Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Review of Wiggins, _Love and Duty_ [Joseph & Amelia Gorgas]

Expand Messages
  • Amos J Wright
    ... From: H-Net Review Project Distribution List [mailto:H-REVIEW@H-NET.MSU.EDU] On Behalf Of H-Net Reviews Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2007 1:05 PM To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 15, 2007
    • 0 Attachment
      -----Original Message-----
      From: H-Net Review Project Distribution List
      [mailto:H-REVIEW@...] On Behalf Of H-Net Reviews
      Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2007 1:05 PM
      To: H-REVIEW@...
      Subject: Newman on Wiggins, _Love and Duty_

      H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      Published by H-CivWar@... (February, 2007)

      Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins. _Love and Duty: Amelia and Josiah Gorgas and
      Their Family_. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005. xv + 110
      pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $19.95 (paper), ISBN
      978-0-8173-5294-3.

      Reviewed for H-CivWar by Jennifer Newman, Department of
      History, Auburn University.

      A Southern Family in the Civil War Era: The Family life of Josiah and
      Amelia Gorges

      The growing historiography on social aspects of the Civil War has
      produced a host of valuable studies that greatly add to the
      understanding of the war and its effect on common people throughout the
      North and the South. While some historians have focused on broad
      sweeping studies that provide an overall view of the effect of the war
      on Southern women, others have devoted their attention to editing and
      publishing memoirs, correspondence, or studies of individual families.
      Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins's, _Love and Duty: Amelia and Josiah Gorgas and
      Their Family_, is one such addition to this latter category of
      scholarship.

      The Gorgas family is best known for two reasons; namely, Josiah's role
      as the chief of the Confederate Ordinance Bureau during the war, and the
      notoriety of Josiah and Amelia's son, William Crawford Gorgas, who
      became the U.S. surgeon general "whose efforts to improve sanitation
      made possible the building of the Panama Canal" (p. xiv). Yet, as
      Wiggins demonstrates, it is important to explore Josiah and his wife
      Amelia's family life because it helps illuminate various themes common
      in Victorian America. Indeed, Wiggins claims that "the intent of these
      essays is to focus on the personalities of Amelia and Josiah that
      generally have escaped our grasp and to enable a reader to gain a sense
      of the relationships of the Gorgas family members to each other" (p.
      xiii). In this Wiggins has succeeded masterfully.

      This collection of essays examines, topically, subjects that range from
      the marriage of Josiah Gorgas to Amelia Gayle on December 29, 1853, to
      the unreconstructed Confederate that Amelia became and remained until
      her death. Chapters are devoted to the marriage, the role of Josiah as a
      Victorian father, and Amelia's position as a wife and mother. An
      introduction and prologue provide an excellent overview of the Gorgas
      family's fascinating chronology. At the same time, themes that were
      common to families throughout the South are duly noted throughout the
      book. Indeed, the Gorgas family serves to illustrate issues discussed by
      many different historians. The closely linked family ties that were
      evident throughout Amelia's life illustrate the arguments made by
      historians such as Sally McMillen and Jane Turner Censer that kinship
      ties were essential in the antebellum South.[1] The manner in which
      Josiah and Amelia raised their children agrees with Censer's findings
      that antebellum Southern families raised their children to be strong
      independent individuals. Josiah and Amelia's marriage clearly augments
      the argument by historians that the nineteenth century saw the rise of
      companionate marriages. At the same time, Amelia's devotion to her
      family and her acceptance of her traditional gender role agrees with the
      findings of historians such as George Rable, Drew Gilpin Faust, and
      Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, who concluded that women were generally content
      in their traditional subordinate gender positions in the patriarchal
      society of the antebellum South.[2]

      At the same time, Amelia's life also agrees with Rable's, Faust's, and
      Laura Edwards's argument that the Civil War was not a watershed in
      gender relations for Southern women.[3] Indeed, the reality was that,
      for Amelia, any substantial changes that took place in her gender
      position occurred after the war and as a result of her husband's stroke
      and death. It was after the war that she took a position outside of her
      home and worked to help support her family. Even with these changes she
      continued to identify herself with her family and not as a professional.
      Unquestionably, Amelia's family provided her with her identity, "an
      identity with which she was entirely comfortable" (p. 64). She did not
      identify herself as a professional woman, but rather as a wife and
      mother.

      While her husband played an important role in the Confederacy, Amelia
      was also deeply attached to the Confederacy and in many ways it was her
      loyalty to the South that initially persuaded her husband to place his
      lot with the Confederacy. Amelia's other family members were intricately
      connected to the Confederacy as well. One of her brothers was a surgeon
      and another was a blockade-runner. She actively participated in
      soldiers' relief organizations during the war and after the Confederate
      defeat contributed to the memorialization of the Confederacy. As an
      ardent supporter of the Lost Cause her life provides a "glimpse of what
      many anonymous women did," both during and after the Civil War, to
      express their devotion to the Confederacy (p. 75). Indeed, Amelia's
      life, experiences, and sentiments illustrate that the Civil War was a
      "woman's war" (p. 66).

      Josiah's career was no less fascinating. After serving in the U.S. Army
      he became the chief of the Confederate Ordnance Bureau. After the
      collapse of the Confederacy he failed in an attempt to run Brierfield
      Ironworks. He later served as the president of the University of the
      South as the school faced severe economic hardships. In 1878 he became
      the president of the University of Alabama. He concluded his career as
      the librarian of the University of Alabama, a position that was really
      filled by Amelia after Josiah suffered a stroke in 1879, from which he
      never fully recovered. After his death in 1883, Amelia took over his
      position as librarian and continued to live in the house provided by the
      University of Alabama.

      This book, a compilation of revised essays or portions of previously
      published essays, provides a succinct overview of the family life of
      Josiah and Amelia Gorgas. The only negative aspect is that the
      chronology of the Gorgas's lives is repeated in each chapter. On the
      other hand, each chapter is self contained and could be used in an upper
      level Civil War class as a reading assignment or drawn upon for other
      academic purposes.

      Overall, this book successfully fulfills the goals that Wiggins set out
      to achieve. Based on extensive research of both primary and secondary
      sources, this book provides an insightful view of the Gorgas family
      throughout their fascinating lives that spanned the tumultuous Civil War
      and Reconstruction era.

      Notes

      [1]. Sally G. McMillen, _Motherhood in the Old South: Pregnancy,
      Childbirth, and Infant Rearing_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University
      Press, 1990); and Jane Turner Censer, _North Carolina Planters and Their
      Children, 1800-1860_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
      1984).

      [2]. George Rable, _Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern
      Nationalism_ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989); Drew Gilpin
      Faust, _Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the
      American Civil War_ (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
      Press, 1996); and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, _Within the Plantation
      Household: Black and White Women of the Old South_ (Chapel Hill: The
      University of North Carolina Press, 1988).

      [3]. Laura F. Edwards, _Scarlet Doesn't Live Here Anymore: Southern
      Women in the Civil War Era_ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
      2000).


      Copyright � 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
      redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational
      purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web
      location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities &
      Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews
      editorial staff at hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.