Marianne Monson is an excellent storyteller whose research fills in the gaps regarding women and the Civil War in Women of the Blue and Gray, centering on those who rebelled against expectations.
The book covers women who flouted norms to participate in the war, both publicly and privately: as abolitionists, medics, spies, teachers, and even as soldiers. Monson captures these women in vivid historical scenes, showing how black women in particular accomplished so much, even as those in power thought them incapable of doing so.
The women themselves speak through quotes from their writings, speeches, and letters. They are portrayed in terrifically difficult situations, bringing depth and life to the historical record.
Some chapters focus on remarkable individuals, like army nurse and author Susie Baker King Taylor, who was born a slave, and pioneering surgeon Mary Walker. Other chapters discuss groups or the types of roles that women played, including fascinating women soldiers and First Nations women, combining shorter profiles with analysis to give a broad impression of the times. Throughout, the book does an excellent job of contrasting its inspiring women’s lives with the fraught social standards that they challenged.
While women of both the North and the South are represented, the book takes a clear and worthwhile stance by placing the stories of women of color front and center whenever possible. The book begins with a quote from slavery survivor Ellen Vaden, and never doubts that the Civil War was fought over slavery.
For adults and teens who want to know more about the American Civil War and women’s important and varied roles in it, Women of the Blue and Gray is a powerful book that paints a picture that is at turns inspiring and upsetting.
Meredith Grahl Counts
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the author for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.