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  • Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861
  • Timothy J. Orr (bio)
Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861. By Kenneth W. Noe. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. 336. Cloth, $35.00.)

Kenneth W. Noe's Reluctant Rebels examines the wartime experiences of 180,000 Confederate soldiers who "resisted the siren call of glory in 1861" only to enlist during the second, third, or fourth years of the Civil War (2). The book isolates the experiences of these "later-enlisting" Confederates from the mammoth volume of literature on soldier motivation. Noe argues that "later enlistees" did not share the same motivations as the initial enlistees, nor did they share the questionable values of the substitutes and the draftees who served during the war's later months. Although later-enlisting Confederates supported secession, they generally enlisted to avoid the shame of being drafted or for state bounties to help their families. Post-1861 volunteers seldom described ideological convictions, instead affirming their devotion to family, property, and neighborhood. Noe disagrees with historians who have argued that these domestic sources of devotion strengthened Confederate soldiers' attachment to the ideological cause of secession, finding that fondness for hearth and home challenged—even weakened—later enlistees' patriotism. Yet Noe's "reluctant rebels" supported slavery as much as anyone in the rebel army, and they fought just as well as any seasoned veteran. Later-enlisting Confederate soldiers "hated the war above all, hoped for peace, and wanted to go home," but they still "marched, fought, killed, and died for the Confederacy on dozens of battlefields" (209).

Noe's sample of 320 Confederates who enlisted after 1861 is a diverse lot, a mix of officers and enlisted men, old and young, slave owner and non-slave owner, rich and poor, married and unmarried. The book includes a helpful appendix delineating the name, rank, regiment, age, household headship, marital status, occupation, and real and personal property value of each soldier. Noe's sample contains a heavy dose of older, [End Page 272] married enlisted men, a trend commonly found within this elusive category of Confederate volunteer.

The book is organized thematically, in chapters examining later enlistees' thoughts about patriotism, slavery, women, hatred of the enemy, pay, religion, comrades-in-arms, war weariness, and battle. Unlike the volunteers of 1861, later enlistees seldom mentioned the rhetoric of the American Revolution in their letters home. Neither did they express a fervent desire to uphold personal or sectional honor. Although later-enlisting Confederates tended not to discuss the politics of slavery, they agreed with most Confederate soldiers that slavery—and the racial hierarchy of the South—had to be preserved at all hazards. Motivated by the desire to protect the southern states from "Yankee vandals," reluctant Confederates feared that if Union invasions went unchecked, the South would be ravaged by a race war caused by emancipation. Hatred of Union soldiers formed an integral part of later-enlisting Confederates' initial motivations. Whereas hatred of the enemy was not an initial motivation for the volunteers of 1861, it grew out of wartime experience, forming a type of sustaining motivation. Significantly, reluctant Confederates' intense initial hatred may account for the Confederate army's longevity, and it may also explain why this class of volunteers fought on so defiantly. Reluctant rebels often enlisted due to desperate financial conditions, but as Noe explains, they drew a fine line between "need" and "greed." Like their compatriots, later-enlisting Confederates derided bounty jumpers and substitutes as a dreadful curse on the army.

Not unlike their 1861 comrades, later-enlisting Confederates appealed to religion, but faith served personal, charitable goals. God was a protector, not a slayer of their enemies, and reluctant Confederates seldom expressed religious devotion in revivalist ways. Comradeship, too, sustained later-enlisting Confederates just as it did for 1861 volunteers, but reluctant Confederates tended to possess a smaller circle of friends and cared more for their messmates than their larger units. When faced with the challenges of campaign and battle, later-enlisting Confederates complained frequently, but comparatively few of them succumbed to war weariness or deserted. Indeed, later enlistees could still be found in the...


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pp. 272-274
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