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A Woman's Civil War
A Diary with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862
Cornelia Peake McDonald
Edited, with an Introduction by Minrose C. Gwin

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography


"Both riveting eyewitness testimony and a story of courage in the face of chaos. Cornelia McDonald's story is a well-written, compelling tale of the Virginia home front in wartime." —Lynda Lasswell Crist, The Virginia Magazine

"My young sons Harry and Allan had begged me to let them go to the top of the hill early in the morning to see what was going on. I had given permission, thinking of no danger other than occurred every day; but now, how I repented having let them go, and sat all that fearful afternoon in terror for fear my boys had come to harm. I remained during all those miserable hours with my baby on my lap and the four little ones clustered around, listening to the dreadful storms of battle.... Oh the anguish of those hours! My little boys! How could I have suffered them to go away from me so thoughtlessly when nearly every moment brought danger?"
—Cornelia Peake McDonald, 1862

On the night of March 11, 1862, as the heavy tramp of Confederate marching troops died away in the distance—her husband's regiment among them—Cornelia Peake McDonald began her diary of events in war-torn Winchester, Virginia.

McDonald's story of the Civil War records a personal and distinctly female battle of her own—a southern woman's lonely struggle in the midst of chaos to provide safety and shelter for herself and her children. For McDonald, history is what happens "inside the house." She relates the trauma that occurs when the safety of the home is disrupted and destroyed by the forces of war—when women and children are put out of their houses and have nowhere to go.

Whether she is describing a Union soldier's theft of her Christmas cakes, the discovery of a human foot in her garden, or the death of her baby daughter, McDonald's story of the Civil War at home is compelling and disturbing. Her tremendous determination and unyielding spirit in the face of the final collapse of her world is testimony to a woman's will to preserve her family and her own sense of purpose as a "rebel" against all that she regarded as tyrannical and brutal in war itself.

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor


Born in 1822 in Alexandria, Virginia, Cornelia Peake McDonald lived in Winchester, Virginia, with her nine children during the Civil War. Her record of events was first published in a volume of family history in 1935 from one of the eight handwritten copies made for each of her surviving children before her death in 1909. Minrose C. Gwin is professor of English at the University of New Mexico
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A Woman's Civil War

April 1992  
LC: 91-032345 E
314 pp. 6 x 9
6 illustrations

The cloth edition, ISBN 978-0-299-132360-6, is out of print.

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Paper $20.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-13264-4
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