and other events relating to the elections. The link for its Prezi can be found here: http://prezi.com/ugnipkxyoemb/the-presidential-election-of-1860/

            Another class project was the creation of a timeline that showcased the events that lead up to the American Civil War. Students, again divided up among partners, reviewed all their classmate’s (and their own) scrapbooks and added the main event of each scrapbook to their timeline. The timeline included the date of the event, an appropriate title, a primary source image from the scrapbook, and a description of the event detailing its impact and significance. My timeline was unfortunately deleted by an app malfunction, thus the image below is taken from the timeline created by some of my classmates. 



The EdCafe – Discussion or Confusion?

First of all, let’s take the time to understand what an EdCafe is and how it works:

The EdCafe hosted last Thursday (2/6/14) was an interesting alternative to group work during class. The EdCafe model was simple enough; several student pairs were assigned to the four corners of the room. Other students were able to choose from which pair they would like to learn information. Groups consisted of five to eight students with two students leading the discussion and presenting their information to the group. These students had to prepare questions and discuss their points with the other group members, which was awkward and difficult at first, but over the course of several simple questions it became more fluid. Personally, I liked how casual the discussion was, certainly in comparison to the formal Socratic Seminar. However, it was not as informational as a normal class lesson, so perhaps it could be improved by including more broad discussions rather than the very specific questions I had to discuss during the EdCafe.

When my partner and I presented, there were moments of silence and sometimes no real answers were made in response to some of our proposed questions. Information was received, however, especially about the Solomon Northup narrative but no lengthy discussion was started. Most of the other students in the audience merely stated what facts and notes they had prepared for their EdCafe, rather than answering our questions using evidence from their narratives. To improve, perhaps students could have been asked beforehand what the general ideas of some of the questions might have been, thus the audience could have responded to the questions more specifically. For my personal EdCafe, I believe that a less specific topic should have been selected. My partner decided on the impact of slavery on the female slaves, which did not necessarily connect with the other two male slave narratives about Solomon Northup and Abdul-Rahman. The other two narratives had little information about female slaves, thus our questions seemed too specific.

As an attendee, I wrote down a great deal of notes about each narrative. I learned much about the Solomon Northup narrative, but only to an extent because the other members of the EdCafe did not know enough of their narratives. My notes, however, give a good representation on what I learned about the story of Solomon Northup and the effects of slavery. For my narrative, the Harriet Jacob narrative, I contributed as much information as I could provide, but most of my contributions were simple affirmations of already understood information. However, most of the other attendees understood the Harriet Jacob narrative enough that all I really needed to contribute was the information specific to my narrative. In conclusion, the EdCafe provided an alternative process to learning information by means of small, casual groups, but was not necessarily that much more productive and informational than the other lessons in our class this year.


The Northern Impact on Slavery

            Most Northerners disagreed about slavery during the 1800’s. On one hand, Northern abolitionists opposed slavery, but on the other hand, a significant portion of the American North supported and had a great impact on slavery. To understand the Northern influence on slavery, one must understand how the North had historically supported slavery, even in places like New England. Below is an embedded video of the story of the DeWolf family, the most significant slavery supporting family of the North.

“Traces of the Trade”


            The Triangle Trade connected Africa, the Caribbean, and even New England with the transportation of slaves with slave ships floating to and from the North. The DeWolf family, “respected folk” who paid for the stained glass of their local church of Bristol, Rhode Island, supported the transportation of thousands of slaves from their homes in Africa to slave ports in the Caribbean and the South with slave ships fabricated from the lumber of New England. Not all Northerners were abolitionists, not all were moral people. Some Northerners, like the DeWolfs, made profit from the slave trade, produced rum and lumber for ships, and in return reaped the benefits of the enslavement of other human beings.

Further reading on “Traces of the Trade” and the DeWolf family



             However, there were Northern abolitionists that protested slavery in the 1800’s but were overshadowed by the Northern profiteers of the slave trade. The profiteers consisted of wealthy malefactors like the DeWolf family and the owners of textile factories. Cotton mills in Northern towns like Lowell especially benefited from slave cotton. Cotton manufacturers understood that as immoral as slavery practice might have been, slavery was a profitable and productive boon. According to an article about Lowell Mills (below), “Without slavery, [manufacturers] thought, their supply of raw cotton would diminish because whites would not work the fields, not even if they, unlike the slaves, were paid”. The cotton manufacturers believed that if slavery was to be abolished, then their industry would collapse, thus many Northern manufacturers and factory owners supported slavery. In conclusion, despite the abolitionist factions in the North that would eventually rise to prominence near the mid-1800’s, the North was predominantly slavery supporting with people like the DeWolf family funding the distribution of slaves and the Northern manufacturers supporting the production of cotton.

Further reading on Northern abolition and Lowell Mills