Ladies and the Home Front
During the four long years of war, Southern women were expected to boost morale despite the scarcity of food and material items, skyrocketing prices, threats on their homes by Union troops, separation from husbands, sons and brothers, and the loss of loved ones through battles and disease. The Choice Was Gray includes many home front scenes, especially in the Confederate capital of Richmond.
Ladies tried to maintain some ante-bellum customs through such devices as starvation parties (in which no food was served), Mosaic Clubs (in which members discussed art, music, books and such), and gatherings where volunteers made socks, bandages and other items for troops in the field. All of these activities gave them chances to band together for social interaction.
Throughout the war, ladies also showed a special compassion in caring for the wounded. Early in the war, these often were taken into Richmond homes for nursing and recovery.
The novel’s main character, Will Cross, becomes aware of these various contributions through his relationships with two lovely Richmond women. Tommie Brantlett, a true Southern belle, gives Will insights into the city’s high society, while Melissa Redding, from a more modest family, shows him another side of life in the Confederate capital. Spending time in Richmond during active duty in 1862-65 and during a long furlough in 1864 also reveals to Will the difficulties facing civilians. And during a notable Christmas Day spent with the Redding family in 1864, Will sees how wartime conditions affect the holiday traditions and celebrations in old Virginia.
Interaction with women was a constant desire of soldiers, who relished contact of any sort. Letters from wives, sweethearts and acquaintances were a prized part of a soldier’s life. Invitations to formal or informal parties, concerts, and drama productions involving contact with women were much sought after. And, of course, there were always bawdy houses that provided another type of relationship with women for many soldiers. All of these elements figure into The Choice Was Gray.