Family  /  Debunk

The Guerrilla Household of Lizzie and William Gregg

White women were as married to the war as their Confederate menfolk.

... war required from the very beginning. After a few more days fighting their way southward, the party made it to their destination in Texas. Together, William and Lizzie Gregg waged a war in defense of the institution of slavery and their gendered roles and relations better facilitated their fight.

... war required from the very beginning. After a few more days fighting their way southward, the party made it to their destination in Texas. Together, William and Lizzie Gregg waged a war in defense of the institution of slavery and their gendered roles and relations better facilitated their fight.

Lizzie Gregg and her guerrilla sisters cannot be found in the typical military histories of the Civil War. Military historians tend to focus on the men who were commissioned officers or were officially enrolled in the armies or navies of the period. While the types of men being studied and the analysis used to study them has evolved in important ways, military histories of the Civil War still largely ignore the participation of women who were with the armies – cooks, laundresses, and nurses – and the many others who contributed to the war effort in untold ways. Viewing the military of the past without a feminist lens has created a blindspot in the field.

The history of guerrilla warfare in Missouri has suffered a great deal from this opaqueness, in no small part because guerrilla skirmishes were fought in and around the households of their participants. It was not a battlefield in the conventional sense. In the guerrilla theater of war, there was no clear geographic delineation between the homefront and the battlefront; there was no partition between women and men. In other words: Lizzie was there alongside William.

If, though, one attempts to render a history of the guerrilla war without the female supporters of the bushwhackers, or shows them to be just passive victims and coerced participants, the war appears chaotic, muddled, irrational, and self-destructive. For example, a couple of prominent histories conclude that the guerrillas must have stolen their supplies; however showing the connections between southern white women and their men reveals how fighters outside of the formal Confederate supply chain provisioned materials. Until very recently, the accepted explanation of the inner workings of the guerrilla war in Missouri and elsewhere was that when the Civil War broke out, young men made war on their own communities, their own households, and their own women.

To better understand the guerrilla war, we must restore women to the narrative as active participants and how their relationship with their men needed to be reestablished, necessitating a more inclusive frame of analysis: the household. This bulwark of nineteenth-century America that has often been misunderstood as an exclusively domestic, feminine space holds the key to understanding the most prevalent kind of warfare then and now. An antebellum institution that governed life, the household was the site of reproduction and production and it defined the status of its members. Everyone was a member of a household: women, men, children, black, white, slave, free, dependent, and independent, family and non-family.

For the Greggs, the Civil War was a household war. The cause of the war was embedded in the structure of this institution. While all the members of the household worked together, only some worked willingly. Enslaved, black members of the household were forced to labor to the great benefit of the ...