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Southern Cultures 7.4 (2001) 100-103



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South Polls

Lay My Burden of Southern History Down

John Shelton Reed


The Confederate heritage appears to be of waning importance in the South, or--perhaps more accurately put--of importance to a dwindling number of southerners. In 1994 the Southern Focus Poll asked residents of the South and other Americans, "Did you have any ancestors living in the United States in 1860?" If the answer was yes, respondents were asked, "Did any of your family fight in the Civil War?" If the answer to that question was yes, they were asked, "Which side did they fight for--for the Confederacy, for the Union, or did members of your family fight on both sides?"

Twenty-nine percent of southerners indicate that their ancestors did not fight [End Page 100] in the war, and 43 percent don't know whether they did or not. Only a quarter of southern respondents believe that they had ancestors in the war--and nearly a third of those have ancestors on both sides or only on the Union side. Nonsoutherners are even less likely to have ancestors in the Civil War, primarily because more of them are descended from postwar immigrants.

Percentage with Ancestors
in the Civil War
CSA Both Union Didn't Fight Not in U.S. Don't Know

South Total 18 4 4 11 18 43
Nonsouth Total 4 3 8 13 29 42

Overall, 22 percent of southern respondents report ancestors who fought for the Confederacy (18 percent with only Confederate forebears and another 4 percent with ancestors on both sides). This figure rises to 26 percent among those respondents who consider themselves southerners and to 28 percent in the Deep South (SC, GA, AL, MS, and LA) and among life-long residents of the region. It is also higher (27 percent) in nonmetropolitan areas than in cities, and higher among those over forty-five-years old (30 percent vs. 19 percent of those under that age). Among the standard demographic categories, only college graduates display a percentage of Confederate descendents that exceeds one-third (34 percent), a relatively high level that reflects a decrease in "don't know" responses as education increases. Not surprisingly, only 3 percent of black respondents report Confederate ancestors.

When asked "Can you name any Civil War battles, right off hand?" southern and nonsouthern respondents display equally high levels of ignorance, although southerners are more likely to mention some battle other than the Union victory at Gettysburg.

Percentage Who Named a
Civil War Battle
Gettysburg Other Can't Name

South Total 24 33 44
Nonsouth Total 34 25 41

When asked what the conflict was about, majorities of both southern and nonsouthern respondents agree that it was "more about slavery than it was about states' rights or any other issue," although southern respondents are slightly more likely to disagree strongly. [End Page 101]

Percentage Who Believe the
Civil War Was About Slavery
Strongly Agree Somewhat Agree Somewhat Disagree Strongly Disagree Don't Know

South Total 28 24 17 20 11
Nonsouth Total 28 26 22 16 8

In the South, the overall percentage of disagreement--37 percent for the entire sample--is higher for life-long residents of the region (40 percent), whites (37 percent vs. 22 percent for blacks), men (45 percent vs. 30 percent for women), those over forty-five (41 percent), and those with incomes of $60,000 a year or more (46 percent). Only among college graduates do more respondents disagree (50 percent) than agree (40 percent) that the war was primarily about slavery.

The poll included two "mirror-image" questions, each asked of half the sample, which tapped respondents' attitudes toward a hypothetical Confederate ancestor:

"If I had an ancestor who fought in the Confederate Army, I would be proud that he fought for what he thought was right."

Percentage Proud of a Hypothetical
Confederate Ancestor
Strongly Agree Somewhat Agree Somewhat Disagree Strongly Disagree Don't Know

South Total 58 28 4 4 6
Nonsouth Total 53 27 4 4 12

"If I had an ancestor...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 100-103
Launched on MUSE
2001-11-01
Open Access
No
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