Understanding The Confederate Soldier

Born Fighting- How the Scots-Irish Shaped America
Captain James Webb, USMC (retired)
Excerpts of Chapter 4
Attack and Die

The War………….was not a contest of equals…..The Union
outnumbered the Confederacy [in all ‘war fighting’ categories]…but
the South was superior to the north in the intensity of its warrior ethic….

That warrior ethic, which would carry the outnumbered and outgunned Confederacy
a very long way, came from long traditions of service that had begun so many
centuries before in Scotland and the north of Britain. The Confederate battle
flag itself was drawn from the St. Andrew’s Cross of Scotland and the
unbending spirit of the Southern soldier found its energies in the deeds of
the past just as strongly as it looked up to the leaders of the present. These
were the direct descendants of William Wallace’s loyal followers of five
centuries before, Winston Churchill’s “hard-unyielding spear men
who feared nought and, once set in position, had to be killed.”

……Those Confederate soldiers…..had one inspiration that twentieth
century America has not credited to them-the rigorous Revolutionary [War] tradition…..Many..Southern
soldier told himself the road was no more stony than the one that had carried
his father and grandfather at last to Yorktown….

But not only the Revolutionary War spirit drove them. As I wrote of the Scots-Irish
tradition in my novel Fields of Fire, the culture even to this day is viscerally
fired by “that one continuous linking that had bound father to son from
the first wild resolute angry beaten Celt who tromped into the hills rather
than bend a knee to Rome two thousand years ago, who would…chew the bark
off a tree, fill his belly with wood rather than surrender from starvation and
admit defeat to an advancing civilization. That same emotion passing with the
blood: a fierce resolution that found itself always in a pitch against death,
that somehow, over the centuries came to accept the fight as a birthright, even
as some kind of proof of life.

…The Confederate Army rose like a sudden wind out of the little towns
and scattered farms of a still unconquered wilderness……….the
Great Captains called, as they had at Bannockburn and King’s Mountain,
and the able-bodied men were quick to answer……It saw 90 percent
of its adult population serve and 70% of those became casualties… [a rate
more than twice as great as the north]…..The men of the Confederate Army
gave every ounce of courage and loyalty to a leadership they trusted and respected,
then laid down their arms in an instant-declining to fight a guerilla war-when
that leadership said enough was enough…And….they returned to a devastated
land and a military occupation, enduring the bitter humiliation of Reconstruction
and an economic alienation from the rest of the country that continued for a
full century, affecting white and black alike.

…..The Civil War, we are taught, was about slavery, ….the Union
on the side of God and the angels……..The Union Army, we are reminded
again and again even in these modern times, marche to a “Battle Hymn,”
‘As He died to make men holy, Let us fight to make men free, His truth
is marching on…..’

By implication, the soldiers of the Confederacy were with the forces of darkness
and evil….But the truth is, as always, more turgid, and to understand
it one must go to the individual soldier. Why did he fight? ….the odds
are overwhelming that he did not own slaves at all………

[The Southern soldier] was…one of the world’s very finest fighting

It is impossible to believe that such men would have continued to fight against
unnatural odds-and take casualties beyond the level of virtually any other modern
army-simply so that 5% of the population who owned slaves could keep them or
because they held to a form of racism so virulent that they would rather die
than allow the slaves to leave the plantations. Something deeper was motivating

….the more learned among these Confederate soldiers, like their political
leaders, believed strongly that the Constitution was on their side when they
chose to dissolve their relations with the Union…….the states that
joined the Union after the Revolution considered themselves independent political
entities…….and in their view the states had thus retained their
right to dissolve the federal relationship…

This argument was best articulated by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of
the Confederacy. Vernon Louis Parrington,….actually supported the constitutional
validity of Stephen’s views………..[he summarized Stephen’s
argument]: “that state governments existed prior to the Union, that it
was jealously guarded at the making of the Constitution, that it had never been
surrendered, and hence wa the constitutional order until destroyed by the Civil

In a fourteen-hundred page document that the Illinois born, Kansas-raised,
Harvard educated Parrington characterized as “wholly convincing,”
Stephens laid out the South’s view that the constitutional compact was
terminable. Parrington went on to comment that, “Stephens rightly insisted
that slavery was only the immediate casus belli. The deeper cause was the antagonistic
conceptions of the theory and functions of the political state [that emerged
between the sections].

