The Sexual Justice in the American Civil War Project is the first comprehensive study of the response of the Union military to allegations of sexual assault against women and girls by soldiers and civilians during the American Civil War (1861–1865). In the summer of 1998, we began investigating how the Union military prosecuted crimes of sexual assault. Using Union court-martial records housed in the papers of the United States Judge Advocate General (Record Group 153, National Archives and Records Administration) in Washington, DC, we transcribed the complete testimony of more than two hundred trials, creating the first digital archive of this valuable historical material. We also transcribed the military service records and other relevant documents concerning each alleged assailant and recorded demographic data about each plaintiff. We have also written and presented six conference papers and made several presentations at local colleges. We have written an encyclopedia article on rape in the Civil War, an essay in a collection concerning the impact of Union occupation on southern women, Occupied Women (2012), and a chapter in Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones (2011).
We received funding from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation on two occasions. In 2005 we received a grant for expenses related to the purchase of microfilm and to field research we undertook to contextualize our research. Our approach to contextualization was three-pronged. First, we developed a historical context for the military cases by examining the ways in which civilian courts in Tennessee and Philadelphia treated accusations of rape and sexual assault in the antebellum period. Second, we intended to develop a broader procedural context by exploring the Union Provost Marshal General’s records in the National Archives. We did not undertake this research until 2006, supported by a second grant from the Foundation. Third, we collected data from ninety-three additional courts-martial cases that we identified at the National Archives. These cases represent clear instances of gender crimes although they are not necessarily sexual crimes. Teasing out the differences between these two types of offenses is an important facet of our developing definition of mid-nineteenth-century rape and sexual assault.
Teasing out the differences between these two types of offenses is an important facet of our developing definition of mid-nineteenth-century rape and sexual assault.
The two grants from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation were indispensable in conducting this research, particularly the field research and, closer to home, our ability to hire student assistants to work with us at the National Archives. The hands-on research experience these grants afforded our students was an added, and not insignificant, benefit of the funding.