Cornelia Peake McDonald, A Woman's Civil War: A Diary, with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862, ed. Minrose C. Gwin (New York: Gramercy Books, 2003), 3-4.
For McDonald, history is what happens “inside the house.” Her story is, in fact, about the trauma that occurs when the domestic sphere, traditionally a safe place, is disrupted and destroyed by the forces of history – when women and children are put out of their houses and have nowhere to go. At the same time, McDonald’s ingenuity and tenacity in the face of that trauma reflect women’s capacity to recreate for themselves and their children safe places, albeit temporary ones, in the face of danger and despair. Reading McDonald’s writings about her own experience in the Civil War therefore leads us to consider the gendered nature of autobiography and the ways in which women’s life-writings can transform our understanding of history.