Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Private Confederacies

Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers

James J. Broomall
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469649771_broomall
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Private Confederacies
    Book Description:

    How did the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction shape the masculinity of white Confederate veterans? As James J. Broomall shows, the crisis of the war forced a reconfiguration of the emotional worlds of the men who took up arms for the South. Raised in an antebellum culture that demanded restraint and shaped white men to embrace self-reliant masculinity, Confederate soldiers lived and fought within military units where they experienced the traumatic strain of combat and its privations together--all the while being separated from suffering families. Military service provoked changes that escalated with the end of slavery and the Confederacy's military defeat. Returning to civilian life, Southern veterans questioned themselves as never before, sometimes suffering from terrible self-doubt.

    Drawing on personal letters and diaries, Broomall argues that the crisis of defeat ultimately necessitated new forms of expression between veterans and among men and women. On the one hand, war led men to express levels of emotionality and vulnerability previously assumed the domain of women. On the other hand, these men also embraced a virulent, martial masculinity that they wielded during Reconstruction and beyond to suppress freed peoples and restore white rule through paramilitary organizations and the Ku Klux Klan.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-4977-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On June 20, 1863, Commissary Sergeant Harrison Wells of the Thirteenth Georgia Infantry Regiment encamped along the banks of the Potomac River near the small hamlet of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Part of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s invading Army of Northern Virginia, he was preparing to cross the “Rubicon,” positioned on the “brink of the Union.” He did not miss the moment’s gravity. Writing to his fiancée, May “Mollie” Long, Wells reflected, “I think that we will certainly have the best of success this time; and I am pretty certain that this will be a glorious campaign for us.” Despite...

  2. CHAPTER ONE Words
    (pp. 12-31)

    The diary’s first page attempts to ward off prying eyes: “Dont read the contents of a page, For fear that you’ll provoke my rage.” A neatly penned sketch follows, replete with rifle, hunting bag, powder horn, and a cluster of slain birds.¹ So begins fifteen-year-old George Anderson Mercer’s diary, a fivevolume rec ord spanning the antebellum and postbellum eras. His short sentence, coupled with the vibrant image, reveals a contrasting engagement with a personal world of self-reflection and an outer realm of action. Mercer’s admonition demonstrates his desire to keep his personal rec ord private, while his sketch conveys his...

  3. CHAPTER TWO Soldiers
    (pp. 32-60)

    In early January 1862, Confederate private Ruffin Thomson composed a letter to his father, a physician and small planter in Mississippi, introducing him to army life. Moving from the material to the ethereal, he described the equipment, environment, and uncertainty that came with soldiering. He first noted how all the necessities of life were stowed away in a recently issued knapsack. The bag “holds our clothes—a good deal can be packed into one of them”; further, it could be deployed as an ersatz desk, as Thomson found out while writing his letter. The knapsack signaled an in de pen...

  4. CHAPTER THREE Battle
    (pp. 61-85)

    The men of the First Virginia Infantry, part of Confederate general James Kemper’s brigade, were positioned in a hollow. To their far front ran Cemetery Ridge, the center of the Union army’s line at Gettysburg. A host of Confederate cannon flanked them on either side. Some of the men, growing bored, sought amusement by tossing green apples at each other. “So frivolous men can be,” observed Captain John E. Dooley of the First Virginia, “even in the hour of death.” Firing soon commenced. Earth and sky seemed to “open and darken the air with smoke and death dealing missiles.”¹ Amusement...

  5. CHAPTER FOUR Demobilization
    (pp. 86-107)

    For many Americans, then and now, the surrender at Appomattox Court House marked the end of the Civil War.¹ On the carpeted floors of Wilmer McLean’s refined parlor, separately seated and accompanied by staff, Union general Ulysses S. Grant met with and accepted the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865. A stream of popu lar prints and paintings immortalized the moment. “The Appomattox prints,” writes one group of scholars, “intentionally or not, helped elevate Lee to a status not shared by any other figure of the Confederacy—that of a living symbol of reconciliation.”² The...

  6. CHAPTER FIVE Reconstructions
    (pp. 108-130)

    While imprisoned at Fort Delaware, Confederate brigadier general Rufus Barringer maintained a small, leather-bound diary. On April 10, 1865, he heard of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, noting feelings of both “great depression” and “mournful relief.” Fourteen days later he learned of Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender and exclaimed “Grapes!” He then dashed off the words “Prisoners to be released.”¹ Writing to his children in early June, Barringer noted that he had witnessed “many sad scenes” and much “suffering” but ultimately thanked “Our Heavenly Father” for protection. He promised that, once he was home, he would relate his experiences and share...

  7. CHAPTER SIX Violence
    (pp. 131-152)

    Writing to Randolph A. Shotwell—newspaperman, veteran, and Democrat—a Gaston County, North Carolina, Klansman related the order’s charge to him upon initiation. “My Brother,” he wrote, “you are one of our number” and “entitled to all the benefits of protection and other wise which belong to the order.” When he first joined, it looked like a “military organ ization,” and “every man was charged to furnish himself with a gun and pistol.”¹ In the Ku Klux Klan, white brotherhood met paramilitary vio lence. It was the fullest and most dangerous manifestation of Southern racism and a continuation of Confederates’...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-156)

    In 1893 George Anderson Mercer delivered a speech on the Georgia volunteer. In it he recalled the “gallant” actions of the First Georgia Regiment, which had “on many a stricken field displayed its constancy and courage.” Continuing, Mercer charged that “it does us good sometimes to catch the echoes of that eventful period” and recall how the drums of war had roused white Georgians from lethargy. Although mournfully recollecting the dead, Mercer also celebrated the Civil War and Confederates’ heroics.¹ Looking backward, he explic itly linked the state militia of the late nineteenth century to George Washington’s belief in “a...