Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility

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Overview


Well into the final months of the Civil War, countless Confederate soldiers earnestly believed that victory lay just around the corner. How could this be? Jason Phillips reveals the deeply ingrained attitudes that shaped the reality of these diehards not only during the war but in the subsequent era, when the myth of the Lost Cause was born.

Much is known about what Confederate soldiers fought for; far less is understood about why they fought on despite long odds and terrible costs. Drawing on soldiers’ letters and diary entries from 1863 to 1865, Diehard Rebels explains how religious dogma and perceptions of Union barbarity and ineptitude affirmed in many soldiers a view of an indomitable South. Within the soldiers’ closely circumscribed world, other elements reinforced convictions that the South was holding its own against great but surmountable odds. Close comradeship and disorienting combat conditions were factors, says Phillips, as well as conclusions drawn from images and experiences contradicting the larger reality, such as battlefields littered with enemy corpses and parade-ground spectacles of Confederate military splendor.

Troops also tended to perceive the course of the war in far-off theaters, the North, and overseas in positive ways. In addition, diehards were both consumers and conduits of rumors, misinformation, and propaganda that allowed them to envision a war that was rosier than the truth but still believable. Instead of crippling diehards after defeat, old notions of southern superiority helped them uphold southern honor. The central elements of Confederate invincibility fueled white southern defiance after surrender and evolved into the Lost Cause.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Diehard Rebels is a major contribution to the history of the Confederacy and the history of Southern culture. It offers an important corrective to the hindsight perspective that portrays an irreversible slide down the slippery slope of demoralization and defeat after the twin defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg."--James McPherson, author of This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War

"Phillips persuasively answers a Civil War mystery. Why did so many Confederates doggedly keep fighting when any rational observer would have recognized looming defeat? Examining a most impressive array of sources, he finds that religious faith, cheerleading propaganda, admiration of the officer class, hatred of Yankees, military discipline, bonding in the ranks, stubborn denial of the obvious were all factors. Phillips eloquently and poignantly recounts the deprivations and sacrifices that were endured in vain hope of eventual victory. Every Civil War student, both the professional and lay reader, will find Diehard Rebels highly moving and tragic."--Bertram Wyatt-Brown, author of The Shaping of Southern Culture

"An important contribution to Confederate historiography in that it provides insight into the Southern will in the waning years of the war."--Charleston Post and Courier

"Phillips makes a very good case for the diehards' importance and invites further work on comparable sentiment among civilians in the Confederacy."--Gary Gallagher, American Historical Review

"Well written and copiously researched in the diaries, letters, and other papers of Confederate soldiers as well as in the secondary literature."--Journal of Mississippi History

“Persuasive and richly documented. . . . Highly original and constitute[s] important new contributions to the study of Civil War soldiers. . . . [Phillips] has succeeded admirably in building on previous scholarship while forging ahead on a number of fronts.”--H-CivWar

"This fine work will be of interest to Civil War historians, although it speaks most directly to broader issues of nineteenth-century Southern culture. . . . Phillips’s bold case for cultural continuity should contribute insightfully to that seemingly endless debate. And, like most good studies, Diehard Rebels will prompt as many questions as it answers."--Journal of Military History

"Chapter by chapter, Phillips vividly constructs the pillars of the invincibility culture: religious justification; stereotyping of the enemy; optimistic outlooks on endurance and the immediate war; and a cloudy view of what it would take to end the conflict. He routinely offers insight into how these factors shaped Confederate mentalities and the broader war effort. . . . The combination of Phillips's engaging writing style and viable primary accounts makes Diehard Rebels a quick and delightful read for anyone interested in Southern culture, the Civil War, and the ways in which the two intersect."--North Carolina Historical Review

H-Net
[P]ersuasive and richly documented.... [H]ighly original and constitute[s] important new contributions to the study of Civil War soldiers.... [Phillips] has succeeded admirably in building on previous scholarship while forging ahead on a number of fronts.--(Paul Quigley, University of Edinburgh)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820328362
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272

Meet the Author


Jason Phillips is an associate professor of history at Mississippi State University. He has also taught at Texas A&M University.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: Southern Invincibility and Confederate Defeat 1
1 The Smile of Providence: Confederate Religion and Invincibility 9
2 The Mask of Cain: Enemy Images in Rebel Minds 40
3 Without a Murmur: Confederate Endurance and the Immediate War 76
4 Gray Grapevines: Rumors and the Distant War 116
5 The Face of Surrender: Diehard Rebels in 1865 147
Conclusion: The Aftermath of Invincibility 178
Notes 191
Selected Bibliography 231
Index 251
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 22, 2009

    A reviewer

    A mythos of invincibility was the source of the diehard experience of a significant proportion of Confederate military forces refusing to give up even though they suffered serious reversals and did not have the resources to ever overcome these. Decisive defeat at Gettysburg and Sherman's march through the South culminating in the capture of Atlanta were two such reversals coming after a couple of years of warfare during which the South had never managed to gain the upper hand despite some successes in early parts of the War. 'Elements that supported Confederate notions of invincibility--religion, stereotypes, combat, rumors, camaraderie, and more--formed the fabric of the diehard experience.' Phillips--assistant professor of history at Mississippi State U.--treats these different facets of this mythos of invincibility with cultural study of the Southern states, reading of historical circumstances, military analysis, and also letters, battle reports, and newspaper stories both feeding into the myth and subtly questioning it. Demonization of Northern troops played with a belief in the superiority of the Southern soldier. Rumors trumped facts, as when reports circulated that New Orleans had been retaken. Slanted or incomplete newspaper articles were seized upon as gospel. Confederate soldiers deified their generals and many generals and field officers developed strategies for prolonging combat as long as possible when a rational, objective assessment of circumstances would lead to the conclusion that defeat was inevitable. Phillips' book is engaging and illuminating for bringing together diverse material in support of his topic and in so doing, bringing out new perspectives on always interesting subjects such as cultural differences between North and South and the course of the Civil War.

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