Septima Levy Collis was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1842. She married Charles H. T. Collis of Philadelphia in 1861. He joined the 18th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment at the start of the war and returned to Philadelphia to form a company known as the Zouaves D’ Afrique. Despite her southern sympathies, Collis supported her husband and accompanied him throughout the war. Her memoir, A Woman’s War Record, recounts her experiences at the front lines as well as social life away from camp, including the time she met President Abraham Lincoln. Of particular note are her struggles to reconcile being the sister of a Confederate soldier and the wife of a Union officer. She wrote:
My brother, David Cardoza Levy . . . was about this time killed at the battle of Murfreesborough . . .This was the horrible episode of the civil war to me, and although I had many relatives and hosts of friends serving under the Confederate flag all the time, I never fully realized the fratricidal character of the conflict until I lost my idolized brother Dave of the Southern army one day, and was nursing my Northern husband back to life the next.
Collis’ experiences were far from unique. During the war, families were divided from loved ones for a myriad of reasons – whether ideological disagreements, geographical separations, or the strain of war itself. Numerous accounts, both published and private, document the distress, helplessness, and emotional turmoil that families often felt as the result of these challenging circumstances.
I Recall the Experience Sweet and Sad: Memories of the Civil War
January 6-March 30, 2012