Lucy Wood Butler’s diary provides a compelling account of one woman’s struggle to come to terms with the realities of war on the Confederate home front. Expertly annotated and introduced by Kristen Brill, The Diary of a Civil War Bride brings to light a vital archival resource that reveals Lucy Butler’s intimate observations on the attitudes and living conditions of many white middle-class women in the Civil War South.
The Diary of a Civil War Bride opens with a series of letters between Lucy Wood and her husband, Waddy Butler, a Confederate soldier whom Lucy met in 1859 while he was a student at the University of Virginia. Serving with the Second Florida Regiment, Butler died at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Lucy’s diary spans much of the intervening years, from the spring of 1861 to the death of her husband in the summer of 1863. Through the dual prism of her personal marital union and the national disunion, the narrative delivers a detailed glimpse into the middle-class Confederate home front, as Butler comments on everyday conditions in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as the greater sociopolitical valence of the Civil War. In addition to the details of Lucy’s courtship, marriage, and widowhood, the diary provides a humanistic and sentimental lens through which readers can closely examine broader issues surrounding the institution of slavery, the politics of secession, and the erosion of Confederate nationalism.
Numerous canonical studies of southern women draw on portions of Butler’s letters and diary, which offer insight not only into women’s history but into the politics, social pressures, and values of the Confederate South. Now available and unabridged for the first time in book form, The Diary of a Civil War Bride provides an ordinary woman’s perspective on extraordinary events.
Kristen Brill is lecturer in American history at Keele University in the United Kingdom.