War Fought and Felt: The Influence of Interpersonal Relationships on Confederate Soldier Motivations in the American Civil War
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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When white Southern men initially marched off to war, they took with them masculine and martial ideals that undergirded their romantic notions of war and the importance of their service. Soon, the astonishing brutality and bloodletting of the war broke men and eroded the stoic and self-reliant masculine ideal. Soldiers turned to their comrades, their wives and sweethearts, and their children for emotional strength and support. Those individuals provided an emotional bulwark for Confederate soldiers which helped buffer the corrosive effects of war on soldier morale, self-worth, and even national identity. Furthermore, they kept the soldier tethered to his humanity and often kept him from losing his sense of self and individual identity within large Civil War armies. This dissertation argues that the American Civil War represented an emotional and masculine epoch in the history of Southern men, one that compelled them to both receive and express intimacy with their families and comrades on a level which ran contrary to the prevailing pre-war cultural dictates. It does so specifically by examining three major concentric rings of human relationships ranging from the least to the greatest level of intimacy: friendship (relationships between soldiers), familial relationships (primarily between soldier-fathers and their children), and romantic relationships (between husbands and wives, or beaus and sweethearts). It is based on the careful study of 1,790 letters exchanged between 200 soldiers and 366 family members, fifteen friends, and seven sweethearts. Primary sources also provide a statistical analysis of the number of expressions of emotion, descriptions of battle, religious declarations, inquiries and references to children, and expressions of ideology, in order to understand what was most prevalent and most important to the common soldier. This dissertation finds that contrary to prevailing historical assumptions, Confederate soldiers were very emotionally expressive. As the war progressed, they did not seem concerned with maintaining the masculine ideal of emotional stoicism. Confederate soldiers expressed emotion or affection over twice as much as they made inquiries or references to their children, four times more than they made religious declarations, eleven times more than they provided descriptions of battle, and nineteen times more than they expressed ideology or spoke of duty. Furthermore, the primary source base for this dissertation provides written historical evidence from periods during and after the war and compares these sources with the more common historical interpretation of white Southern males during the war. During the period of Reconstruction, the emotional stoicism, rigid patriarchy, and desire for dominance that pervaded the masculine consciousness in the years leading up to the war made a virulent reappearance, one that would forever alter the course of the United States.