Today we share the first Field Dispatch from our latest addition to the correspondent team, Angela Esco Elder. Angela is an Assistant Professor of History at Converse College in South Carolina. She is currently revising her dissertation on Confederate widowhood for publication; her dissertation won the SHA C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize and St. George Tucker Society’s Melvin E. Bradford Dissertation Prize. Elder recently published a co-edited collection, Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence of Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.On Muster, she will be writing on women’s history and gender history topics.
On July 7, 2018, numerous headlines informed the public of a “US service member killed in ‘insider attack’ in Afghanistan.” The statement came just days after our Facebook feeds filled with Fourth of July red, white, and blue, with videos of fireworks, coordinated family outfits, and patriotic inspiration posted in abundance. Not long before that, Memorial Day brought its share of American flag memes and quotes about soldiers’ sacrifices. Summer holidays offer a powerful reminder that American freedom is intertwined with American death. Yet, even as we offer our condolences and prayers to the families of fallen heroes, the national narrative often remains on the one who gave “the ultimate sacrifice.” We focus on the deceased soldiers. We print their stories. What about those loved ones, who are sentenced to life?
When I started graduate school, I found myself drawn to stories of loss in the Civil War, sifting through letters tucked away in archives across the South. This was not a topic I expected to fall into. I blame Stephen Berry and John Inscoe, who sent me into the University of Georgia archives to find a seminar topic. The Special Collections in Athens weren’t as fancy as they are now. Back then, the archives existed in a room tucked away in a dated corner of the library, walls overburdened with artifacts, sunlight catching the dust as it floated lazily through the air. Or perhaps that’s the nostalgia of a first archival experience speaking. Either way, in I walked, wanting to read something about women and the Civil War. I have since come up with theory-laden scholarly justifications to support this pursuit, but at the time, the honest truth was that I was just interested in it. I loved stories. I loved writing. I was curious what the war was like for women and had no idea there was already a vast amount of scholarship behind it. So, I began reading through boxes of correspondence.
The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.