Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War: Class and Dissent in Confederate Georgia by David Williams, Teresa C. Williams, R. David Carlson
This compelling and engaging book sheds new light on how planter self-interest, government indifference, and the very nature of southern society produced a rising tide of dissent and disaffection among Georgia's plain folk during the Civil War. The authors make extensive use of local newspapers, court records, manuscript collections, and other firsthand accounts to tell a story of latent class resentment that emerged full force under wartime pressures and undermined southern support for the Confederacy.
More directly than any previous historians, the authors make clear the connections between the causes of class resentment and their impact. Planters produced far too much cotton and avoided the draft at will. Speculators hoarded scarce goods and brought on spiraling inflation. Government officials turned a blind eye to the infractions of the rich, and were often bribed to do so. Women left to go hungry took matters into their own hands, stealing livestock in rural areas and rioting for food in every major city in Georgia. The hardships of families back home weighed heavily on soldiers in the field, contributing to rampant desertion.
Deserters banded together, sometimes with draft dodgers and blacks escaping enslavement, to defend themselves or to go on the offensive against Confederate authorities. Some whites even planned and participated in slave resistance, a joining of forces that previous historians have long dismissed as highly improbable. So violent did Georgia's inner civil war become that one resident commented, "We are fighting each other harder than we ever fought the enemy."
This work stresses more forcefully than any before it that plain folk in the Deep South were far from united behind the Confederate war effort. That lack of unity, brought on largely by class resentment, helped to ensure that the Confederacy's cause would, in the end, be lost.