SOUTHERN INVINCIBILITY by Wiley Sword

SOUTHERN INVINCIBILITY

A History of the Confederate Heart

KIRKUS REVIEW

A representative study of “the mainstream thinking of white southerners” during the Civil War ponders the psychological roots and eventual consequences of the Confederacy’s flawed belief in its own invincibility. “This is a book more concerned with ‘why’ than with analyzing a culture,” writes Sword (Mountains Touched by Fire: Chattanooga Besieged, 1995, etc.). “Why the southern soldiers fought so long and well. Why they thought they could win. Why the enormous effort, even in the face of imminent defeat. Why, long after total defeat, much of the pride and passion aroused by the war still remained deeply rooted in the South.” Relying on letters, journals, and contemporary memoirs of soldiers and their families, Sword traces the evolution of Southern self-image, from early confidence in their superior bravery and physical hardiness to the eventual rise of the romantic “Lost Cause” myth, which cast the Confederacy’s defeat as moral right overwhelmed by industrial might. Though he ultimately judges the South’s reliance on personal prowess “absurd” in a war that saw the emergence of modern military technology like the repeating rifle, Sword gives Southern pride its due, expertly tracing shifts in public attitudes from gung-ho mobilization to weary surrender, analyzing key turning points like Shiloh and Gettysburg. That analysis is hamstrung at times by a rather formal style and academic diction. Thankfully, the author liberally salts the text with quotations from primary sources. Most effective are extended portrayals of representative characters: Sarah Morgan, a young New Orleans woman who suffered under Northern occupation; Sandie Pendelton, a Stonewall Jackson aide killed just weeks before the birth of his son; and ambitious Harry Burgwyn, at 20, the war’s youngest colonel, also killed in battle. Focusing on the personal, Sword effectively dramatizes the arc of Southern mental resolve on the front lines and the home front. Despite starting slowly, Sword’s study gathers momentum enough to fashion a compelling and nuanced accounting of the South’s flawed confidence in its cause. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20366-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999




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