What a fall was there--my country ruined!: confederate soldiers and Southern society, 1861-1880 Public Deposited

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  • October 10, 2018
  • Williard, David C.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation traces the paths that former Confederate soldiers took in attempting to reclaim control over their personal lives and reconstitute their relationship to southern society at large in the aftermath of the Civil War. Participation in the war gave men status, purpose, a sense of worth in the eyes of their families and white southern society at large, and investment in a collective endeavor. Defeat shattered Confederate soldiers' self-image and led soldiers to doubt the purpose of their sacrifices, to believe that hardships came unequally, and to question whether their society had any right to determine the status of men whose experiences it did not understand. At the war's conclusion, the links of ideology and experience that had bound Confederate soldiers and civilians together stood largely broken. The consequences of this division became evident in the postwar South. While white southerners still agreed on certain widely held beliefs, they no longer possessed a collective entity through which to mobilize their disparate individual goals in pursuit of social action. Fighting in a prolonged, destructive war had given Confederate soldiers experience with living outside the bounds of peacetime civil society and inured them to many of its conventions. Civilians asked soldiers to submit to both legal and social mores that initially failed to account for their wartime experiences. Moreover, the process of Confederate defeat had brought new material and political power to women and African Americans. For young men raised to dominate their surroundings as well as their racial and sexual subordinates, defeat had destabilized the core foundations of selfhood. Because their understanding of what it meant to be a white man required them to wield power within their homes, communities, and society at large, former Confederates had to either regain control of radically changed worlds or find alternate ways to structure their identities.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Barney, William
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2012

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