The South Was My Country
How can a soldier be proud of the country he defends while
at the same time opposed to the cause he is fighting for?
John S. Mosby, the renowned Confederate partisan leader, dealt
with this moral dilemma years after his war ended. Mosby despised
slavery, and believed the South had seceded to protect this
peculiar institution. Yet he fought to defend the practice
as he felt his patriotic duty to his nation outweighed all
other factors. After the war, Mosby befriended General Grant
and joined the Republican Party, but held firm to his belief
that, “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side
of slavery – a soldier fights for his country –
right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political
merits of the course he fights in …The South was my
country.” Mosby remained proud of having fought for
the Confederacy, even though he disliked an essential part
of what the war had stood for.
Mosby’s attitude was not shared by many of his peers.
In the wake of Reconstruction a growing number of Southerners
began to argue that protecting slavery had not been the real
cause of the war, and some even claimed that slavery was in
fact a just institution – a notion that persists even
today. These ideas spread and grew into the “Lost Cause”
movement, a romantic vision of the South which would eventually
gain vast exposure from the popularity of films including
“Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind.”
In this letter (GLC03921.21) Mosby attacks men who supported
this mindset with all the fury of a great warrior. Was Mosby
correct in faulting these men for their views, when they believed
they were only trying to protect the Confederacy he defended
so bravely? Was he a hypocrite to condemn slavery while taking
pride in fighting in its defense? Mosby expressed a complex
and fascinating set of beliefs about the Civil War, at a time
when its history was just beginning to be written.
Dan Wolf, Manuscript Cataloger
Gilder Lehrman Collection
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