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1 Introduction James Paul Verdery of the Forty-Eighth Georgia Infantry got into position . It was about eight o’clock in the morning on 30 July 1864. He and the rest of the men in Mahone’s division could barely load their rifles before the Union forces stormed over their breastworks. The Federals kept charging, but Verdery and his comrades would not retreat in the face of the attacking “Niggers.” “As fast as they came over the Bayonet was plunged through their hearts & the muzzel of our guns was put on their temple & their brains blown out,” Verdery wrote his sister, describing the infamous Battle of the Crater. Using explosives placed far below the Confederate trenches, Northern forces blew a hole in the Rebel lines 170 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. “The ground in the center was invisable to the eye owing to the many dead & dying Blacks piled upon one another,” Verdery wrote. Once the Rebels stopped the Federals, they crushed the heads of Union wounded with rifle butts. “Well dear Sister,” Verdery concluded, “I have witnessed a truly Bloody Sight a perfect massacre nearly a Black Flag fight.” The Crater battle was not one of the bloodiest engagements of the war, but it was one of the most vicious. The brutality of the fighting had its roots in the long-standing animosity between Southern whites and blacks—the one group fighting for a slaveholding republic, the other for Union and freedom for those still held in bondage.1 In a war that erupted over the future of slavery in North America, the Confederate army served as the shield and sword of the peculiar institution . Slavery ended only after four years of bloody conflict in which more than 260,000 white Southern troops died.2 The war did not end because of Confederates guilt,3 and it did not end because Southern whites believed human bondage an inefficient and outmoded economic system. Nor did it end because of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Slavery marching masters 2 ended because the North defeated a Confederacy that would not abandon human bondage without war. To understand slavery during the Civil War, historians must explore its role in the lives of Confederate soldiers. This work examines slavery’s role in the creation of both Confederate identity and Confederate war strategy. In the first instance, slavery and men’s desire to protect a “white man’s government” played a central role in the formation of the Confederacy . Southern troops had a complex relationship with slavery, both ideologically and in their day-to-day interactions. On the one hand, slavery was an abstraction, a subject of argument, and one that many Southerners loudly defended against abolitionists. On the other hand, whether or not one was a member of the master class, slavery created intimate, though not necessarily benign, relationships between whites and blacks. In the second instance, that of Confederate war strategy, I show that the Rebel army’s reliance upon, and protection of, slavery had a profound effect on military strategy. From the invasion of the border states in 1862 to acquire more slave territory, to the 1862 “Twenty Slave Law,” to slave impressment, to the refusal of Confederates to recognize black troops as prisoners of war, the army worked to assure the protection of slavery. This book adds to the corpus of studies that combine military and social history as a means of understanding Rebel troops. The first scholarly monograph on the Confederate soldier was written by Tennessee-born Bell Wiley. In The Life of Johnny Reb, published in 1943, Wiley examined the lives of the Confederacy’s “common” troops while placing them in a modern war context. Grunts in World War II could have found much in common with Wiley’s soldiers—the long campaigns far from home, bad food, longing for loved ones, and the joys of recreation. The Life of Johnny Reb, however, does not focus on Confederates’ political convictions, let alone their views on slavery. Wiley’s view of Southern history was not a whitewashed one. His first monograph had been Southern Negroes, 1861–1865. But these first two books were as segregated in subject matter as the Jim Crow South in which he lived. Wiley himself was a liberal Democrat who eventually denounced racial injustice, but Wiley’s Confederates do not seem to have fought for a nation dedicated to perpetuating slavery. “Yanks and Rebs were far more alike than not,” Wiley claimed in a...


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