Diehard Rebels
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Diehard Rebels

The Confederate Culture of Invincibility

Title Details

Pages: 272

Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 6 historic cartoons

Trim size: 6.120in x 9.250in



Pub Date: 01/01/2010

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3433-2

List Price: $34.95

Diehard Rebels

The Confederate Culture of Invincibility

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Well into the final months of the Civil War, countless Confederate soldiers earnestly believed that victory lay just around the corner. How could this be? Jason Phillips reveals the deeply ingrained attitudes that shaped the reality of these diehards not only during the war but in the subsequent era, when the myth of the Lost Cause was born.

Much is known about what Confederate soldiers fought for; far less is understood about why they fought on despite long odds and terrible costs. Drawing on soldiers’ letters and diary entries from 1863 to 1865, Diehard Rebels explains how religious dogma and perceptions of Union barbarity and ineptitude affirmed in many soldiers a view of an indomitable South. Within the soldiers’ closely circumscribed world, other elements reinforced convictions that the South was holding its own against great but surmountable odds. Close comradeship and disorienting combat conditions were factors, says Phillips, as well as conclusions drawn from images and experiences contradicting the larger reality, such as battlefields littered with enemy corpses and parade-ground spectacles of Confederate military splendor.

Troops also tended to perceive the course of the war in far-off theaters, the North, and overseas in positive ways. In addition, diehards were both consumers and conduits of rumors, misinformation, and propaganda that allowed them to envision a war that was rosier than the truth but still believable. Instead of crippling diehards after defeat, old notions of southern superiority helped them uphold southern honor. The central elements of Confederate invincibility fueled white southern defiance after surrender and evolved into the Lost Cause.

Diehard Rebels is a major contribution to the history of the Confederacy and the history of Southern culture. It offers an important corrective to the hindsight perspective that portrays an irreversible slide down the slippery slope of demoralization and defeat after the twin defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

—James McPherson, author of This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War

Phillips persuasively answers a Civil War mystery. Why did so many Confederates doggedly keep fighting when any rational observer would have recognized looming defeat? Examining a most impressive array of sources, he finds that religious faith, cheerleading propaganda, admiration of the officer class, hatred of Yankees, military discipline, bonding in the ranks, stubborn denial of the obvious were all factors. Phillips eloquently and poignantly recounts the deprivations and sacrifices that were endured in vain hope of eventual victory. Every Civil War student, both the professional and lay reader, will find Diehard Rebels highly moving and tragic.

—Bertram Wyatt-Brown, author of The Shaping of Southern Culture

An important contribution to Confederate historiography in that it provides insight into the Southern will in the waning years of the war.

Charleston Post and Courier

Phillips makes a very good case for the diehards' importance and invites further work on comparable sentiment among civilians in the Confederacy.

—Gary Gallagher, American Historical Review

This fine work will be of interest to Civil War historians, although it speaks most directly to broader issues of nineteenth-century Southern culture. . . . Phillips’s bold case for cultural continuity should contribute insightfully to that seemingly endless debate. And, like most good studies, Diehard Rebels will prompt as many questions as it answers.

Journal of Military History

Persuasive and richly documented. . . . Highly original and constitute[s] important new contributions to the study of Civil War soldiers. . . . [Phillips] has succeeded admirably in building on previous scholarship while forging ahead on a number of fronts.


Well written and copiously researched in the diaries, letters, and other papers of Confederate soldiers as well as in the secondary literature.

Journal of Mississippi History

Chapter by chapter, Phillips vividly constructs the pillars of the invincibility culture: religious justification; stereotyping of the enemy; optimistic outlooks on endurance and the immediate war; and a cloudy view of what it would take to end the conflict. He routinely offers insight into how these factors shaped Confederate mentalities and the broader war effort. . . . The combination of Phillips's engaging writing style and viable primary accounts makes Diehard Rebels a quick and delightful read for anyone interested in Southern culture, the Civil War, and the ways in which the two intersect.

North Carolina Historical Review


Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship, George Tyler Moore Center

About the Author/Editor

JASON PHILLIPS is an assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University. He has also taught at Texas A&M University.