Monday, July 13, 2009

Just finished reading - Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility by Jason Phillips

Professor Jason Phillips of Mississippi State University has written one of the best books that I have read in quite some time. In this work Phillips examines why many Confederate soldiers continued to not only battle on, but keep the faith that the South would eventually triumph, despite the serious reverses from mid-1863 to the end of the war.

Phillips's work in primary sources from archives all across the South is quite impressive. His look into the lives of soldiers fighting it out in the trenches of Petersburg and Atlanta especially reveal the Southern soldiers' desire to return home (and many did), but why they stayed and fought and believed they would win until they were surrendered by their commanders.

Phillips credits evangelical religion as being the number one motivator in keeping Confederate soldiers confident that they would prevail. Despite enormous losses in territory and manpower, Southern soldiers believed that God was on their side and would reward them for their suffering and religious faithfulness. When setbacks did occur, they believed they were being chastised by God for their shortcomings and repented at massive revivals held in the camps.

The Federal army's system of total war also contributed to the Confederate soldiers' efforts to stay the course. By applying to Union soldiers, what Phillips refers to as the "Mask of Cain," they believed that such wanton destruction and unconventional warfare would not be blessed by God, and would also turn wavering Southern civilians to greater resistance and enlistments.

Rumors too figured into the Confederate sense of invincibility. When rumors of success emerged, however false or insignificant they eventually proved to be, they seemed to bolster flagging confidence and spurred greater effort and belief in "the Cause."

Seeing the numerous deaths by wounds and sickness also caused many Confederate soldiers to soldier on. Many soldiers believed that they had been through too much not to see it all the way through. They had lost so many comrades and suffered so much, that to many, to desert late in the war was unhonorable and unthinkable.

Time after time, Phillips shows that Southern soldiers expressed their hopes and dreams of an independent nation in which they would make their own laws and handle their own issues without the influence of prying Yankees. When those hopes and dreams were finally smashed at Appomattox and Durham Station they carried those dreams with them into Reconstruction and beyond. Many Confederates who had suffered and sacrificed so much couldn't think of giving in to Federal authority without a fight on some level...even after the war was over.

Diehard Rebels is a book for both the serious and amatuer student of the Civil War. We all seek a better understanding of what the war meant to the men who fought it, and Phillips has shown what at least some thought and fought for...and against.

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