Stories of Confederate Ancestors

Something I’m not proud of–but don’t deny–is that I have a great-great grandfather who fought for the Confederacy. According to family who grew up knowing him he claimed he and other foot soldiers didn’t really know what they were fighting for. This was a family story often told in an effort to justify the myth–or, to be more accurate, lie–of the “lost cause”. Family members would say to me, “See, the Civil War couldn’t have been about slavery because people like your great-great grandfather didn’t know what they were fighting for.”
It’s an utterly ridiculous statement and we have ample evidence that white Southerners knew they were fighting to maintain slavery. Even if what my great-great grandfather said was true for him, though, it doesn’t say much for him that he was willing to kill and die without knowing why. He was also, from what I understand, an early member of the KKK, so even if he didn’t know what he was doing in the Confederacy he clearly knew what he stood for afterward.

I think, though, that for some white Southerners who fought the guilt was so deep and unbearable their first response was denial, but, unable to sustain that, it turned into pride. That’s not a justification. In fact, to me, it makes it worse. Even before white Southerners engaged in an act of treason they’d been engaged in centuries-long crimes against fellow human beings, a history we’re still dealing with and, unfortunately, struggling with because too many don’t want to acknowledge how many of us who are white still benefit from the criminal actions of our ancestors.

Having said all that I, as a resident of Tennessee, try to make the age-old term “Southern hospitality” mean something. Specifically I try to say hey, this is a place with some really great stuff, and everyone should be welcome to share in it equally, without disavowing or denying the past. In fact acknowledging the past should be what drives us to make a place that welcomes everyone equally, and tries to repair the damage done by history.

Sorry, I have no idea how to TL;DR this.


I have a confederate ancestor. From Missouri, which did not secede. I will never understand why he enlisted for the confederacy when his brother enlisted for the Union.
All I can think is he bought into the planter class propaganda that they were going to take his land, his belongings, and rape the women. It was a rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.
He left the war in 1863 - last time on roll call according to archive records was a hospital call. I don’t know why he was in that hospital (illness killed more men than battle), was he too sick to return, wounded, or did he simply walk away.
The south had a huge desertion problem as the war progressed - families with slaves could exempt a male member from service if they owned more than 20 slaves. Rich families started to divide up slaves to exempt as many male family members as possible. Men from non-slave owning families came to resent this (and perhaps woke up to the fact that whatever they “thought” the war was about it turned out to be protecting rich people’s property) and started deserting in droves.

I pimp out my ancestor every chance I get. The assumption is I’m on board with the stars and bars because I’m a descendant. Hell no, the south was wrong, he was wrong and I’ll say it again and again. I agree with your analysis. The survivors turned the guilt into pride and to hide the fact they lost, and that many, many men deserted and left the war.

And I have some racist family (other side which didn’t serve but were pro-confederate) back in the Ozarks that I bait every chance I get. Trump, NASCAR, Parsons, Hawley, the works. I’m a military brat, they still live w/in 50 miles of where they were born and I take them on every single damn time and flaunt my “bonafides” when telling them where to put it.
Ref - Desertion in the Confederate Army the Disease that Crippled Dixie.
Class Politics of the Civil War The Class Politics of the Civil War | The Nation
The 20 slave rule - first hand account 'Co. Aytch' by Sam R. Watkins - Full Text Free Book (Part 1/5)
More Damning than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army: Weitz, Mark A.: 9780803220805: Books


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