All is Fair in Love and War
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For the past century and a half, the Civil War has been the subject of much scholarly work. This has included, but not been limited to, an examination of the various aspects of American society, economics, and politics that underwent radical transformation during wartime. On an individual level subtle changes also occurred, creating a noticeable trend within the daily lives of those living in mid-nineteenth century, war-torn America. The lives of individuals, specifically their personal relationships, often suffered during this period of national duress. Relationships between family members, friends, and spouses were influenced in both positive and negative ways. But marriages were perhaps most affected because of the dramatic alteration of gender roles during the war years, which often caused strain. On a more intimate level, married couples during the Civil War, primarily those in the South, experienced fierce loyalty and love as well as power struggles, role reversals, heartbreak, and death. One such marriage was between the famed General George Pickett and his third wife, Sally Corbell. While he had two earlier marriages, his third and final marriage no doubt affected him the most as it lasted through the Civil War and into the post-war years. His wife, Sally, played an imperative role in their marriage and in the creation of Pickett’s legend. However, she was also his confidant as evidenced by Sally’s extreme devotion to her husband. This is portrayed through her idyllic writings of their marriage, which neglected the sordid details of Pickett’s post-war life. He returned from the war a bitter drunkard who was in poor health. Nevertheless, it is clear that Sally “became his comfort and support 66 when things went terribly wrong” (Bleser and Gordon 79). A series of correspondences written by Pickett to Sally during the Civil War perfectly illustrate the important role Sally played in Pickett’s life. These letters have received much attention from scholars, although the validity of the documents is uncertain since they may have been written as a result of Sally’s attempts to “[promote] her mythical husband and their mythical marriage” (Bleser and Gordon 85). The letters, though they may have instances of falsification, are still widely accepted and Pickett’s undisputed love for Sally is quite evident. But the letters also serve the purpose of telling a larger tale, one that focuses on the dynamics of marriages during the war. General Pickett’s letters provide a new perspective on women as supporters, confidants, and essential contributors to the preservation of marriages and families, during trying times.
Lucerna, Volume 9, pages 65-76