Monday, May 23, 2022

Booknotes: Lost Causes

New Arrival:
Lost Causes: Confederate Demobilization and the Making of Veteran Identity by Bradley R. Clampitt (LSU Press, 2022).

The return of ex-Confederate soldiers traumatized in mind and body to a devastated homeland after unconditional surrender was a profoundly challenging mass transition unique in American history, both unprecedented up to that time and not repeated since (thankfully). Bradley Clampitt's Lost Causes: Confederate Demobilization and the Making of Veteran Identity "examines the state of mind of Confederate soldiers in the immediate aftermath of war." Specifically focused on that key adjustment, the book "analyzes the interlude between soldier and veteran, suggesting that defeat and demobilization actually reinforced Confederate identity as well as public memory of the war and southern resistance to African American civil rights."

More from the description: "Intense material shortages and images of the war’s devastation confronted the defeated soldiers-turned-veterans as they returned home to a revolutionized society. Their thoughts upon homecoming turned to immediate economic survival, a radically altered relationship with freedpeople, and life under Yankee rule―all against the backdrop of fearful uncertainty."

Clampitt recognizes the challenges that sources written after the war offer when it comes to accurately identifying attitudes and beliefs from the period under consideration. However, in the author's own words, he "embraces the opportunity" to use wartime and postwar source writings for both content and comparison. One sees this process immediately in the book's first chapter, which examines the mindset of Confederate soldiers around the time of surrender using both types of sources to reveal both "consistencies and discrepancies" between accounts written during and after the war.

Subsequent chapters look at the system of demobilization (to include the parole process along with feeding and transportation), prominent themes/patterns that emerged during the journey home, and the chaos of demobilization embodied in the "lawless summer of 1865." The final chapter explores the events of homecoming and the initial priorities and challenges involved in rebuilding shattered lives and communities.

All of this went into the establishment of a Confederate veteran identity "forged in war (and) based upon shared suffering and sacrifice, a pervasive commitment to white supremacy, and an aversion to Federal rule and all things northern."


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  2. Drew: I will probably pick this up as I enjoyed his book on the Union occupation of Vicksburg. This book sounds like it intersects with topics covered in Caroline Janney's recent fine Ends of War book, which I read recently. Certainly not uncommon for Civil War historians to be working on the same topic at the same time. John Sinclair

    1. Indeed it does. He brings up Janney's book quite a bit in the intro.


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