…..the Confederate soldier fought because, on the one hand, in his view
he was provoked, intimidated, and ultimately invaded, and, on the other, his
leaders had convinced him that his was a war of independence in the same sense
as the Revolutionary War…..This was not so much a learned response to
historical events as it was a cultural approach that had been refined by centuries
of similar experiences. The tendency to resist outside aggression was bred deeply
into every heart—and still is today.

Rome conquered Britain and tried to subjugate its people, but the “brave
and proud” fell back to the mountains of what later became Cornwall, Wales,
and especially Scotland. King Edward marched into Scotland to subjugate its
people, but he was resisted and ultimately expelled…..The British sent
an expedition into Appalachian Mountains to punish and lay waste to whole communities
not supporting the Crown, and their predictable reward was to be stalked, surrounded,
and slaughtered. And now a federal government, whose leadership and economic
systems were dominated by English-American businessment and intellectuals, was
sending armies to compel them to remain inside a political system that their
leaders had told them they had every right to reject.

[In honoring the Confederate soldier we do not honor slavery] we honor courage,
as well as loss…[and devotion to the call of duty]….

The lesson regarding the [deaths of so many Southern fighting men]….is
far more complex than those who simplify his service into racial slogans wish
to make it. He and his fellow soldiers took an oath and then honored the judgment
of their leaders, often at great cost. Intellectual analysis of national policy
are subject to constant reevaluation by historians as the decades roll by, but
duty is a constant. Duty is action, taken after listening to one’s leaders
and weighing risk and fear against the powerful draw of obligation to family,
community, nation, and the unknown future. We, the progeny who live in that
future, were among the intended beneficiaries of those frightful decisions made
so long ago. As such, we are also the caretakers of the memory, and the reputation,
of those who performed their duty-as they understood it-under circumstances
too difficult for us ever to fully comprehend. No one but a fool-or a bigot
in their own right-would call on the descendants of those Confederate veterans
to forget the sacrifices of those who went before them or argue that they should
not be remembered with honor…..[to tar the sacrifices of the Confederate
soldier as simple acts of racism, and to reduce the battle flag under which
he fought to nothing more than the symbol of a racist heritage, is one of the
great blasphemies of our modern age…..]

…..the bulk of the Confederate Army, including most of its leaders, was
Scots-Irish while the bulk of the Union Army and its leadership was not…..Confederate
generals of Scots-Irish descent dominated the battlefield….Robert E. Lee’s
[mother was of Scottish ancestry], and it was widely reported that [Lee] was
a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce, the victor at Bannockburn.

The end result was that on the battlefield the Confederacy, whose culture had
been shaped by the clannish, leader-worshipping, militaristic Scots-Irish, fought
a Celtic war while the Union, whose culture had been most affected by intellectual,
mercantile English settlers, fought and entirely different manner. At bottom,
the northern army was driven from the top like a machine…..by contrast,
the Southern army was a living thing emanating from the spirit of its soldiers
– …The Southern Army was run like a family, confronting a human crisis.

One learned commentator professed that, “Southerners lost the war because
they were too Celtic and their opponents were too English.” But in actuality
the reverse was true. The South lasted for four horrific years with far fewer
men, far less equipment, far inferior weapons, and a countryside that was persistently
devastated as the Leviathan army worked its way like a steamroller across its
landscape. It is fair to say that the Confederate Army endured as long as it
did against such enormous odds because it was so wildly and recklessly Celtic
that it did not know when to stop fighting. And its opponents pressed steadily
on to win, and in its aftermath sowed the seeds for a century of hatred and
resistance, because in a sense they were so English that they thought victory
on the battlefield was the equivalent of conquering a region—and, more
important, a culture.

They were wrong, of course. The end result of this war was not to conquer a
culture, although the South as a region would suffer enormously for another
70 years. Instead, the war’s horrendous aftermath drove so many people
of Scots-Irish descent outward, to the north and west, that their core values
became the very spirit of a large portion of working-class America.

Copyright 2006 – Fayette Publishing, Inc.

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