A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868

A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868

A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868

A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868


Historians often assert that Confederate nationalism had its origins in pre-Civil War sectional conflict with the North, reached its apex at the start of the war, and then dropped off quickly after the end of hostilities. Anne Sarah Rubin argues instead that white Southerners did not actually begin to formulate a national identity until it became evident that the Confederacy was destined to fight a lengthy war against the Union. She also demonstrates that an attachment to a symbolic or sentimental Confederacy existed independent of the political Confederacy and was therefore able to persist well after the collapse of the Confederate state. White Southerners redefined symbols and figures of the failed state as emotional touchstones and political rallying points in the struggle to retain local (and racial) control, even as former Confederates took the loyalty oath and applied for pardons in droves.

Exploring the creation, maintenance, and transformation of Confederate identity during the tumultuous years of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Rubin sheds new light on the ways in which Confederates felt connected to their national creation and provides a provocative example of what happens when a nation disintegrates and leaves its people behind to forge a new identity.


It sometimes seems that the Confederacy is more alive today than it was in the 1860s. Conflicts over its imagery and symbols—its flags, its leaders, its memorial culture—have been almost constant over the past several years. These battles are all arguments about the meaning of the Confederacy, about the relevance that it has or does not have today. Each side tries to use history in its service, with the argument most often devolving into an “it was about slavery … it was about state rights,” back and forth, neither side listening to the other, each side convinced it is right. But the question still remains: what did it mean to be Confederate in the 1860s? The men, women, and children who considered themselves Confederate during the 1860s created a nation, believed in it, saw that nation disappear, and reallied themselves with the United States. The identity that they created as Confederates outlasted the Confederacy itself.

This book explores the myriad strands of ideology and identity that made up the Confederacy and shows the complexity and texture of people’s attachment to their nation as an ideal, a state, and a memory. It is concerned with the experiences and ideas of those Southern whites who supported the Confederacy. Therefore, it excludes Unionists and African Americans from its analysis of nationalism and identity. While I have made an effort to be as specific as possible, the word “Southerner” should be taken to mean “white Southerner who supported the Confederacy.” This population dominated the discourse over nationalism and identity during the 1860s.

Confederate identity and nationalism were constructed out of a combination of institutions and symbols. But, contrary to what we have thought, the construction or creation of Confederate nationalism was not a difficult problem. The speed with which white Southerners, many of them staunch Unionists through the election of 1860, shed their American identity and picked up a sense of themselves as Confederates was startling. Southern whites embraced the idea of a Confederacy with a minimum of backward glances. Where Confederates struggled, and where the growing pains of their new national identity are most visible, was in building an institutional framework for the nation. Thus each challenge to the national government —whether it came in the form of political squabbling, class resentment, or desertion—was perceived as a crisis of almost epic proportions. Problems . . .

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