"North Carolina women did not wait for the state to secede before they began making flags."

During the chaos and conflagration of the American Civil War, civilians and combatants alike suffered and struggled. McKean’s research emphasizes activities of patriotic white North Carolinians while including Union soldiers, Union sympathizers, and slaves in this chronicle of the early years of the war. We see women sewing flags, uniforms, and clothing, volunteering in hospitals during epidemics of measles, smallpox, and scarlet fever, writing letters to officials on behalf of families and troops, and even, in the case of such indomitable spirits as Abigail House and Mary Ann Buie, stalking the battlefields to aid the wounded and soliciting supplies for men at war. Most men joined the Confederate Army, while a few stayed behind, managing state and local government. When the Northern armies invaded, many slaves escaped to possible freedom. Union troops aided them to farm for sustenance, serve in the military, and practice trades vital to the war effort.

In producing this encyclopedic tome, McKean, who has been researching antebellum and Civil War history for many years, gleaned information from public documents and personal letters. These latter pieces vividly describe deprivations brought on by the war: high prices, high taxes, and the need to harvest crops that provoked many women to beg their husbands to desert, at least for a season. Her book includes wide-ranging and unique details: soldiers’ diets; lists of contributions of money, food, clothing, and bandages made by organizations like the Ladies Aid Society; locally composed patriotic Confederate songs; and letters describing some peripheral hazards of wartime, such as “bushwhackers”—deserting soldiers who robbed and plundered, especially in the North Carolina mountain regions. McKean’s fascinating compendium of public facts and family records should attract both North Carolinians and anyone interested in the laudable moments and constant dangers common to life in a warzone.

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