Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Collections >> First-Person Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

Louise Wigfall Wright, 1846-1915
A Southern Girl in '61: The War-Time Memories of a Confederate Senator's Daughter
New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905.

Summary

Louise Wigfall Wright was born December 8, 1846, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Charlotte and Louis Trezevant Wigfall. In 1849, Louis T. Wigfall became a member of the Texas House of Representatives and later a state senator. In 1859, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He kept his seat until 1861, when he left to serve in the Confederate army. He later went on to represent Texas in the Confederate Congress. Wigfall's political movements continually relocated the family home, so Louisa was educated at Miss Brooks's school in Washington, D.C., and later at Mrs. Pegram's school in Richmond, Virginia. In 1871, she married Judge D. Giraud Wright of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City Court in Maryland. Wright died on March 7, 1915, in Baltimore.

A Southern Girl in '61: The War-Time Memories of a Confederate Senator's Daughter (1905) brings the public and private worlds of the Confederacy together. It is not only a collection of Wright's personal reminiscences of the war years but also includes letters, photographs, and accounts of the war from the Confederate elite. The letters give unique insight into the relationships among generals and politicians and the inner workings of the Confederacy, while Wright's narrative frame provides a commentary on the war from the position of a wealthy young woman on the highest rungs of Southern society. Because of Wright's vantage point, descriptions of the balls and picnics held for wounded soldiers returning from the war are interspersed with discussion of Confederate politics and letters describing battles from men like General Johnston, General Hood, and General Lee.

Wright begins her story with a description of her childhood in Texas. Her memories of country and city life there include a discussion of "the character of the negro." She concludes that "The negro in slavery before and during the War, was lazy and idle—he will always be that—but he was simple, true and faithful. What he has become since his emancipation from servitude is a queer comment on the effect of the liberty bestowed upon him" (18). This comment, which accompanies a string of light-hearted anecdotes, illustrates Wright's sympathy for the "lost cause."

In 1861, as the war looms, Wright and her younger sister are sent to Boston to visit their grandmother. While in Boston, Wright receives word that her father has played a pivotal role in the Federal surrender of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces. Col. Wigfall, of his own accord, took a skiff from Morris Island, South Carolina, to Fort Sumter, where Major Anderson was trying to retain possession of the fort. Despite the danger, Wigfall reached the fort and persuaded Anderson to surrender, guaranteeing him "all the honors of war" (44). The first triumph for the Confederacy in the Civil War was also a personal triumph for the Wigfall family.

Wigfall soon gave up his military command in order to assume a place in the Confederate Senate, so the family moved to Richmond, Virginia. Wigfall remained deeply involved in the politics of the war, often corresponding with generals in the field. In 1862, Wigfall's relationship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis became strained after the senator called for the removal of General Braxton Bragg, whom Davis staunchly supported despite the criticism surrounding the general.

For the daughters of the Southern elite, the early years of the war were trying but not tragic. Although the war was a hotly debated topic among the women on the home front, parties and youthful courting continued unabated. The Misses Wigfall attended balls that remained delightful, "though the gold lace was somewhat tarnished and the gay uniforms showing signs of wear" (137). Wright's brother Halsey was at war, but his early letters home were filled with accounts of entertainments and requests for clothing. The real hardships had not yet begun.

Wright connects the change of fortune for the Confederacy with President Davis's continued refusal to demote Generals Bragg and Pemberton. Soon, Richmond was under siege, and inflation and starvation were rampant. Senator and Mrs. Wigfall returned to Texas, leaving their daughters in Atlanta in the care of Mrs. Johnston, wife of General Joseph Johnson. When Atlanta fell, they were forced to flee by "hospital train" to Macon, Georgia. This train, filled with sick, wounded, and dying soldiers, made Wright newly aware of the war's carnage.

Wright's time in Macon was short-lived, as Sherman's army was approaching. The Johnstons and Wigfalls returned to Richmond by boat, fleeing the impending danger. Although the unabashed optimism of the early years had faded, Wright insists that "defeat was not contemplated" (215), and she praises the women of the South for their faith in Confederate victory. Wright proudly notes that her family continued to buy Confederate bonds in 1865, and she kept the worthless paper after the war as a symbol of the South's enduring spirit.

With defeat imminent, the family fled once more. While in Raleigh, North Carolina, they received word of the fall of Richmond and Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Senator Wigfall, fearing arrest, disguised himself as a private soldier. Wright wore homespun and a bonnet, and the family traveled to Texas, hidden in a sea of refugees.

Following the text of the narrative is a poem titled "The Confederate Flag," which celebrates the sacrifices and contributions of Southern women to the Confederacy. The final image, however, is of the South Carolina legislature during Reconstruction. The image's caption explains that a vast majority of the new congressmen were black, illiterate, and did not pay taxes, yet "this body was empowered to levy on the white people of the states taxes amounting to $4,000,000" (252). While this caption seems disconnected from the narrative itself, its purpose may lie in the contrast between the nobility and honor of the "lost cause" depicted in the narrative and the perceived injustice of Reconstruction. Although Wright states at the beginning of the text that her writing was an act of remembrance of the people and events of the Confederacy meant to connect the future generations with their past, the inclusion of the South Carolina photograph shows that this narrative is also an implicit critique of the years between the end of the war and 1905, when this book was published.

Works Consulted: Wallace, W. Stewart, ed. A Dictionary of North American Authors Deceased before 1950, Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1951; Who Was Who in American History, Arts and Letters, Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, c1975. Wright, Louise Wigfall, A Southern Girl in '61: The War-Time Memories of a Confederate Senator's Daughter, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1905.

Amanda M. Page

Document menu