Title page for ETD etd-52997-225557

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Paxton, James W. B. Jr.
Author's Email Address jpaxton@vt.edu
URN etd-52997-225557
Title Fighting for Independence and Slavery: Confederate Perceptions of Their War Experiences
Degree Master of Arts
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Robertson, James I. Jr.
Wallenstein, Peter R.
Shifflett, Crandall A. Committee Chair
  • Republicanism
  • Civil War
  • Confederate States Army
  • Confederate soldiers
  • Desertion
Date of Defense 1997-06-19
Availability unrestricted

Fighting for Independence and Slavery:

Confederate Perceptions of Their War Experiences


James Paxton


It is striking that many white southerners enthusiastically went to war in 1861, and

that within four years a large number of them became apathetic or even openly hostile

toward the Confederacy. By far, nonslaveholders composed the greatest portion of the

disaffected. This work interprets the Confederate war experience within a republican

framework in order to better understand how such a drastic shift in opinion could take


Southern men fought for highly personal reasons--to protect their own liberty,

independence, and to defend the rough equality between white men. They believed the

Confederacy was the best guarantor of these ideals. Southerners' experiences differed

widely from their expectations. White men perceived the war as an assault against their

dominance and equality. The military was no protector of individual rights. The army

expected recruits to conform to military discipline and standards. Officers oversaw their

men's behavior and physically punished those who broke the rules. Southerners believed

they were treated in a servile manner. Legislation from Richmond brought latent class

tensions to the surface, making it clear to nonslaveholders that they were not the planters'

equals. Wives, left alone to care for their families, found it difficult to live in straitened

times. Increasingly, women challenged the patriarchal order by stepped outside of

traditional gender roles to care for their families.

Wartime changes left many men feeling confused and emasculated. Southerners,

who willingly fought the Yankees to defend their freedoms, turned against the

Confederacy when it encroached upon their independence. Many withdrew their support

from the war. Some hid crops from impressment agents or refused to enlist, while others

actually or symbolically attacked the planter elite or deserted.

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