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ACW Book Review: Reluctant Rebels

By Ethan S. Rafuse
11/10/2017 • America's Civil War Magazine

Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army After 1861

by Kenneth W. Noe, University of North Carolina Press, 2010, $35

THE MEN WHO JOINED the Confederate Army in the final three years of the war have tended to get worse press than the hordes who frenetically followed the rage militaire that swept through the South at the beginning of hostilities in 1861. In his engaging new book Reluctant Rebels, acclaimed Civil War scholar Kenneth Noe gives those late-joiners some well-deserved credit.

Noe points out that the men who decided to fight for the Confederate cause after 1861 are often perceived as bounty jumpers and conscripts. But the soldiers whose letters and diaries he consulted for his study proved to be from neither of those groups, although Noe does note that financial concerns and the threat of conscription played a telling role in the decision of several to volunteer.

This is a compelling look at a group of men who were generally older than those who had joined earlier. These men were also less likely to espouse ideological or patriotic sentimentalities as their reasons for fighting—although it must be emphasized that most never doubted the virtues of slavery, the wickedness of the Yankees or that the fight for Confederate independence was worthy. Most, it seems, tended to be more concerned with practical matters. This of course meant that the Confederate government had to offer these men a little bit more so they would be willing to leave their homes and families.

Although the later enlistees were apt to grow tired of the war quicker, and were less physically able to perform well on the march or in battle, Noe argues that when the time came to fight they did so with equal courage and determination.

This superb study effectively engages previous scholarship and fills a neat niche in the literature.


Originally published in the January 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here

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