Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia

By Aaron Sheehan-Dean | Go to book overview

3 THE ARDOR OF PATRIOTISM
APRIL-JULY 1862

This war is a horrid thing, & though I shall devote my life & honor to the cause of
my country, still I would be very glad to see peace come… As it is I see only a
protracted struggle ahead, that many of us will not see the end of, & yet I try
always to think that I will live to see success crown our holy cause
.

—John Meems, 11th Virginia Infantry, April 3, 1862

By late April 1862, the uncertainties and problems generated by the enactment of the Draft Act receded as a new campaign season dawned. Virginia Confederates took solace from the belief that this would be the last year of war, if indeed the war lasted the whole year. Some men resigned themselves to a longer conflict, enlisting for the unspecified term “for the war” but always with the expectation that victory would come in one form or another. Many Confederates anticipated foreign recognition, hoping that Britain and France would bestow the legitimacy upon Confederate nationhood that Abraham Lincoln refused to concede. During 1862 Confederates gathered psychological sustenance from their military victories even as their physical sustenance drained out of them. With victories in battles around Richmond, in the Shenandoah Valley, on the now-hallowed battleground at Manassas, and from the heights above Fredericksburg, morale soared among eager and resolute Confederates. But all these battles, and those that did not go as planned, like the September invasion of Maryland, imposed massive casualties and consumed valuable resources upon which all Virginians depended.1

As the war grew longer and more intense, Confederate soldiers thought more deeply about the purposes and goals of their new undertaking. The early commitment of Virginia Confederates to fight through the bloody year of 1862 drew on several distinct but complementary sources of inspiration. Institutional factors played an important role, with soldiers continuing to favor a more democratic and responsive army, and with Confederate leaders promoting a new nation that promised to serve the interests of all southerners. The sustained presence of Federal troops in the state, their increasingly direct attack on slavery, and the rumors about the atrocities they committed fueled a sense of revenge that sustained many soldiers. Soldiers’ interest in

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