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Cowards, Traitors, and the Call of the Confederate Home Front: Dispelling the Mythology of the Confederate Deserter during the Civil War

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  1. Introduction
  2. The Confederate States of America and a feeling of regional love
  3. The role of the Confederate newspapers
  4. Deserters in Knight's Band
  5. A final way the Confederacy labeled deserters
  6. The use of newspapers, legislation, and punishment
  7. The evidence that addresses the myth of the deserter as traitor
  8. The call from the home front to soldiers
  9. The values of local community over national need
  10. Conclusion
  11. Bibliography

Confederate soldiers listed as absent without leave from their units during the Civil War have typically been described as traitors, motivated by Unionist sympathies and cowardice. However, this view of the Confederate deserter may be more of a myth perpetuated by the need for the appearance of Confederate solidarity than an accurate description of the Confederate deserter. Although no doubt there were individual cases of cowardice and Union sympathy, the bulk of Confederate deserters may have been motivated by other forces, including homesickness, and, most importantly, a conviction that they were needed back in their individual communities and homes to protect and provide for their families. Ironically, this motivation for desertion is strikingly akin to the motivation for the Confederacy's own desertion from the Union.

[...] The idea that there were Unionists in Jones County was such a problem for its citizens that in 1865, after the war ended, they petitioned to have the name of the county and county seat changed from Jones and Ellisville respectively to Davis County and Leesburg to distance them from the shame.[9] In addition to the Confederate papers billing deserters as traitors to the cause, one significant piece of legislation entitled ?Vance's Proclamation? reinforced the idea of the treachery of the deserter. [...]

[...] The Blue and the Gray: The Story of the Civil War as Told by Participants. New York: The Bobbs- Merrill Company, Inc Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Jedediah Hotchkiss to Sara A. Hotchkiss, March (Letter) Jedediah Hotchkiss Collection, Reel Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. http://etext.virginia.edy/etcbin/ot2www- valley?specifile=/web/data/civilwar/valley.html (Accessed March 17th 2004) Longstreet, James. Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company Randall, James Garfield and David Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction. Little Brown & Company (Accessed April 7th, 2004) Vance, Z.B. [...]

[...] Many deserters, as mentioned previously, appear to have been illiterate.[41] Therefore, it is likely that many deserters who felt their loyalties divided between home and nation, returned home without leaving a record of correspondence. In conclusion, although the Confederacy attempted to portray Civil War deserters as traitors and cowards, those were a way of discouraging soldiers from going AWOL by turning public opinion against desertion. In fact, records show that southern soldiers left their posts for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was the call from the home front to return and take care of their families and local communities. [...]

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