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Civil War Wives: The Lives & Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis & Julia Dent Grant
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Civil War Wives: The Lives & Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis & Julia Dent Grant

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  209 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
  In these moving stories if Angelina Grimké Weld, wife of abolitionist Theodore Weld, Varina Howell Davis, wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and Julia Dent grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant, Carol Berkin reveals how women understood the cataclysmic events of their day.  Their stories, taken together, help reconstruct the era of the Civil War with a greater dept ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 2nd 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2009)
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Jan 13, 2012 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an incredible read. Normally, when I read nonfiction/history books, I would often find my eyes crossing while reading different names and places among the mumble and jumbles ... but not this time. This author, Ms. Berkin, has brought these three women (that I really didn't know anything about) and their differences and unique temperaments alive in these pages. The only thing these women have in common is the fact that they were born and raised in slave-holding families of the South. The ...more
Dec 21, 2011 Kelley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did like this book. It was given to me by my mom who read it in a book club. I think I would have liked it much better if I had a group to discuss it with afterwards. My biggest problem with the book was that the author wrote it as if only students of the Civil War would read it, and people and occurrences were introduced but their significance was not always explained. I know I would have gotten a lot more out of the book if they had been.
The strength of this book is in the choice of subjec
Nov 23, 2010 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant by Carol Berkin leaves me in awe of biographers of the historical persuasion. I read in the author's note at the end of the book that it took Berkin only three years to write this 315 page book. She deftly weaves in the lives of the three women mentioned above.

My thoughts on Angelina. She was my favovrite. Angelina G. W. was born on a comfortable plantation and rejected the lifestyle as well
Martha Fiorentini
I found the section on Angelina Grimke Weld a bit dry. I enjoyed the sections on Varina Howell Davis since I didn't know anything about her or Jefferson and had never read a non-fiction book dealing with the South during the Civil War. Even though Julia Dent Grant was characterized as shallow, I admired her continuous positive attitude. These women, privileged or not, led hard lives! How each woman molded her role in society and on the domestic scene during the same era was enlightening.
Laura Lee
May 31, 2013 Laura Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed the book very much, especially the section about Mrs Jefferson Davis, First Lady of the Confederacy. It was wonderfully detailed. Didn't care so much for the section on Mrs U. S Grant . Didn't tell me much. Still, overall, the book was very good.
Margaret Sankey
I suspect this was titled "Civil War" as a marketing ploy, since the real heart of this book is the triple biographies (Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, Julia Dent Grant) which show the ways in which mid 19th century women exercised influence without having formal power.
Robin Friedman
Nov 08, 2016 Robin Friedman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Note. This review was written in 2010 and posted here on Goodreads on election day, 2016, at the end of a tumultuous and divisive campaign.

In recent years, Americans have combined their passion for Civil War history with an interest in women's studies. Carol Berkin's book, "Civil War Wives" (2009) combines this themes of the conflict and its women. She offers biographies of three women: Angela Grimke Weld (1805 --- 1879), Varina Howell Davis (1826 -- 1906); and Julia Dent Grant(1826 -- 1902) who
Dec 28, 2010 Joan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is divided into 3 parts, each providing an introduction and brief summary to the lives of 3 American women, Angelina Gimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis and Julia Dent Grant. I was not familiar with the story of Angelina Weld, the 14th child born into a prominent South Carolina plantation family in 1805. Angelina was raised by an older sister, Sarah, who was a clever and well read woman. Sarah left her Episcopalian roots, becoming initially a Presbyterian and later a Quaker, ultimately mov ...more
The names and deeds of the politicians, statesmen, generals, and reformers of the Civil War era are familiar to most Americans.

In Civil War Wives, Carol Berkin explores the lives of three women in the years leading up to the Civil War, the Civil War itself, and the years following. She effectively shows wives from the abolitionist movement, the government, and the military to give a broad picture of how all three affected the Civil War and were affected by it. The women themselves also run the
Shawn Thrasher
I would definitely call this a good book but not a great book. I finished it nonetheless. First Lady history and biography has always interested me from an early age - the domestic intrigue, the marital spats, the bad children, the influence behind the throne. We know so much and then again so little about most of our First Ladies. What did they think, what did they whisper into their husband's ears each night, how powerful are or were they. Clearly Julia Grant had some power over her husband; a ...more
Becky Loader
Nov 03, 2012 Becky Loader rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book sitting on the shelves at the Southdale Library. It has an old, ratty barcode, so the book has been in the collection for awhile.

At first, I was irritated with the author because she did not pick Mary Lincoln as one of the three, and I had read the introduction which stated that she had been eliminated as a choice because Mrs. Lincoln could be viewed as "idiosyncratic, and perhaps leaning toward madness." After finishing the book, I know that Mrs. Lincoln would not have been a
Jul 18, 2013 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Carol Berkin writes three biographies in this book - Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant. All three women were married to powerful men and these three women all dealt with their lives and the times in such different ways. Angelina Grimke was a major abolitionist and women's rights advocate. She was revolutionary and when she married, she had a difficult time fitting into the domestic role expected of her. Varina Davis wanted to be a confidante and advisor to her husba ...more
Aug 28, 2011 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite reads this Spring/Summer. I was surprised how well I liked this book actually. Since I like biography, this book was right up my ally since it's based on three woman's diaries. I learned so much about the way the Civil War affected families, households, marriages, and individuals. I've never been into woman's rights but this book gave me a lot to think about Victorian (Antabellum) America/ pre-Civil War ideals. One of the most notable things for me in reading about thi ...more
 The lives of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant spanned a century of rapid changes and major crises as our nation moved into modernity. Their stories cannot encompass everything we seek to know and understand about that century, of course...Yet their stories can serve as threads that connect us to our national past and as windows onto a social and political landscape that is both strangely familiar and shockingly foreign to our own. (p. 310) 

I couldn't say it better
Having a hard time deciding how many stars to give this. The subject matter was fascinating. The author's narrative voice... well, I found it somewhat condescending in places (particularly in regards to her treatment of Julia Dent Grant). I also found it tiring how often she referred to Varina Howell Davis's beauty and Julia Grant's "homeliness." For sure, though, I recommend the first third. Angelina Grimke's story is one that needs to be read by anyone interested in the history of abolitionism ...more
Maryellen Woodside
I must admit that I was less than enthusiastic about this choice for our local library book discussion. However, I found the book to be very interesting. It is the tale of three women who lived during the tumultuous times of the Civil War era. Angelina Grimke Weld, who was raised on a southern plantation, but became a fierce advocate of equal rights for all, including slaves and women. Varina Howell Davis was the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Ul ...more
Jul 10, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing history book. It outlines the lives of three women from the Civil War period. Not just any women, but these women were linked tightly to the changes of the times. Angelina Grimke Weld is on the front lines of the abolition movement. Varina Howell Davis is the support of Jefferson Davis and bears all the pain of the family with amazing dignity. Julia Dent Grant is the loving wife of General Grant. These women bore witness to an amazing period of time and hearing the same story ...more
May 05, 2013 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book when we visited Harpers Ferry in March and I'm glad I did. I had heard of Varina Davis although I didn't know much about her life. I knew a little more about Julia Grant and I had heard of the Grimke sisters but not Theodore Weld, the abolitionist Angelina Grimke married. I enjoy biography and this was an interesting story of 3 women involved in the major events leading up to, during and after the Civil War. I'm not sure I would have wanted to read a separate biography of any ...more
Wonderful view of the women behind the scenes during the CW. Weld was the wife of an abolisionist, Davis, the First Lady of the Confederacy and Grant thrust into the spotlight as the General's wife. I focused on Davis since I live in a town with her first name and I am trying get a better feeling of what went on here during the war. The more I explore the more I see the results playing out today. The author weaves all three women together within each story and that adds to show they were not all ...more
Oct 03, 2009 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. I have read many books about the time period around the Civil War, but this one gave a really different perspective. It is about 3 women, one an active abolitionist who came from a southern slave plantation, the second was the wife of Jefferson Davis, and the third was the wife of Ulysses S. Grant. They were all strong women in a time when women were supposed to only act as wife, mother and manger of the household. How they handled the incredible events of the time ...more
Dec 18, 2013 Troy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Civil War era through the eyes of three women you lived through it. Angelina was an early abolitionist and women's rights advocate. Am amazing woman. Varina was the wife of Jefferson Davis the one and only president of the Confederacy. I've never been a big fan of his and after reading this I like him even less. Julia was the wife of General Grant. She was nothing like the other two. She didn't challenge the status quo of the time period. A good book over all. Carol Berkin has also written a ...more
Jennifer Helton
Feb 11, 2016 Jennifer Helton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot stress how SLOW of a read this was. I found myself re-reading a paragraph or sentence so many times! My mind would wander or the info was so overwhelming I had to go over it again. This makes me sound like such a loser! I am a very fast reader so I am completely confused at why this book affected me this way. Anyway, it was excellent. Very well written and the author told their stories beautifully.
Feb 08, 2011 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard this author, a historian, speak at a dinner. She's as insightful and interesting in person as on the written page. The short intro chapter of the book, opening the scene for 1830's America, itself is a wonder of efficiency. It's not really a book about the Civil War, it's a book about marriage and women's struggles told through the mini-biographies of these three (educated, white) women.
Jenny Karraker
May 14, 2012 Jenny Karraker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ironic how Angelina and Varina who were so passionate about their causes were vilified for their actions and misunderstood whereas Julia who didn't understand issues was well loved and received wherever she went. Is this a commentary on dangers strong women face or commentary on necessary people skills needed to navigate life? I found relationship between grant and Julia charming despite author' apparent dislike of Julia for not being a rabid feminist.
Feb 09, 2010 Paige rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-war
Fascinating accounts of three famous women - Mrs. Grimke in particular was brave & inspiring and I felt a kinship with her. School history classes do her no justice, literally. Varina Davis - if it weren't for the astounding flaw of thinking nothing ill of slavery - we might have been friends. Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant - intellectually disappointing but the love she had for her husband was genuine and moving.
Jun 27, 2010 Janis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berkin's thorough scholarship and engaging writing had me up late reading this volume. The Civil War + relationships? A book made for me! I was fascinated by the details of courting and marriage, and struck by the difficulties of life in that tumultuous era. I often disagreed with the author's analysis of the letters and memoirs she quoted but it didn't take away from my respect for her work.
Nancy Page
Feb 15, 2014 Nancy Page rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Found it very interesting regarding the lives these ladies lived and the hardships they endured, the love they felt for their husbands, their commitment to their causes, their dedication, and the amount of physical labor they did. These women were brave and committed to life, to what life presented to them, and to family.
Feb 21, 2011 Janice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book, I learned so much about the lives of these three women! The life of Varina Howell Davis was particularly interesting to me. I also learned much more about the history of the Civil War and the events that lead to the war. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in learning about American History.
Apr 05, 2014 Wendy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, 2014
April 2014 selection. The book club members either read it and enjoyed it (and want to try another of hers) or they just didn't read it. I didn't expect to enjoy this nonfiction book as much as I did.
Mar 10, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would totally marry Carol Berkin, if many things were very different. She's everything that Julia Dent Grant was not. This is definitely worth looking at if you're interested in viewing an extensively documented period of our nations history from perspectives less well explored.
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