Southern Soldier Boy



Something for the weekend.  The Southern Soldier Boy (1863).


Union troops writing home would often mention that Southern women were much more outspoken in support of the Confederacy than Southern men and far more bitter to the Union than them.  I think that those Southern women would have taken that as high praise!  The Confederacy lacked almost everything when it went to war, except brave men and braver women.  Stephen Vincent Benet noted this in his epic poem of the Civil War, John Brown’s Body:


This view may be reckoned a trifle narrow,
But it had the driving force of an arrow,
And it helped Mary Lou to stand up straight,
For she was gentle, but she could hate
And she hated the North with the hate of Jael
When the dry hot hands went seeking the nail,
The terrible hate of women’s ire,
The smoky, the long-consuming fire.
The Yankees were devils, and she could pray,
For devils, no doubt, upon Judgment Day,
But now in the world, she would hate them still
And send the gentlemen out to kill.

The gentlemen killed and the gentlemen died,
But she was the South’s incarnate pride
That mended the broken gentlemen
And sent them out to the war again,
That kept the house with the men away
And baked the bricks where there was no clay,
Made courage from terror and bread from bran
And propped the South on a swansdown fan
Through four long years of ruin and stress,
The pride–and the deadly bitterness.




Published in: on August 27, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. I was brought up on Benet. He’s been unjustly relegated.

    The bravery of southern soldiers in their rebellion — and in every other war Americans have fought — is beyond argument. The plaques honoring the WWII dead at my undergraduate university bore witness to that.

    Why did a society as rich and innovative as the South’s lack the tools to successfully secede? The answers are to be found in Alexander Stephens’s ‘Cornerstone Speech’. I’ve long argued it is the most important of the era.

    First, as Stephens says, the rebellion was centered on the preservation and territorial expansion of slavery. The South’s dependence on a workforce that had little interest in its cause’s success undermined the South’s efforts. The South’s ferocious support of their cause had much to do with the threat of slave revolts, a bloody shirt waved for generations.

    But more importantly, Stephens illustrates why the Confederacy ‘died of democracy’, Jacksonian Democracy. The South’s relative inferiority in infrastructure was a feature of its politics, not a flaw — until it became a fatal one.

    In different guises, Stephens’s cornerstone remains as vital today as it was in 1861.

    • Interesting. My own thoughts about the failure of the South to prevail tends to echo those of Shelby Foote:

      The power disparity was too great for human valor to overcome.

      Now there was a chance up until the election of 1864 that the North would tire of the struggle and “let the erring sisters go in peace”.

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