One thing that should be noted as one of the main threats Confederate wives faced, in particular with both the Poteet and Bowen families, was how near helplessness they were when disease came knocking on their door. Confederate wives found themselves between a rock and a hard place if illness struck their families during their husbands’ absences. For instance in the case of Ann Bowen when she wrote her husband, “…they found us all well except Cornelia Ann. My toe that I spoke of dropping the stick of wood on has got so I can wear my shoe and my thumb has got well. Cornelia Ann has been very bad.” (Item 2732) In the object description of this source, the archivist makes a note that the Bowen’s daughter, Cornelia Ann’s, who struggled from the effects of rheumatism, swelling from the disease had gotten so bad that she could hardly move by what Ann referred to as “Old Christmas Day”, during which time Ann had trouble finding a local doctor and was forced to rely on the help from neighbors. Problems such as the lack of a local doctor only added to Confederate wives like Ann’s woes. As Ann wrote on January 21, 1865
“Cornelia Ann she is not well yet she had got so she could walk about the rom but her sore knees has returned again. Her knee will swell up and ache and then it will be so sore she can’t bear her wait on it then in her ankle and in her wrist and shoulders it shifts about by the time it gets better in one place it takes in another. It don’t pain but its sore and aches, she ain’t quite as bad off as she was at first but she is far from being well. She hasn’t been out of the house since New Year’s Day. A great deal of the time I have her head to comb and feed her. She can’t get her hand to her mouth hardly if she can, she hasn’t got strength to hold” (Item 2730)
Though aid from neighbors was helpful, without the proper attention given by a trained professional in the area, due to the need for doctors in the war, Ann and many Confederate wives were left with the possibility of any illness contracted or flaring up going untreated. Given Cornelia Ann’s condition her mother wrote about in this letter, it is clear that Cornelia Ann was no use to her mother in helping provide for the family whatsoever. If anything, this letter shows just how occupied Ann herself became, aside from finding a supportable income for her family in Mr. Bowen’s absence.
Like Ann and Martha, because of threats illness and in extreme cases death many Confederate wives were at risk of not only losing their labor force (i.e. children) to help bring in the crop, but also if they themselves caught an illness and ran the risk of dying, no one would be left to run household affairs in their husband’s absence. As Martha Poteet wrote on February 4, 1864, “…Sorry to hear Sunday that you was not well, we are not well they nearly all have had sore throats. I ain’t well myself…I am in a great deal of trouble, Doctor Young charged me three dollars in gold or silver or thirty dollars in confederate for coming to see [him]” (Item 947). Wives like Martha were put in an unfortunate position. As stated earlier, all financial responsibilities were dropped solely on the wife as she struggled to keep her family afloat in the Southern economy of the Civil War.