Finally Speaking Up: Sexual Assault in the Civil War Era

By Annika Jensen ’18

Trigger warning: This article contains detail concerning rape and sexual assault.

On March 12, 1864, in the midst of a bloody war which had long overflowed its thimble, Margaret Brooks was returning from her home near Memphis, Tennessee when her wagon broke down in Nonconnah Creek. Not long after her driver left to find help, three rambunctious New Jersey cavalrymen, all white, approached Brooks, demanding her money. She was then raped multiple times at gunpoint.

Nashville prostitutes in a hospital, c. 1864. Photograph via smithsonianmag.com, from The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War by Thomas Lowry.

Throughout the Civil War around 400 men were prosecuted for sexual violence crimes against women such as the 24 year-old Margaret Brooks, calling into question the issues of sexism and racism in nineteenth century society. Historians will sometimes consider the American Civil War to be an anomaly among other wars because they claim the adversaries did not use widespread sexual violence as a battle tactic. However, cases of rape and assault against women, particularly African American and Southern, can still be found in unsettling numbers, littering the pages of the war’s history. Continue reading “Finally Speaking Up: Sexual Assault in the Civil War Era”

A Long Road Ahead: Reflections from the Glenn Ligon Lecture

By Avery Lentz ’14

It is no secret that slavery in America was abhorrent — people endured such abuses as beatings and were often thought of as less than human. When looking at prebellum slavery, artist Glenn Ligon found that he could tell the narratives of black women — stories of horrors endured under the whip, stories of rape — through the medium of his photo etchings. On February 21, 2014, I attended a lecture in Gettysburg College’s Mara Auditorium that spoke about Ligon’s art. Professors Kimberly Rae Conner, Crystal Feimster, and Scott Hancock were the key speakers for the lecture and all approached Ligon’s pieces with different and interesting interpretations.

The first speaker, Professor Kimberly Rae Connor, herself a Gettysburg College graduate (’79), talked about how she was inspired to look at poetry from African-Americans, which was a shift from her original focus of European literature, when she did her dissertation at the University of Virginia. While doing her research, she became extremely passionate about black history when she learned of some of the slave narratives she read. She also remarked on the progress of racial integration at Gettysburg College and the University of Virginia, and how in the 70s and 80s, minority recruitment was still very low at both of these schools. In other places outside of colleges and universities there were observable scars of the Civil War, as well. Professor Connor spoke about a visit to Monticello. During the tour, one of the guides referred to Thomas Jefferson’s slaves as “servants.” By changing the word, the tour guide bestowed upon the slaves a freedom and agency they did not possess under the south’s Peculiar Institution.

Continue reading “A Long Road Ahead: Reflections from the Glenn Ligon Lecture”