Fighting for Independence and Slavery: Confederate Perceptions of Their War Experiences


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Virginia Tech


It is striking that many white southerners enthusiastically went to war in 1861, and that within four years a large number of them became apathetic or even openly hostile toward the Confederacy. By far, nonslaveholders composed the greatest portion of the disaffected. This work interprets the Confederate war experience within a republican framework in order to better understand how such a drastic shift in opinion could take place.

Southern men fought for highly personal reasons--to protect their own liberty, independence, and to defend the rough equality between white men. They believed the Confederacy was the best guarantor of these ideals. Southerners' experiences differed widely from their expectations. White men perceived the war as an assault against their dominance and equality. The military was no protector of individual rights. The army expected recruits to conform to military discipline and standards. Officers oversaw their men's behavior and physically punished those who broke the rules. Southerners believed they were treated in a servile manner. Legislation from Richmond brought latent class tensions to the surface, making it clear to nonslaveholders that they were not the planters' equals. Wives, left alone to care for their families, found it difficult to live in straitened times. Increasingly, women challenged the patriarchal order by stepped outside of traditional gender roles to care for their families.

Wartime changes left many men feeling confused and emasculated. Southerners, who willingly fought the Yankees to defend their freedoms, turned against the Confederacy when it encroached upon their independence. Many withdrew their support from the war. Some hid crops from impressment agents or refused to enlist, while others actually or symbolically attacked the planter elite or deserted.



Republicanism, Civil War, Confederate States Army, Confederate soldiers, Desertion