May 23, 1862: Ladies of the South

Southern Belle

The Richmond Daily Dispatch seems now to have come around to the view that southern ladies may occasionally forget themselves to the extent of berating the Yankee invaders. Still, they can hardly be blamed, as the Yankee officers are no gentlemen. It points up a notable difference between the cultures of the North and South; the South held to something like a feudal system, in which birth determined the worth of a person. The generals of the South were largely landed aristocrats — Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, and so on were all born into wealthy, established families with lengthy histories of political leadership. By contrast, Grant’s father was a tanner; Benjamin Butler’s widowed mother operated a boarding house; Sherman was a bit more elite, as his father was a lawyer in Ohio; Henry Halleck’s father was a farmer who had been a lieutenant in the War of 1812. There was considerable indignation that these upstarts should presume to take the field against the nobles of the South.

The ladies of the South.

The Federal scribes from Nashville indulge themselves in very coarse abuse of the ladies of that city because they manifest upon all suitable occasions their determination to have nothing to do with the Goths and Vandals who have overrun their country. They seem to expect the mothers and wives of the South to receive the murderers of their sons and husbands with cordial salutations; to clasp with affectionate tenderness the hands red with kindred blood, and to heap all manner of attentions and honors upon those who are seeking to bring desolation and defilement upon their hearthstones. This is a modest expectation of these Yankees, and we are not surprised at their indignant astonishment in being disappointed. Such loveable creatures as they are, in themselves; so full of heart, geniality, grace, and good manners, it is wonderful that these natural fascinations do not overcome the horror of our people at the crimes they have committed. For what gentlemen on the earth so high-toned, so generous, so chivalric, so courtly, as the full-blooded gentlemen of “Cape Cod and all along ashore,” unless it be the Buckeye Knight, or the Sucker Cavalier, of whom Lincoln himself is justly regarded the representative chief! No wonder that they become annoyed when their charms are not appreciated, and berate our women in language which is worthy in its vigor and elegance of such pinks of chivalry.

It is a common phrase among these gentle knights, when a lady declines their polite attentions, that “she is no lady.” This is a very convenient and comfortable method of disposing of the subject. They are excellent judges of “ladies,” no doubt. Such a Chesterfield as McCook, and such a regular Beau Brummell as Ben. Butler, ought to know a true prince or princess by instinct. And when the Major-Generals of an army are composed of such materials, what must be the Colonels, Captains, the Corporals, the rank and file, and, the penny-a-liners for the Northern papers, who follow the camp, and write home that there are “no ladies” in the South! It is distressing, beyond expression to have such an impediment from such a source.

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