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(HistoryNet) – About one-fifth of military-age White men in the South perished during the war—a chilling statistic that reinforces the argument that steadfast devotion to the Confederate cause compelled these soldiers to continue fighting despite the relentless carnage. But before soldiers faced the clang of the battlefield, how did they decide to mobilize, and what part did Confederate law and culture play in promoting military service?
Initially, the cause of secession attracted fervent volunteers. Young men who had forged their convictions during the sectional crisis rushed with friends and neighbors to assert their martial fidelity, chanting songs about defense of home, political power, and slavery. But as 1861 drew to a close without a decisive repelling of Union forces, Confederate leaders looked ahead with uncertainty, as many thousands of volunteer enlistments were to expire by late spring. In December, the Confederate Congress enticed soldiers with a promise of furloughs and cash upon re-enlistment, but with only limited success.
Alongside formal legislative efforts to promote volunteer service, Confederate nationalists did their best to inculcate a spirit of sacrifice and duty in the public consciousness. That would include contributions on the literary front, as artists joined the push to convince the population the war was a defensive revolution and not a slaveholders’ rebellion.
At the forefront of this push was William Gilmore Simms, a novelist, editor, and planter from Charleston, S.C. Despite early opposition to the nullification movement, Simms had become increasingly sectional after 1833, even theorizing…