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Letter From Civil War Times - January 2008

Originally published on Published Online: November 15, 2007 
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What brought about the defeat of the Confederacy? For many years the prevailing theory was fairly simple: The Confederacy lost by a force of arms, beaten down on battlefields such as Shiloh?(see P. 30) by numerically superior Union armies.

But historians started to revisit that argument in the 1990s. Some contended that the Confederacy ultimately failed because of a lack of will, that open dissatisfaction on the Southern home front signaled a loss of public enthusiasm for the conflict and began to erode support for the war. Supporters of that view point to events such as the 1863 bread riots in cities such as Richmond, Atlanta and Mobile and the content of countless letters—usually written by wives encouraging their husbands to desert and return home to tend the farm—as examples of widespread discontent.

In the November/December 2007 issue of Civil War Times, we published an article by Jason Phillips that countered this belief. The so-called Diehard Rebels he wrote about refused to be swayed by military losses and hardships, much less letters from home, and they had no interest in laying down their guns even when all the signs pointed to the Confederacy's inevitable doom.

We present another viewpoint in this issue: that internal strife among the Southern hierarchy rotted the Confederate cause at the core—that Jefferson Davis and his fellow Confederate politicos simply couldn't get along well enough to organize an effective war effort, squabbling over innumerable issues while the men at the front put their lives on the line (P. 52). Using author David J. Eicher's own words, perhaps this could be called the "Dixie Betrayed" theory of defeat.

What's your view? Weigh in on the matter in our Readers Poll (P. 7).

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