Antebellum Mourning Traditions
Clothing was not all that demanded strictures during mourning; widows were also obliged to wear only appropriate jewelry (usually jet black or tokens containing a lock of the deceased's hair), avoid social functions, and correspond on appropriate black-lined stationery. Funerals also served as a ritual allowing survivors to honor the deceased and express their grief in the presence of friends and the community.
Changes Wrought by War
When Confederate first lady Varina Davis went into mourning for her son, Joseph, in April 1864, she wore a black dress of inexpensive cotton. Warrenton resident Susan Caldwell's husband advised her in the autumn of 1864 against wearing black following the death of their young daughter. With "war and penury upon us," he thought it unwise to spend the money on an unnecessary purchase. Young Lizzie Alsop of Fredericksburg was undecided about wearing black after the death of her grandmother in March 1863. "For tho' we should like to, mourning is so high that I do not know whether it would be right for us to wear it or not," Lizzie commented. With as many as one out of every four Confederate soldiers dying, women across the region were thrown into a perpetual state of mourning and often forced to abandon their rituals of dress and self-imposed seclusion.
Funerals During War
Funerals, which had been largely personal and private, took on a more political
tone in the Confederate South during the Civil War. The funerals of two Virginia
officers illustrate this point. Following the death of Confederate general Turner Ashby in June 1862, his
corpse was transported to Charlottesville, where it lay in repose while hundreds of tearful
visitors covered it with wreaths of laurel and roses. The next day an elaborate
procession of his cavalry and two slaves, all dressed in black, accompanied his
remains to the University of
Virginia cemetery, a newly designated resting place for Confederate dead.
Such actions did not deter Confederate women from demonstrating patriotism for their nation. Funerals and resting places of common soldiers thus took on partisan meaning as Confederate cemeteries increasingly became sites of national mourning and pride. They would continue to hold such nationalistic meaning in the postwar years through the efforts of the Ladies' Memorial Associations, which took on the responsibility of identifying, transporting, and reburying the Confederate dead.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Janney, C. E. Mourning during the Civil War. (2015, October 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Mourning_During_the_Civil_War.
- MLA Citation:
Janney, Caroline E. "Mourning during the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: January 14, 2010 | Last modified: October 27, 2015
Contributed by Caroline E. Janney, John L. Nau III Professor in History of the American Civil War and director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia.