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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  271 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Here are the life stories of three women who connect us to our national past and provide windows onto a social and political landscape that is strangely familiar yet shockingly foreign.

Berkin focuses on three “accidental heroes” who left behind sufficient records to allow their voices to be heard clearly and to allow us to see the world as they did. Though they held no pol
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 8th 2009 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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Start your review of Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
robin friedman
Nov 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 long 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
Dec 21, 2011 rated it liked it
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 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
Nov 21, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
Laura Lee
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Kathleen Sams
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Books like this make history come alive, and I read this one quickly. I have always been interested in the ways women have created lives for themselves when bound by restrictive social customs and never realized that many abolitionists considered the women's rights movement to be a distraction that took focus away from their anti-slavery efforts. Dr. Berkin's juxtapositions of the lives of Varina Howell Davis, First Lady of the Confederacy, and Julia Dent Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant, intrigu ...more
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Berkin chooses three women who played a significant role between 1830 - 1860, including the wives of two presidents. I had hoped for a broader approach to the civil war experience through the voices of the peasantry on both sides. With over 660,000 lives of men lost over four years, the impact on civil war wives and their families was significant and far reaching. This is not a book a bout that. It was also nothing more than a cursory glance at the slave experience. For it's limited focus, not a ...more
Mike Shoop
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Nonfiction about three women, significant during the 19th century, but largely forgotten today: all Southern-born, all of slave-holding families, and all married men who were powerful and influential during their era. Berkin devotes a section to each, and gives a good survey of each woman's life, providing their unique perspectives on their tumultuous times with their insights on love and marriage and a woman's place, and illuminates the paths each chose to follow. Well written, absorbing, inter ...more
Beth Gordon
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great book with the voices and perspectives of these three women resounding from the times in which they lived. I enjoyed learning more, and it felt like three short biographies. The author created a well-rounded picture of the times, their day-to-day lives, their monumental moments, all well-researched and interesting to read.

I felt that the author claimed how smart Varina Davis was, but I never felt while reading her biography that her keen intelligence came through.
Kathi Olsen
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A well written multi-biography of Angelina Grimke Weld-abolitionist, Varina Howell Davis-President Jefferson Davis and Julia Dent Grant-Ulysses Grant. It's interesting to find out the differences and similarities between these three very different women. All of them grew up with a background of slaveholding and the reactions and attitudes of the three and how they either saw the brutality of slavery or denied it in their own lives.
Luna Bookish
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A very interesting and good look into the wives of a couple of the most known individuals during the civil war. It was interesting to have a peak into their lives before, during, and after the war and see if and how they supported their partners, but also if they felt the same as their husbands. In addition, you can learn about the efforts made by some of these women on their own. The writing itself is done very well and the extent of sources is encouraging.
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Civil War wives couldn't have been more engaging, challenging or informative; Carol Berkin proves, yet again, why she is rivalled only by Alan Taylor in the field of American history lit
Joseph J.
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 19th century history and presidential buffs
I bought this last November off of a street sale in front of Second Story Books in D.C. I had read the author's Wondrous Beauty, and this book was in Ron Chernow's bibliography of his GRANT. Here is the story of three strong yet different women, whose lives are defined by mid-19th. century America. I am from South Carolina and had heard of but knew little of abolitionist Angelina Grimke. Her life perhaps stands apart from the other two; she is independent and even radical and charts a course of ...more
Dec 28, 2010 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 t
Shawn Thrasher
Mar 18, 2011 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
  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 bett
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Oct 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 18, 2009 rated it liked it
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
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-books
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
Feb 09, 2010 rated it liked it
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. ...more
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