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How The Civil War affected the Gorgas Family: An Analysis of Love & Duty
The marriage and lives of Josiah and Amelia Gayle Gorgas seems to be one straight out of a guide to a perfect marriage handbook. Although I realize that all the tribulations that they had to face were not recorded, the major events that they had to endure were. Their spirit and determination through it all held a lesson in which everyone could learn; about loyalty. Josiah joined the Confederacy very soon after their marriage; which did not leave much time for the two of them to spend quality married time together. In some respects, I believe that their relationship through all the separation was so strong because it was simply the only way they knew how to function. Amelia seemed to have mastered the role of mother, wife, follower, and leader. Often times, it is hard to figure out how to be both follower and a leader, but Josiah’s constant guidance and support molded Amelia into the leader that she needed to be upon his absence. This created a side of Amelia that did not exist before the war or simply had not been brought out in her yet. As it is mentioned, “Go abroad if you think best,” she urged. “I can manage for myself and children until you send for us.” Responsibility for herself and their children was creating a new self-confidence in Amelia.(18)” Josiah wanted nothing more than to be the sole provider that he once had been for his family but he was fully aware that he would not be able to do so and needed the support of his loving wife. This did not change his desire though and he often reminisced about the early easy times of their marriage, “What an indescribable emotion, to think of those happy, happy days, when life seemed without a care and the whole world was joy.” Those days were long past and different strengths were being brought out in each family member that had not been discovered before the war.
Josiah was fully aware that he had to turn over many responsibilities to his wife during his absences. Through this, Amelia learned a lot about finances and taking care of a family in ways that most women never had the opportunity to learn. Even Amelia would not have had the chance to learn these skills without the war. He would instruct her in their finances and in doing so never spoke to her like she was incompetent in the situation but simply as an equal. She learned a great deal about finances even if that meant forging a few signatures for Josiah! Her main concern was his main concern; keeping the family healthy and fiscally sound. He even commended her when he saw her improving in different fields. “Your statement of finances is quite satisfactory and does great credit to your learning in that branch (!9).” Over the years of their marriage, Amelia had to take on many different business ventures to provide for her family. This was another type of venture that Amelia probably would not have had the opportunity to learn without the war. I realize that some of these things were very straining on the family, but if you try to look at it with a silver lining it is not too hard to find the good things that were reaped from the war. During the period of time that Amelia was left in Brierfield, Alabama at a dying ironworks she took in boarders to provide extra income; while Josiah was doing his best to build up enough income as the Headmaster at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee to be able to bring his family up there to join him. It was through a joint effort, during this Civil War age that led the Gorgas’ to stay afloat. If Amelia had been the kind of wife to passively let opportunities go by, I do not believe they would have made it. Although the circumstances for her opportunity to learn this type of trade was unfortunate, it was a skill that later paid off when Josiah became ill and was unable to perform his career duties at the University of Alabama. The years of training of being the head of the household led Amelia to be quite prepared for the situation, unlike most women would have been at the time. When Amelia came out of the war, she was a completely different woman than when she had entered it.
Amelia was a natural maternal figure and took much pride in her children. She raised them all quite well, but as the children grew so did their need for a paternal figure in their life. She did the best she could under the circumstances, but she longed for the days when her husband would return so that he could relate to their boys in a way that she did not know how to. “She feared that she lacked ‘sufficient decision of character to train children particularly boys,’ and she was anxious ‘to shift the responsibility (20).’” The separation was especially hard on their oldest and most favored son William Crawford, who they often referred to as ‘Willie.’ He wanted to be just like his father much to the dismay of his parents. They were aware of the hardships that a military life brought upon a family and they did not desire that for their son. The Civil War created a riff between father and son because Josiah was absent during the time of his boy’s life when he needed him the most. The Civil War ruined their relationship despite the best efforts of them both. Josiah was indeed a good father and Willie was indeed a decent boy, but the timing of his boyhood could not have been worse. He needed a father around constantly as all young boys do. “Although the defeat of the Confederacy destroyed Josiah’s military career, Reconstruction was far more devastating to relationships within his family, crushing his hopes for prosperity and threatening his role as provider for his family. It also separated Josiah from his family, creating a vacuum in which his son attempted to fill his place, and thereafter, father and son subconsciously compete for the mother’s affections (50).” They both needed Amelia but she could not fill the void that the war had left in each other. I believe that Willie and the other children suffered the most from the war, because the absence of their father affected how they were raised and it left a void in each of them.
Unlike the rest of the Gorgas family, life for Willie became slightly easier after the Civil War. That is not meant to say that he did not have to deal with trials, but they were not directly linked to the Civil War like the problems of his parents. After Josiah suffered his stroke, Willie took on the financial obligations of his mother and siblings. He also had quite a time getting into the branch of service he wished to. He worked hard and found loopholes and eventually became a military doctor. He did financially well and supported a wife and daughter of his own in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately he met a similar fate as his father and died also of a stroke in 1920. Even though his life after the Civil War was not as hard as his father’s it seemed that no one in the Gorgas family could really catch a clean break.
As mentioned above, there was nothing pleasant about the Civil War but if you look hard enough you can see the character that was built up inside each individual member of the Gorgas family. They were different people at the end of the war, but their love and loyalty for each other was even stronger. They had weathered the worst; which had prepared them for all the trials of life.