Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Rable: "DAMN YANKEES!: Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South"

[Damn Yankees!: Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South by George C. Rable (Louisiana State University Press, 2015). Hardcover, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:141/201. ISBN:978-0-8071-6058-9. $38]

It should surprise no one that a wartime society will seek to garner popular support for its cause by dehumanizing the enemy while at the same time extolling its own spotless virtues. The intensity is only enhanced during wars of direct conquest and national survival like the Confederacy's bid for independence. George Rable's Damn Yankees!: Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South is the first specialized study of extreme anti-northern rhetoric during the Civil War.

In Damn Yankees!, Rable uses newspaper editorials, speeches, and government proclamations as well as private diaries and correspondence to explore both the depth of hatred engendered by the war as well as the breadth of common southern rhetorical targets and themes. To many Confederates, Union officers and men were cowards on the battlefield and beasts off it, thieving masses more interested in murder, rape, plunder and arson than in conducting honorable warfare. Unlike the more pure Confederate soldiery, federal ranks were filled with the offscourings of Europe. Antebellum religious schisms were mined for effect, with the Confederate home front portrayed as victims of northern "Puritan" fanatics bent on destroying southern religious practices and other domestic institutions like slavery. When these supposedly inferior enemies started to actually win the war, southern partisans changed tack, emphasizing the pitilessness and overwhelming numbers of the foe. Rable closely studies the emotionally charged anti-Yankee epithets employed by embittered Confederates and how they were fueled by a violent mixture of extreme exaggeration, truth, half-truth, and falsehood.

Used to viewing their own society in terms of racial differences and hierarchies, diehard Confederates used similar language in promoting the idea that the northern and southern "races" were incompatible. It was feared that Union war policy was aimed not only at the destruction of the Confederacy but also the political and social elevation of ex-slaves over the white population (with race war as a component) and the mass confiscation of southern property to pay the northern war debt. Much like partitioned Poland, the South would assume the status of a conquered colony. It would be completely at the mercy of federal army garrisons, vengeful blacks, carpetbaggers, and scalawags. The byword that best encapsulated Confederate fears was "subjugation" and the appropriate response hatred and vengeance.

Given that there are at least two sides to every conflict, critics of Rable's study might reasonable argue that a comparative examination of northern and southern rhetoric would have made for a more fruitful exercise. Such a process may or may not have strengthened the author's assertion in his introduction that northern attacks "never grew as intense as Confederate attempts to define and vilify their enemies." (pg. 4). Rable's belief that widespread Confederate demonization of the North stiffened resistance and lengthened the war is impossible to test but seems likely as one factor among many. The author also perceptively notes that this degree of ingrained hatred could not be turned off like a switch and the resultant animosity profoundly affected Reconstruction and relations between the sections for decades.

This level of extreme rhetoric could also backfire, creating unnecessary levels of fear and panic on the home front. Rable glides over the possibility, and he does also mention the small minority of Confederates that believed the abusive language went too far, but the degree to which vilification of the enemy harmed the Confederate cause itself might have merited more attention in the book. One of the clearest and most common examples of this was the widespread abandonment of plantations and small farms ahead of advancing Union armies, actions that only intensified the level of destruction. Arriving soldiers tended to assume that absent homeowners were of the arch-Confederate persuasion. Owners that stayed in their homes were indeed frequently robbed, threatened, and their dwellings burned during the war but it does seem that, on balance, their mere presence just as often saved private property from the type of wanton mass destruction visited upon abandoned houses and estates.

Regardless of its one-sided nature, Damn Yankees! offers many useful insights into the rhetorical directions, uses, effects and long-term consequences of Civil War propaganda.

More CWBA reviews of LSUP titles:
* Citizen-officers: The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War
* Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness
* The Enigmatic South: Toward Civil War and Its Legacies
* Corps Commanders in Blue: Union Major Generals in the Civil War
* Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863
* Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln
* Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi
* Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War
* Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory
* Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland
* Granbury's Texas Brigade: Diehard Western Confederates
* The Last Battle of the Civil War: United States Versus Lee, 1861-1883
* Confederate Guerrilla: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia
* Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Freedom and Security
* War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914
* Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator
* Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865
* Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War
* Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War
* John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal
* A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou Country: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General
* Bleeding Borders: Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas
* Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era
* Where Men Only Dare to Go Or the Story of a Boy Company, C.S.A.
* Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks
* Walker’s Texas Division, C.S.A.: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi
* The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles
* A Crisis In Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor, And The Army Of The Trans-Mississippi
* The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock

1 comment:

  1. I will get this book!! But for several years now, with help of Google digitized newspapers and other digitized sources, I find the MOST amazing things.

    When you say "Southern cause" we drift right by that term as if it's one that's so well known, we need not clarify it. Actually we should not have to clarify it, because Southern leaders at the time proudly and loudly clarified what they meant -- and their actions went in lockstep. It was not until AFTER the South lost that all kinds of excuses and double talk changed what most people thought of as "Southern cause".

    I tend to believe the Southern leaders boasting at the time, because over time, repeatedly, clearly, loudly, proudly, with approval from the other Southern leaders, reiterated in their own books, War Ultimatums, newspapers, and documents. All of which I had to find, rather by happenstance, while reading Southern newspapers speeches and documents at the time.

    This book will be especially interesting, because I expect to see post war what they used as after the fact justification, vs what they bragged about so proudly and clearly, before the war.


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