Macaria, or, Altars of Sacrifice

By 1862 Augusta decided the strongest contribution she could make to the Southern cause was a new novel to rally supporters of the Confederacy to continue their fight.   The two heroines of the novel would be women ‘barred from the tented field’ who would nevertheless sacrifice themselves in order to achieve a Southern victory.   The finished novel, Macaria, is prefaced with a long dedication to ‘the Brave soldiers of the Southern army’ and includes a vivid battleground description based on letters Augusta had received from General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Augusta sent the manuscript to a Richmond publisher who printed it on wrapping paper.   Fidler reports that she also smuggled a copy to her publisher J.C. Derby in New York.  Unbeknownst to her, the book sold well in the North.  When she came to New York after the war seeking medical treatment for her brother Howard, who’d been wounded in the war, she was surprised when Derby gave her a handsome royalty check.  Fidler calls Macaria a work of propaganda, creating in its first two-thirds a romanticized view of the South that enlists the reader’s sympathy when the South is ‘invaded’ by Union troops toward the end of the book    General G.H. Thomas, who commanded a federal unit in Tennessee,  pronounced Macaria to be ‘contraband and dangerous’ and burned any copies he found.  

As always Augusta’s own passions are projected onto her heroines.  It is the way she stretched the imposed limitations on her sex that make her a notable figure in literary history.   Renowned scholar Drew Gilpin Faust, now president of Harvard University, wrote a compelling essay on Macaria published as a preface to a 1992 edition of the novel.  It can read here, courtesy of the LSU Press.    For Faust, as for Nina Baym, Macaria is the author’s strongest boldest portrayal of female independence, which Augusta, stung by criticism of her bold heroines, drew back from after the war.