There are many movies and television showsthat use projection of modern sensibilities into period dramas. As, for example, showing a sensitive, metro-sexual “man” somehow also being a medieval knight who does not rape and plunder, but is kindly to those who are not gentle folk.
In this Age of Obama, where everything seems couched in whites-bad, blacks-victims and thus good terms, the recent stupidity over Confederate symbols was perhaps the logical result of a similar projection. Kind of like the “four legs good, two legs bad” from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Only this time it is, “Confederate (fill in the blank: flags, symbols, voiced support of honorable fighting men) bad, white guilt and reparations good.
Having lived in the South most of my life, my sense is that there were many, if not most, who fought for the South who believed they were defending their homeland against aggressive invaders. To wit, the Yankees, and not Derek Jeter’s bunch. They fought with honor, and came close to prevailing. That the Confederacy lasted four years against the overwhelming industrial superiority of the North speaks to their will and fighting spirit.
We can’t know what the typical Confederate soldiers might have thought they were fighting for. It is clear that upholding slavery was at least one of the war aims of Confederate leaders. This sentiment was likely shared by a significant proportion of the officer corps, who were much more likely to be from slave-holding families.
Of the enlisted men, it’s probable they had a no large stake in slavery’s continuation, or would have given it much thought at all.
While it seems now to be received opinion among the bien pensant class that the Civil War was primarily if not solely about slavery, it was firstly about the right of each state to chart its own destiny. That this included the right to own human beings as property may horrify our modern sensibilities, as it surely does mine. But in the middle of the 19th century, I suggest that far too much of the world considered chattel slavery merely the way things were.
Were the Confederates wrong to use state’s rights in the service of a heinous wrong? Of course. But let’s resist the temptation to recast mid-Nineteenth century events through Twenty First century sensibilities.