Sunday, March 21, 2010

Marriage in the Post-Civil War South

A new and interesting idea has been presented to me in a recent issue of The Journal of Southern History. And, before I start, I need to acknowledge the folks that drew my attention to this article, but I don’t remember who mentioned it to me. So, to the folks who were promoting the February 2010 issue of The Journal of Southern History, thanks.

Now, the neat stuff: an article by J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, and James Holland Jones, suggests that we need to examine, more closely the marriage patterns of the post-Civil War South. The article is titled: “The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns.” It presents an interesting proposition. Think about this for a second: somewhere in the neighborhood of 650,000 people were killed in this war (the article says 620,000, pg 39, but I prefer my number). A majority of these deaths were young men between the ages of 15 and 45, in other words marrying age. A significantly large portion of these men were Southerners. The article says twenty percent of white males in the South of marrying age died in the war (pg 39-40). The article goes on to question whether or not this huge number of young dead affected the marriage patterns of the South. Their conclusion is a definite maybe.

From a Genealogy point of view, the bigger question for Southern families is: if my Great-Grandmother married after the Civil War, what were her motives? Did she marry for romantic love, or were there other reasons? Did she marry in the same socio-economic class as herself? Did she marry “beneath her class?” Was the fear of spinsterhood so great that she married an older man? Or, did she marry much younger for the same reason? And we can ask these same or similar questions about our Great-Grandfathers. Did they marry for beauty or money? Or, did they marry for both? Did the shortage of men in the community make Granddad a really “good catch?”

These questions are not meant to disparage any post-Civil War relationship. But, as I have said before, “romantic love” was not generally a consideration in marriage until the 1900s. In the 1800s marriage was a carefully considered negotiation and contract between two parties. And so, the motives from this contract are important considerations. Further, it might give us valuable insight into the lives and characters of our ancestors.

This is all very interesting and worth consideration.

1 comment:

Rowena said...

This is of great interest to me. My ggg grandparents married in Nov. 1865 in GA. He was a 20 yr old Confederate vet from KY Appalachia and she a 29 yr old Confederate widow in GA. My grandmother used to wonder "why did she marry that boy?" I'm looking forward to finding the article you reference.