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312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 illus., 3 figs., 3 tables, 3 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

Civil War America

ISBN  978-0-8078-6184-4
Published: September 2009

Why Confederates Fought

Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia

By Aaron Sheehan-Dean

In the first comprehensive study of the experience of Virginia soldiers and their families in the Civil War, Aaron Sheehan-Dean captures the inner world of the rank-and-file. Utilizing new statistical evidence and first-person narratives, Sheehan-Dean explores how Virginia soldiers--even those who were nonslaveholders--adapted their vision of the war's purpose to remain committed Confederates.

Sheehan-Dean challenges earlier arguments that middle- and lower-class southerners gradually withdrew their support for the Confederacy because their class interests were not being met. Instead he argues that Virginia soldiers continued to be motivated by the profound emotional connection between military service and the protection of home and family, even as the war dragged on. The experience of fighting, explains Sheehan-Dean, redefined southern manhood and family relations, established the basis for postwar race and class relations, and transformed the shape of Virginia itself. He concludes that Virginians' experience of the Civil War offers important lessons about the reasons we fight wars and the ways that those reasons can change over time.

About the Author

Aaron Sheehan-Dean is the Fred C. Frey Chair in Southern Studies at Louisiana State University. He is editor of Struggle for a Vast Future: The American Civil War and The View from the Ground: The Experience of Civil War Soldiers.


"A careful analysis [that] should . . . supersede previous works."
--American Historical Review

"Paying refreshingly close attention to change over time, Sheehan-Dean convincingly shows that, far from fracturing the Confederacy, Union hard-war policies condensed it."
--Journal of Southern History

"A fresh and forceful contribution to our understanding of why these Virginians fought and how the very course of the war served to create new rationales for their resolve in doing so for so much of the Confederate nation's four-year lifespan."
--Civil War Book Review

"A thought-compelling, quality monograph. . . . Highly recommended."

"A singular contribution to the debate. . . . Sensible and engaging."
--Journal of Military History

"This well-researched, well written book is a very welcome addition to the literature on nationalism in the Confederacy."
--The Journal of American History

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