Dr. Victoria Ott, James A. Woods Professor of American History at Birmingham-Southern College
The Failure of Our Fathers: Family, Gender, and Power in Confederate Alabama examines the changing position of non-elite white families in Alabama during one of the most pivotal periods in the state’s history. Drawing on a wide range of personal and public documents reflecting the state’s varied regions and economies, Victoria E. Ott uses gender and family as a lens to examine the poor white families who identified with the Confederate cause.
Ott provides a nuanced examination of how these Alabamians fit within the antebellum era’s paternalistic social order, eventually identifying with, and supporting, the Confederate mission to leave the Union and create an independent, slaveholding state. But as the reality of the war slowly set in and the Confederacy began to fray, the increasing dangers families faced led Alabama’s common white men and women to find new avenues to power as a distinct socioeconomic class.
Ott argues that family provided the conceptual framework necessary to understand why common whites supported a war to protect slavery despite having little or no investment in the institution. Going to war meant protecting their families from outsiders who threatened to turn their worlds upside down. Despite class differences, common whites envisioned the Confederacy as a larger family and the state as paternal figures who promised to protect its loyal dependents throughout the conflict. Yet, as the war ravaged many Alabama communities, devotion to the Confederacy seemed less a priority as families faced continued separations, threats of death, and the potential for starvation. The construct of a familial structure that once created a sense of loyalty to the Confederacy now gave them cause to question its leadership. Ott shows how these domestic values rooted in highly gendered concepts ultimately redefined Alabama’s social structure and increased class distinctions after the war.
Victoria E. Ott is the James A. Woods Professor of American History at Birmingham-Southern College. She is author of Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age during the Civil War.
“Victoria Ott offers a fresh look at the Civil War by exploring how common soldiers and their families abandoned the Confederate cause without forsaking the values of slavery and racial supremacy. It is a major contribution to the understanding of gender and class in the last days of the doomed Confederacy.”
—Michael W. Fitzgerald, author of Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South
“The Failure of Our Fathers shows the centrality of family for understanding the experiences of common whites in Alabama during the Confederate era. Here the voices of ordinary men and women reveal both the persistence and anguish of families in the midst of war and ruin. Through the use of a wide range of both private and official sources—including diaries, letters, court records, and divorce petitions—Ott documents the often wrenching experiences of these Alabama families. The tensions between the demands of loyalty to family and loyalty to the Confederacy play out amid changing family dynamics, the travails of military life, enduring religious faith, and the failures of both the state and Confederate governments.”
—George C. Rable, University of Alabama, Emeritus and author of Damn Yankees! Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South
“Victoria Ott locates the family and its pervasive gender roles at the heart of non-elite white Alabamians’ Confederate experience, from the masculine rush to enlist in 1861 to the widespread disillusionment and class resentments of the war’s final years. Deftly continuing the story into Reconstruction, Ott identifies an abiding class consciousness that helps explain much about the state’s tumultuous postwar history. This is a significant achievement that will enrich both Alabama and Civil War scholars.”
—Kenneth W. Noe, author of The Howling Storm: Climate, Weather, and the American Civil War
For more information, contact Holley at 205-445-1117 or email@example.com.
AGE GROUP: | Adults (Ages 21+) | Adults (Ages 18+) |
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