Précis

Phipps, Sheila R. Genteel Rebel: The Life of Mary Greenhow Lee. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004. John C. McKnight October 21, 2008 Sheila R. Phipps book, Genteel Rebel: The Life of Mary Greenhow Lee, is a biography of a southern woman during the nineteenth century, focusing on the Civil War period of her life. By completing a ridiculous amount of extensive research using numerous primary and secondary sources, like Mary Greenhow Lee’s journals, multiple manuscript collections, government documents and publications, newspapers, books, articles, and dissertations, Phipps gives the reader a detailed account of Mary Greenhow Lee’s South before, during, and after the Civil War. She uses the life of Mary Greenhow Lee, from her childhood in Richmond, Virginia to her death in Baltimore, Maryland, to explain the social changes for woman during this period of time (wartime). Phipps argues that Mary Greenhow Lee was a genteel rebel. She did grow up in the South as a polite “Southern Lady” through the “code of honor” of gender relations in the South, but she used this concept to her advantage. She used it as her weapons and as a way to fight in the rebellion against the Union. Through this Phipps is able to create a picture of how southern woman responded to the Civil War and how southern woman had to take on more responsibility during the war. Phipps begins by explaining how Mary Greenhow Lee grew up. She gives a background of Lee’s father to explain that she grew up in a wealthy, privileged household in Richmond, Virginia. For example, “the physical setting…Mary Jane Greenhow [Lee]…gave her beginnings an atmosphere of wealth, power, responsibility, and prestige.”1 This provides the reader with the “genteel” part of Lee’s upbringing. She then goes on to explain her childhood “wild kicks.”
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Page 31.

This is a recollection of the mischief that Lee was part of growing up and shows the beginning of a rebel. For example, “she willfully resisted circumstances that tired, bored, or intimidated her.”2 This provides the reader with the “rebel” part of Lee’s upbringing. Both are the characteristics that fuel her do to what she does during the Civil War. Phipps goes on to explain how Lee’s widowing added to the development of her strong character. She explains how “with the death of her father began two decades of loss in Mary Greenhow’s life, forcing her to draw upon all the spirit and fire her character could provide.”3 Mary Greenhow loses many close relatives before and during her marriage and eventually loses her husband. She never remarries, although she did not have any children, and from the loss of her husband to her death she becomes the provider for her family of nieces, nephews, and later on during the war Confederate soldiers. Phipps refers to this part of Lee’s life to show how she developed such a strong character from having to take on these responsibilities. Phipps provides an explanation of Lee’s upbringing and strong character development to help demonstrate how Lee utilizes these characteristics to her advantage during the Civil War. She explains how the only thing that was consistent during the Civil War for Winchester, Virginia (Lee’s residence after her marriage to Hugh Lee and during the majority of the Civil War) was change. For example, Phipps explains that Winchester’s occupation “changed hands…and flags…thirteen times.”4 Through the numerous primary sources Phipps used, mainly Lee’s Civil War Journal, she was able to explain how this genteel rebel was not fazed by the multiple occupation changes and stayed loyal to the Confederacy throughout the war. She did so by the only way she could, provided she was a woman and could not pick up a gun and fight, by manipulating the Union soldiers and generals in order to provide physical and mental damage to
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Page 32. Page 53. 4 Page 111.

the Union army. She explains how Lee fought both a physical and mental fight during the Civil War. The physical fight consisted of any aid she could provide for “her” soldiers; this is what she called her “soldier work.” This “soldier work” consisted of providing food, hospital care, boarding Confederate soldiers, sewing uniforms, running an underground mail service and building up a contraband store for her army. The mental fight on the other hand consisted of Lee using her social and gender ideologies against the Union soldiers. She would use these ideologies to get out of things such as boarding Union soldiers and having her house searched for contrabands. Phipps uses all of these examples to show how woman during the Civil War played a more active role than people would think. For example, she states: “she also provides a more complex perspective, suggesting that woman were much less passive in their war efforts than even their own words may…express.”5 Phipps goes on to explain that General Phillip Sheridan eventually banishes Lee and her nieces from Winchester. She explains, even though the exact reason for their banishment was never stated, Lee felt that “her banishment was a direct result of the social and gendered warfare she waged against the northern army.”6 This is what leads Lee to eventually residing in Baltimore, running a successful boarding house, and eventually passing. Sheila R. Phipps has completed an extensive amount of research and in doing so has provided the public with an extraordinary piece of literature depicting a woman response to the Civil War and her reasons her consistent allegiance to the Confederacy. The book has a great flow and provides the reader with consistent footnotes. Phipps creates a picture of Civil War Virginia by giving the biography of a southern woman whose rebellious nature against the social

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Page 174. Page 198.

standards of the nineteenth century allowed her to fight the war in her own way eventually turned into a woman who wanted to preserve the ways of the South.

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