The Confederacy may have relied on the skill of its officers, but it depended completely on the will and loyalty of the soldiers in the ranks. Often ill-disciplined, these men were the heart and soul of the Southern cause.
The average Confederate soldier was rather more like the average Union soldier than he ever would have admitted. He came from a rural, middleclass background, was young, usually unmarried, with some formal education to a point, but strongly versed in his society's values. He was a Christian, but prejudiced against others not like him. He gambled and swore, but his religious beliefs generally kept these habits from overwhelming him. He drank when liquor was available, though it was mostly out of the reach of the rank and file. He griped all the time, about the lack of rations, the stupidity of officers, the weather, and long marches. But these gripes merely filled the time and did not reflect a deep-seated animosity against his situation; he was simply acting as soldiers have from the time of the armies of the Pharaohs. He went into the army sure of victory, an attitude that was reinforced in the early years when indeed it seemed every battle ended in Confederate success.
Yet there were also real differences between soldiers on the opposing sides. Kevin Ruffner's study of Marylanders who became junior grade officers in both armies demonstrates how the sides differed. He found that Marylanders who became Confederate officers were generally well-educated, from families that traced their roots to the colony's founding. They rarely had a working background, either skilled or unskilled. Marylanders who became junior officers in the Union Army tended to earn their livings as farmers or laborers, skilled or unskilled, with a lower educational standard. Many were not born in Maryland, a slave state, but rather came originally from neighboring Northern states. It was a war, in Maryland at least, of aristocrats against the working and middle classes. Once at war, Union Marylanders stuck with the job, even though they found it boring at times. Confederate Marylanders, on the other hand, having gone South