Civil War Book Review: Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861

Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861
by Kenneth W. Noe

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (April 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807833770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807833773

We are enamored with first, in Civil War histories that means men who rush to enlist in 1861.  Much of the social history of the war is from their viewpoint.  Much of the battle history concentrates on these men and their units.  Kenneth W. Noe does not slight these men but looks to the class of 1862 and how they differ from the initial enlistees.  Using a sample of 320 men that by enlistment, draft or service as a substitute enter the Confederate army after the initial rush.  He details their attitudes, feeling and experiences.  While serving as our guide and keeping the narration moving, the author allows these men to “speak” for themselves whenever possible.  This book is a thoughtful detailed statistical analysis of these men and by extension the thousands of similar men in CSA armies.  This is not a glory of war advance the flag history.  This is a personal detailed look at what is often an unpleasant and unwanted experience.  It is a view of war we do not often see, where quite determination, comradeship and a sense of duty sustain men.  This is the closest I have come to feeling what men in the Confederate ranks felt.  The writing is excellent, the research is complete and the analysis on target.

The book contains three main sections: “When Our Rights Were Threatened”, “Fighting for Property We Gained by Honest Toil” and “We are a Band of Brothers and Native to the Soil”.  Each section contains essays that illustrate the topic.  This organization allows concentration on a specific topic in the area.  The author has arraigned these essays and topics to build our understanding of the men and the differences from the early enlistees.  Each essay is about twenty pages, all are thought provoking.

The introduction, “What They Did not Fight For” covers the basic methodology and introduces the subject building a foundation for the book.  “Slavery” is an excellent essay covering both the role of slavery as a cause of the war and the role of slaves in the army.  “Women” covers the problems associated with trying to manage a wife, family and farm by mail.  This is a look at southern male attitudes coming to grips with realities they were unprepared for.  “Hatred”, “Comrades” and “Weariness” are subjects seldom covered.  The soldier’s words and Noe’s analysis provide a powerful look at these almost forbidden subjects.

This is an excellent book!  It is readable in a scholarly way and will make you think about the men and the war.  Not being Battles and Leaders, it will not get the attention it deserves.  If you want a challenging thought provoking book, you will be hard pressed to find a better candidate.


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