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Black Women in the Civil War

An Examination of the Diary of Mary Chadick, a Planter Woman in Huntsville, Alabama.

Mary Chadick’s diary on Civil War has been a well-liked source for writers since it first emerged in 1937 in the Huntsville Times. Shortly afterwards, it was reproduced in the form of a booklet, and then printed in the Alabama Historical Quarterly in 1947. This edition was tremendously popular that extra copies quickly went out of stock. Chadick’s clever scrutiny of life in the course of military occupation together with the social and racial anxiety of southern women during the wartime era have been chronicled by historians and writers of many Civil War books. First, were the blacks ready to work for a living? Secondly, were they willing to fight for their freedom? This essay tries to put Chadick’s diary into perspective and shed some light on the wartime world in which she lived in. It explains Federal incursions on Huntsville and remarks on the natives and the concern with slaves caused by the military occupation.

During the civil war, the locals had trouble with the company of federal troops. The town was full of the enemy, there was a sentinel at every corner and that the troops had been searching the houses for arms. The burden of federal occupation rested strongly upon the shoulders of the people of Huntsville. Social gatherings in effect stopped because most of the time had to be devoted to performing domiciliary tasks. Many of the women dedicated most of their time to attend to the sick and the injured troops. From the White House to the battlefields and slave cottages, the black woman played an active part in helping the Union troops to emerge victorious during the Civil War. The Southern women helped Union troops who had fled prison camps. As a matter of fact, black women acted as spies, couriers, guide and scouts and were of great assistance to Union armed forces.

With a profound commitment to a course which they perceived to be that of liberation, and habitually banking on Southern bigotry which paid no heed to the black women’s intelligence, they provided priceless undercover support to the Union armed forces. After the Civil War, the valiant acts of the southern black women were for the most part forgotten. Whether as a result of prejudice, wish for privacy or loss of records, they undoubtedly need to be made public for the benefit of future generations.