When Confederates Came Marching Home: Jason Phillips on Southern Veterans and Reconstruction

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Jason Phillips. Image courtesy of West Virginia University.
Jason Phillips. Image courtesy of West Virginia University.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Jason Phillips, the Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University. He is the author of Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and the editor of Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). He is currently at work on a second book, Civil War Looming: A History of the Future, which examines how Americans anticipated the Civil War and how those prophecies ultimately shaped their experiences and memories of the war.

CWI:  What obstacles—physical, emotional, political, social, financial, cultural—did the Confederate veteran face upon returning home, and how did he seek to deal with them? In what ways did Confederate veterans’ expectations of returning home match with the reality of the homecoming experience, and in what ways were they unprepared for or confounded by the realities of their homecoming?

PHILLIPS: As your question suggests, defeat stared Confederate veterans in the face in every facet of their lives. Failure was a physical, emotional, political, social, financial, and cultural fact that confronted and confounded returning rebels. Patrick Gilmore’s song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” encapsulated how Confederates anticipated their homecoming. Communities would welcome returning heroes with fanfare. Church bells would peal with joy. Reality mocked such dreams. But if Confederates were unprepared for defeat, they were also unprepared for federal leniency. Many rebels expected the government to punish treason. The Confederate rank and file didn’t fear personal imprisonment or execution, as their generals and political leaders did, but they dreaded disfranchisement, confiscation of property, and a prolonged military occupation of the South. What happened was far less severe, and that federal leniency in 1865 emboldened Confederate veterans to resist Radical Reconstruction years later.

Confederate veterans reunion, Little Rock, AR, 1911. Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Confederate veterans reunion, Little Rock, AR, 1911. Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

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Sons of our Founding Fathers:  Men of Renowned Lineage and the American Civil War

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

Political dynasties have always occupied a strange spot within the democracy of the United States. Though the argument is frequently made that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant, and that it is only the ability of a person which propels them through society, it is foolish to ignore the effects that a name can have how a person is judged by society—for better or worse. In the decades following the Revolution, when the descendants and fortunes of the Founding Fathers were still easily identifiable, this was especially true. When you possessed a name like Washington or Adams while their memory was still fresh in the young nation, you stood in the shadow of heroes.

Many descendants of the founders were thus member of what is often viewed as an aristocratic class in mid-19th century society. They lived on the plantations of the South and in the big cities of the North, inheritors of their ancestors’ wealth, social status, and political respect. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, they could have easily chosen to watch the conflict play out from the sidelines. After all, they frequently possessed the means to either avoid the draft or find no benefit to service altogether. Patriotism, though, motivated them beyond any economic interest: the desire to save their country from an existential threat. With the blood of revolutionary heroes flowing through their veins, and possessing perhaps a democratic equivalent of noblesse oblige, the decedents of the founders went to war. An illustrious name, however, would not necessarily grant them great success on the battlefield, as they soon discovered. Continue reading “Sons of our Founding Fathers:  Men of Renowned Lineage and the American Civil War”