Sunday, May 15, 2011

H-Net's Civil War Reviews: Power, Politics and Reluctant Rebels

Kenneth W. Noe. Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861. Civil War America Series. Chapel Hill University of North Carolina Press, 2010. 320 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-3377-3.

Both Books Reviewed by Robert Kenzer (University of Richmond) Published on H-CivWar (February, 2011) Commissioned by Matthew E. Mason

Excerpt: Kenneth W. Noe's book continues the rich scholarly tradition of examining groups that demonstrated behavior varying from the norm. Noe is curious about the 180,000 men (22.5 percent of all Confederate soldiers), what he terms "reluctant rebels" or "later enlisters," who entered Confederate service between 1862 and the war's conclusion. His study is based on a sample of 320 later enlisters whose letters and diaries reveal their motivations.

Noe identifies basic statistical characteristics of these later enlisters. He finds that they were "slightly older" at the time of enlistment than the vast majority of those who had already joined and that about half of them were already married (p. 14). Two-thirds were from landholding families and about two-fifths from slaveholding families. Three-fifths were engaged in farming and one-fourth were professional men (especially teachers, clerks, merchants, and doctors). Therefore, collectively they appear to be twice as likely to have been "professional men in various white-collar occupations," but half as likely to be skilled laborers compared to all members of the Confederate army. Significantly, they do not completely fit James M. McPherson's description as "nonslaveholding Southern married farmer[s] with small children" as Noe discloses that half were simply too young before 1862 to serve.

These later enlisters' words reveal five aspects of their motivations. One, since very few, perhaps only one-tenth, expressed words supporting nationalism or defending liberty as major factors for entering the army, Noe concludes that "the ideological concerns that motivated the recruits of 1861 do not seem to have stirred most later recruits" (p. 37). Two, he notes that only 2.5 percent suggested that slavery was a reason why they fought--though virtually none criticized the institution. Three, they did not enlist because of feminine pressure; in fact, they were much more likely to delay entering the military because of it. Four, sentiments of hatred of the enemy, while surely present, did not dominate among them as only 17.2 percent cited Union invasion motivating their service. Five, very few mentioned enlisting for money or the fear of conscription.

The second half of Noe's book focuses on the role of religion, camaraderie, and war weariness. Noe finds relatively few later enlisters participating in the Confederate army revivals as most "remained oriented toward home and focused on a personal relationship with God" (pp. 142-143). Indeed, he suggests, "later enlisters still hesitated to let go of the spiritual center their homes had recently provided" (p. 143).

Stephanie McCurry. Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South. Cambridge Harvard University Press, 2010. 456 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-04589-7.Excerpt: Stephanie McCurry investigates the unexpected consequences of the Confederacy--particularly in regard to white women and slaves. She stresses how the Confederate government was forced to deal with both groups in ways unanticipated at the war's outset.

McCurry identifies "a reconfiguration of Southern political life"
when "white women emerged into authority and even leadership on a range of issues at the heart of popular politics in the Civil War South" (p. 135). By late 1862 and into 1863, it became clear that the war would not be of short duration and that the absence of so many small farmers was devastating the welfare of their families, causing many women, particularly soldiers' wives, to write and petition government officials pleading that their basic needs be met.

These "women's collective identification as soldier's wives," she explains, represented "a broad political reimagining" to which the government had to respond or face dire consequences (p. 145). This "distinctly Confederate development," she asserts, "represented a significant rerouting of power and authority on the home front, and, at least for the duration of the war, a striking realignment of state-citizen relations" (pp. 153, 163).

Full Text of Reviews: H-Net Civil War

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