One of the main threats Confederate women were faced with in the absence of their husbands was the combined issues of starvation and poverty. Being as men were considered to be the primary breadwinners in the household during this time, women – particularly Southern white women – were considered to be unsuitable for doing jobs that were geared towards their male counterparts. In addition to this, unlike the wealthier class of Confederate women who owned slaves, women belonging to the poorer non-slaveholding class were more susceptible to starvation and poverty because they did not have the constant means to stay fed as wealthier, white families did. For instance, in the case of Martha Hendley Poteet of McDowell County, North Carolina who corresponded with her husband, Francis, during the war she experienced first-hand the possibility of not being able to feed her children. “Dear husband I cant get no person to cut my wheat the men says that they dont know what will be don with the wheat for there aint men to cut it and if I dont get Mine cut me and the children will be bound to suffer” (Item 905).
In Martha’s case, we see that one of the main issues lower class women were faced with was feeding their families. Also like Martha, for southern families who farmed, one of the main problems Confederate wives had in their husband’s absence was getting their harvests in on time. Due to the lack of male presence around in Confederate states, women were left with the almost insurmountable task of providing food on their tables, with only their husband’s army paychecks and food from their gardens. In these hard times, Confederate wives were forced to call upon their children to help bring home the bacon. Like Anne L. Bowen, who used her children to help her bring in the harvest from their garden in December of 1864:
“…and it revives me a great deal to get a letter and the children two Mary Etter can run rite smart and fast and trys to talk she has the thrash it makes her fretful Henry Cleo has spun most anof cotton to make me a pair of lines and has lernt most all of his letters Cornelia Ann and Olivia helped us get in the potatoes and peas we had a nice chance of potatoes” (Item 1726)
Aside from the difficulties with the harvest, lower class women also faced a lack of resources. With the devaluing of currency during the Civil War, which in turn contributed to the lack of financial aid from family members in the same situation, left many lower class Confederate families to turn to their own farms as a sole means of their survival. For instance, as Martha Poteet wrote her husband, Francis: “You wrote for me to stay hear Bill Cowen says if I stay in the house I shant work the ground that I shant as much as hav the garden I hav walked my self down this week trying to get a place and hav got non me and my children are bound to perish” (Item 947). In this instance we see how Martha was at her whit’s end trying to keep her family out of destitution. With Francis Poteet off fighting, his wife was left to try and pay off most of his debts, adding to the heavy burden she already was struggling to carry in his absence. The Poteets exemplify what thousands of middle/lower-class Confederate families were going through during the Civil War. With the possibility of being unable to feed their families if their harvests did not come in on time, or relying on their husband’s feeble army paychecks, Confederate wives like Martha Poteet were left to fend for themselves, fighting for their children and their own survival, while their husbands fought to protect their way of life.