Friday, June 22, 2007

CWL --- Commitment: Battlefront vs. Homefront

The Army Is Not Near So Much Demoralized as the Country Is: Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Home Front, Lisa Laskin, in The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, A. Sheehan-Dean, editor, Kentucky UP, pp. 91-121, notes.

“Commitment to Confederate war aims, a common feeling of superiority over the enemy, and pride in their army, and its leadership contributed to the ANV soldiers’ unity and high morale . . . until the last days of the war,” and the single greatest persuasive argument for desertion came from the home front. Laskin’s review of “of soldiers contemporary writings about their relationships with Southern civilians illuminates” a paradox. “The people to whom soldiers looked for emotional support, also proved to be the group most capable of sabotaging soldier morale.” (pp. 91-92)

Women’s patriotism served the Confederacy. Early in the war, civilian animosity towards those who had not quickly enlisted intimidated young men. This goading provided reinforcement to the Southern war effort. In the patriarchal worldview of Dixie women embodied home and sacrifice. Their vulnerability motivated soldiers forward on the march to victory. Southern notions of honor included the protection of families from both the invading Northern barbarians and rebellious and revengeful slaves.

The author of this essay has found a discrepancy between soldiers’ idealization of women’s patriotism and their obvious hostility to the southern soldier. She cites incidents in Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina from Southern soldiers’ papers that reveal that civilians did not welcome their presence. Also, the spring of 1863 food riots in the urban South drew the attention and comments of Rebel soldiers who “uniformly disparaged the rioters as a lawless, marauding mob incited by foreigners.” (p. 101)

In soldiers' writings, three types of homefront attitudes were particularly disturbing: the avoidance of military duty, wartime profiteering, and rising tide of despair coming from homefront letters. By the war’s end, soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia concluded that they alone were the final repository of honor in the Confederacy. The author notes that the thousands of ANV deserters have not been heard.

In the middle of reading the essay, this reader wondered what Gary Gallagher thought about Laskin’s notions. The final page of the essay takes into consideration Gallagher’s work on the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate homefront. Laskin states that “the ANV’s impressive battle record helped boost the spirits of the folks at home, but it could never entirely overcome the inherent friction in soldier-civilian relations.” Laskin concludes that “soldiers’ commitment to the war—or at least to seeing the job through—was in stark contrast to the wavering commitment of those at home.” (p.111)

Help Note: This chapter can be obtained by using your local library's inter-library loan services or by contacting me.

1 comment:

darnedslacks said...

Your exhaustive treasury of Civil War archives is fantasitic. Thank you for allowing others a view of all of your hard labor!