Peculiar defeat: Warfare and the Confederate culture of invincibility
Phillips, Jason Kyle
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
Located at the crossroads of cultural, military, and southern history, this dissertation uncovers the cultural values, wartime perspectives, and psychological constructions that convinced many Confederate soldiers they would win the American Civil War. A host of elements, including evangelical religion, abstractions of the enemy, disorienting combat conditions, wishful rumors, and masculine ideals, sustained troop morale by promising ultimate victory in return for endurance against worsening circumstances. Using soldiers' letters and diaries written during the war's final sixteen months (January 1864--May 1865), this study shows how the cognitive and emotional supports for Rebels' confidence withstood successive setbacks but ultimately collapsed when events impinged upon their reality and ended the world they fought for. In addition to soldiers' writings, the sources range from camp songs and cartoons to sermons and editorials. This work also applies sociological theories on the spread of rumors to recapture the troops' perceptions and borrows psychological premises about cognitive dissonance to discern how troops received and adjusted to surrender. Looking beyond the Civil War, this thesis informs scholarship on masculinity, nationalism, Reconstruction, and postwar memory. The seeds of postwar defiance and Lost Cause mythology germinated in Rebels' experiences as hardened soldiers who had convinced themselves they could not be conquered by northerners and blacks. Faith in the invincibility of their arms, valor, and cause---convictions seared into the mentalities of thousands of white southern men during their formative years---did not die with surrender but shaped their peculiar postwar identity as unconquered losers. Undaunted by capitulation, white southern men continued their military struggle in the social and political theaters of Reconstruction.