Lack of Defense
Another main threat to Confederate wives was the lack of defense in their husbands’ absence. For instance, Confederate wives were left at the mercy of the men who stayed behind in their local areas. These men became that area’s “Home Guard” throughout the duration of the Civil War. Confederate wives were also under attack from Yankee soldiers who took over and/or destroyed property during occupation. Using information gathered from historian Thavolia Glymph, the Home Guard can best be defined as a group of white, Confederate men, made up of local men who could not fight in the Civil War either because of age or they were deemed unfit for service. It was the Home Guard’s task to protect the citizens, namely women and children, while their husbands and fathers went off to fight in the war. The Home Guard’s main task was to make sure any Confederate soldiers who deserted and came back home were sent back to the fighting lines. They also punished anyone who aided the soldiers in their desertion, as well as the soldiers themselves. Despite their role as protectors, often times many Home Guard abused their powers and were responsible for taking advantage of the Confederate wives and their families’ helpless situation. As Martha Poteet describes,
“…all the honest men is gone and a set of speckalating dogs is left to press the lives out of the poor Women and children while the soldiers is standing as a wall between them and the enemy they are standing between them and there wives to snatch evry thing they can get I think there ought to be astop put to it if it aint we all will be bound to perish…” (Item 947).
Confederate wives like Martha were left in a helpless state while under the “protection” of the Home Guard. It would be right to infer that men who made up the Home Guard viewed those left in their care, which included not only women and children, but the elderly and men who were unfit for service; as their own personal serfs in their miniature kingdom. For instance, when writing to her husband in January of 1864, Martha made an observation of this: “Mitchel and his brother is going about taking up paroled men and men with furlows they taken John Waren last Teusday and put him in Jail And Al Taylor but let him loos a few days the men fom 18 to 50 has to go to the Armey in a short time and the Men fom 16 to 60 has to be home gard” (Item 1727). Martha wrote this letter following events that led to her own husband, Francis, being jailed for taking a leave of absence from the army in the wake of the death of their son. Note how Martha mentions the age range of men who were deputized as Home Guard and those who were drafted into the army. With martial law taking the place of democracy in McDowell County, we see just how powerful the Home Guard was, and just how much precise influence they had over their charges.