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Why Confederates Fought

Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia

Aaron Sheehan-Dean

Publication Year: 2007

Sheehan-Dean challenges earlier arguments that middle- and lower-class southerners gradually withdrew their support for the Confederacy because their class interests were not being met. Instead he argues that Virginia soldiers continued to be motivated by the profound emotional connection between military service and the protection of home and family, even as the war dragged on. The experience of fighting, explains Sheehan-Dean, redefined southern manhood and family relations, established the basis for postwar race and class relations, and transformed the shape of Virginia itself. He concludes that Virginians' experience of the Civil War offers important lessons about the reasons we fight wars and the ways that those reasons can change over time.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Civil War America


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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Introduction: Choosing War

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pp. 1-10

Despite the massive volume of writing on the American Civil War, one of the fundamental questions about it continues to bedevil us. Why did nonslaveholders sacrifice so much to build a slave republic? Nonslaveholders’ commitment...


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1 Building the Plain People’s Confederacy: January–June 1861

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pp. 13-38

Between 1861 and 1865, almost 70 percent of Virginia’s white men between the ages of fifteen and fifty served in Confederate forces. Calculating the figure using only those sections of Virginia controlled by the Confederacy...

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2 A Nation of Their Own: July 1861–March 1862

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pp. 39-62

Virginians had barely grasped the idea of secession and the prospect of building a new nation when they flung themselves into war. Tens of thousands of Virginia men volunteered in April, May, and June, and these new soldiers...


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3 The Ardor of Patriotism: April–July 1862

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pp. 65-86

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...

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4 War in Earnest: August–December 1862

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pp. 87-110

The battles on the Peninsula shifted the momentum of the war away from the Federals who had initiated the campaign to the Confederates who ended it. Lee began moving his army north, first through central Virginia and then into Maryland...

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5 The Family War: January–December 1863

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pp. 111-138

As the Civil War entered its third year, military fortunes and home front conditions assumed a curiously inverted relationship. At the start of 1863, the Federal army was recovering from its debilitating defeat at Fredericksburg...


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6 The Cost of Independence: January–June 1864

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pp. 141-164

In 1864 a renewed battle for control of Virginia occurred. The Union army, after following Lee’s army back into northern Virginia in mid-1863, camped on the north bank of the Rapidan River. The battles of 1864 all took place south of this point...

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7 The Fall of the Confederacy: July 1864–March 1865

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pp. 165-188

Virginia Confederates started the second half of 1864 in their weakest military position since the war began. Although they had inflicted massive casualties on Grant’s armies, they had suffered immensely. The Overland campaign cost Lee’s army 33,000...

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Epilogue: Swallowing the Elephant: Toward the New South

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pp. 189-196

The Federals opened a coordinated attack on Petersburg from all directions in the early morning of April 2, and Lee retreated to avoid complete destruction. With the loss of Petersburg, Richmond lay undefended. Confederates...

Appendix: Methodology

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pp. 197-200


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pp. 201-254


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pp. 255-284


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pp. 285-291

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605203
E-ISBN-10: 1469605201
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807831588
Print-ISBN-10: 0807831581

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Civil War America
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Peter S. Carmichael, Gettysburg College; Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia; Caroline E. Janney, Purdue University; and Aaron Sheehan-Dean, West Virginia University See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 658004298
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Why Confederates Fought

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Virginia -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects.
  • Soldiers -- Virginia -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Soldiers -- Family relationships -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Families -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Nationalism -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Social classes -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • War and society -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Virginia -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Nationalism -- Confederate States of America -- History.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects
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