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Rhetoric of Rebel Women

Rhetoric of Rebel Women

Civil War Diaries and Confederate Persuasion

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Kimberly Harrison


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
264 pages, 6 x 9, 9 illustrations

Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms


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About the Book

During the American Civil War, southern white women found themselves speaking and acting in unfamiliar and tumultuous circumstances. With the war at their doorstep, women who supported the war effort took part in defining what it meant to be, and to behave as, a Confederate through their verbal and nonverbal rhetorics. Though most did not speak from the podium, they viewed themselves as participants in the war effort, indicating that what they did or did not say could matter. Drawing on the rich evidence in women’s Civil War diaries, The Rhetoric of Rebel Women recognizes women’s persuasive activities as contributions to the creation and maintenance of Confederate identity and culture.

Informed by more than one hundred diaries, this study provides insight into how women cultivated rhetorical agency, challenging traditional gender expectations while also upholding a cultural status quo. Author Kimberly Harrison analyzes the rhetorical choices these women made and valued in wartime and postwar interactions with Union officers and soldiers, slaves and former slaves, local community members, and even their God. In their intimate accounts of everyday war, these diarists discussed rhetorical strategies that could impact their safety, their livelihoods, and those of their families. As they faced Union soldiers in attempts to protect their homes and property, diarists saw their actions as not only having local, immediate impact on their well-being but also as reflecting upon their cause and the character of the southern people as a whole. They instructed themselves through their personal writing, allowing insight into how southern women prepared themselves to speak and act in new and contested contexts.

The Rhetoric of Rebel Women highlights the contributions of privileged white southern women in the development of the Confederate national identity, presenting them not as passive observers but as active participants in the war effort.


Kimberly Harrison, an associate professor of English at Florida International University, is the editor of A Maryland Bride in the Deep South: The Civil War Diary of Priscilla Bond.


"The Rhetoric of Rebel Women makes important contributions to studies of nineteenth-century rhetoric and to histories of women in the South. In detailing the “everyday” rhetorics of her subjects, Harrison persuasively argues for the care with which these women engaged in their daily rhetorical interactions as well as the crucial roles their diaries played in negotiating these interactions and contributing to their rhetorical self-education. This volume thus ably demonstrates the rhetoricity of diaries, both as vehicles for illuminating the public rhetorical activities of their authors and as sites of rhetorical invention in themselves."—Rhetoric Society Quarterly

"The Rhetoric of Rebel Women analyzes more than 100 personal diaries of white women obtained from archives or media collections across the South. This ambitiously large number of artifacts shows the influence of social science methods, yet the book itself is overwhelmingly humanistic. . . . [This book] makes a valuable contribution to both Civil War and
nineteenth-century histories of U.S. rhetoric."—Rhetoric & Public Affairs

“In The Rhetoric of Rebel Women, Kimberly Harrisonfocuses on Southern plantation-class women and an underexamined genre, the diary, and makes a compelling case for their rhetorical significance. She renders her subjects with honesty and compassion, admiring their savvy and endurance in wartime while acknowledging their biases and limitations, and demonstrates that diaries were critical sites for Southern women’s rhetorical rehearsal, deliberation, appraisal, and performance. Meticulously researched, carefully contextualized, and thoughtfully argued, The Rhetoric of Rebel Women deconstructs conventional demarcations between the public and private spheres and traces a marginalized group’s indirect (and too often ignored) contributions to the polis, in the process productively complicating rhetorical history and theory.”—Lindal Buchanan, author of Regendering Delivery and Rhetorics of Motherhood

“A rich, fresh, and compelling resource for understanding women’s lives in the Civil War era. Harrison’s deft integration of history, theory, and criticism is a model of its kind: well conceived, deeply informative, and gracefully written.”—Stephen Howard Browne, author of Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination

“Deeply informed by nuanced readings of over a hundred Southern women’s diaries during the Civil War, and conveying a lively and balanced interdisciplinarity, The Rhetoric of Rebel Women persuasively positions southern white women’s personal writings as a critical force in the shaping of the Civil War and its aftermath. Author Kimberly Harrison skillfully shows us how privileged women used their writings not only to remake themselves amid the hardships of wartime but also in an exciting new interpretation, to reframe the ideology of Confederate nationalism to reflect elite women’s voices and values.”—Michele Gillespie, Kahle Professor of History, Wake Forest University

"Building on works like Anne Sarah Rubin’s A Shattered Nation, Harrison highlights the ways that Confederate women’s private and public rhetoric contributed to the process of nation building. She likewise echoes scholars like William Blair and Gary Gallagher who have emphasized substantial evidence of Confederate unity despite pervasive hardships and war weariness. Most of Kimberly Harrison's diarists fit this mold, struggling to preserve their society and build their nation as they faced wartime upheavals." —Jesse George-Nichols, Louisiana History