As a student of the American Civil War I am always interested in learning about the private and non-commissioned soldiers and their motivation to enlist in the armies which fought that fratricidal war. When I recently learned that UNC Press was going to publish Kenneth Noe’s book, “Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army After 1861,” I was immediately intrigued. Having read Noe’s narratives in the past, most notably “Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle,” I had high expectations for “Reluctant Rebels.” After reading a review copy of the book I have a new appreciation for the “late enlisters” which joined the army during the second wave of enlistment and found my trust in Noe’s previous works well placed.
“Reluctant Rebels” starts with an eighteen page introduction that references previous analyses on the motivations of the Rebel soldier. Noe provides a great deal of background information on predecessors to his book including Chandra Manning’s “What This Cruel War Is Over,” Stephanie McCurry’s “Masters of Small Worlds,” James McPherson’s “For Cause and Comrades” and Bell Wiley’s “The Life of Johnny Reb” and “The Life of Billy Yank.” The author then provides a detailed overview of the research methodology he employed to analyze the 320 Confederate soldiers that comprised his sample. This sample included soldiers from all Confederate states with ranks from private to colonel. It should be noted that Noe specifically chose men who enlisted so the commissioned officers won promotion to their ranks through their performance as soldiers. I believe it is essential for the reader to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the introduction before reading the book. The author spends much time detailing the differences between his sample and previous studies, placing the book on a solid footing.
In the first two chapters, Noe provides an analysis of many previous assumptions that the Rebel soldier enlisted for ideological reasons. While many of the soldiers that enlisted during the first months of the war were motivated by patriotism, nationalism and states’ rights, the author adroitly builds a case for the later enlisters not being motivated by politics or ideology but rather by their home, families and way of life. I found this particularly fascinating as most previous works are at odds with this premise. Noe emphasized that many of his hypothesises differ from the previous works due to the difference in his sample group – specifically first enlisters versus those who enlisted after 1861.
The next three chapters focus on things much closer to home: the motivating role of women, personal property (home and slaves) and financial considerations. Based on Noe’s research of personal letters, he puts forth a much different role women played in a soldier’s motivation for joining the army. Many previous scholars built a case for women encouraging their men to enlist. This was not necessarily the case for the late enlisters, many of which had spouses that delayed their enlistment due to needing them at home. The author makes a strong case for the men of his sample fighting for their home. This was very personal and was often influenced by the occupation of their homelands by invading armies and the threat to their personal property. With the war dragging on, many of the soldiers in Noe’s sample would enlist for financial reasons. Some of the soldiers did not list an occupation in the census rolls and inevitably were enduring very hard times on the homefront. The same financial difficulties would often lead men, with the financial means, to hire substitutes. This practice is investigated by the author and his research is very interesting.
The last four chapters deal with familiar themes: comrades, religion, weariness and courage under fire. While these topics have been put forth in most earlier works, Noe again uncovers many differences between the earlier enlistees and those who enlisted later in the war. Comrades were a tangible source of motivation for soldiers on both sides of the conflict. The author’s research shows that the soldiers who enlisted after 1861 had more difficulty fitting in and making friends. Many of them would be mustered into veteran regiments where they did not know other soldiers. While they were present during two periods which witnessed Christian revivals, they typically entered the service with a firm religious footing and would often scorn those who recently adopted Christianity, often viewing them as hypocritical. Noe would be surprised with the lack of support the late enlisters had for desertion. During the final two years of the conflict, weariness had set in for the soldier - and those he had left at home. While the author states letters can be misleading, he could only confirm two soldiers in his sample that deserted – both of which returned to their units and would become casualties. Did these soldiers desert less? Based on Noe’s solid research it would indicate they did. Finally, the author discusses battlefield performance. The sample clearly indicates that the late enlisters were brave and did not run from the enemy any more frequently than those who enlisted during the first year of the war. What gave these men the intestinal fortitude to face their enemy? Noe asserts that it was not the fear of Yankee rule, or the threat to slavery, but the desire to demonstrate their bravery and fight for their home that kept them in line during battle. This was very enlightening to read and was supported by solid research.
“Reluctant Rebels” is a fresh look at what motivated Confederate soldiers who enlisted after 1861. The book is well written and is sure to survive the passage of time. I would highly recommend this book for an student of the Civil War that is interested in learning more about the private soldier.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ken on June 30, 2010. It as a very interesting discussion and the author’s expertise is clearly evident. I am sure you will enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed participating in it.
Kenneth Noe Interview – 13 Parts
“Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army After 1861”
Interview Date: June 30, 2010
Total Time: 1 hour 12 minutes 34 seconds
Part 1: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 1
Contents: Welcome and introductions | About Ken Noe | How Ken became interested in the Civil War and American history | Why write “Reluctant Rebels?” | How does this book differ from other studies on Confederate soldiers?
Part 2: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 2
Contents: “Reluctant Rebels” vs. previous studies on Confederate soldiers | Background on “Reluctant Rebels”
Part 3: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 3
Contents: Noe’s research methodology and challenges in researching | About the research sample size | Sources used for research | Demographics and rank of soldiers in sample
Part 4: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 4
Contents: Why the “late enlisters” joined the war effort | Results of Noe’s analysis vs. previous studies | The American Revolution as a motivating factor for late enlisters | Lack of references to ideology being a motivating factor for the late enlisters
Part 5: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 5
Contents: The Lost Cause and states’ rights as a motivating factor for the late enlister | How did honor and duty motivate the late Confederate enlister? | Ken’s surprise with regards to honor and duty motivating the late enlister
Part 6: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 6
Contents: Social, geographic and occupational backgrounds and their impact on slavery being a motivating factor for the late enlister | Correlation between Noe’s sample and overall slave holding population of the Confederate states | Slave holding as a wider matrix of those fighting for “home” | Southern women and sexual intimidation being a motivating factor for the late southern enlister | Spouses often kept the late enlister from joining the Confederate army
Part 7: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 7
Contents: “Masters of their immediate universe:” the late enlister’s involvement in decisions made at home | The impact that loneliness had on the southern soldier | What letters home revealed about the Confederate soldier
Part 8: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 8
Contents: Hatred and its impact on the Rebel soldiers’ psyche | The impact of an occupying Federal force in the mindset of the southern soldier | Substitutes and the impact of the draft on the substitute soldier | Lawsuits against the Confederate government with regards to substitutes
Part 9: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 9
Contents: Christian revivals, faith and religion and their impact on the late enlisters | Were late enlisters more pious than the soldier who enlisted in 1861? | Heavy campaigning and its impact on the late enlisters faith | Reuniting with loved ones in heaven and the reach of the Confederate soldier on his family’s religious activities at home
Part 10: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 10
Contents: How comrades, messmates and relatives impacted the late enlisters fighting motivation | Late enlisters and their difficulties bonding with other soldiers | The Confederate soldier community and its insularity
Part 11: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 11
Contents: The impact of weariness and fatigue on the late enlisters motivation | Statistics on desertion in Noe’s sample and the surprising lack of support for desertion | Letters from 1865 revealed that Rebel soldiers were still optimistic about Confederate war fortunes
Part 12: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 12
Contents: “Facing the elephant” and the fighting élan of the late enlister | Fighting for home motivated the late enlister to face the enemy with courage | Later enlisters were often not up to the physical demands of campaigning | The exhilaration of fighting
Part 13: Kenneth Noe Interview Part 13
Contents: Future projects which Noe is working on | Using technology to enhance Civil War enthusiasts’ experiences | Noe’s research on weather impacting his previous narrative on the Battle of Perryville | Wrap up and closing