Aurelia Archibald, a Southern widow, and her four daughters are all that remain on Archibald Plantation when it is taken over by Union forces. Expecting Northerners to be heartless brutes, they are confounded when the Yankees treat them courteously. The villain of the piece – actually a villainess – is the beautiful but treacherous Gardenia Galsworthy. She is determined to save her plantation from destruction by revealing to the Yankees where the Archibalds have hidden their jewels. Little does she realize they are also hiding Beauregard Burnside, a Confederate soldier who has been separated from his unit. The jewels pass from place to place with Gardenia hot on their trail. Beauregard is also concealed in one place after another -- the linen closet where his fingers get smashed in the door, behind the draperies where his feet get stepped on, to finally wearing ladies garments over his uniform! And the Yankees continue to miss him. All ends happily, and somewhat romantically, when a courier arrives with news that the war ended the day before!
PLAYWRIGHT JOAN SWEEN TALKS ABOUT
I wrote several full-length melodramas at a time when I was working with a summer repertory theatre that always included a melodrama as comic relief to some of its more serious productions. My goal in writing was simply to give an audience a fun time. I hope I achieved that. I know I, myself, still get a giggle out of SOUTHERN SURRENDER. I think the moment when Col. Struthers pulls the female-disguised Lt. Beauregard Burnside onto his lap is a laugh-out-loud situation. In productions I have seen of the play, every Gardenia has been different and deliciously villainish.