Created By: Treblain on April 1, 2012
Nuked

Noble Confederate Soldier

Current or former Confederate soldier or officer portrayed positively.

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The American Civil War has a section that describes this, but I think it needs a trope of its own.

The Civil War has been subject to a great deal of historical whitewashing. The South is commonly romanticized as a land of Southern Belles, wise old colonels, Good Old Boys, and Southern Gentlemen. So whether it be by actual Southerners, Hollywood filmmakers who don't want to alienate a market, or writers running off Popular History, the Confederacy, and the army in particular, gets portrayed in an unexpectedly positive light considering that they're the bad guys in American history class.

The Confederate soldier won't care about slavery. They fight out of duty to their state, right or wrong, and are noble, honest, and loyal. The officers will be Southern Gentlemen of the highest degree. The Confederacy might be presented as a tragic underdog. At the least, they will be a Worthy Opponent. Portrayals of ex-Confederate soldiers will show them as proud of their service, and will sympathize with their bitterness over losing the war.

There is of course historical basis for the trope of the sympathetic Confederate soldier. General Robert E. Lee was famous for siding with his state of Virginia despite wanting the Union to remain whole and being offered command of the Union army, and frequently gets cast in the role of Reluctant Warrior and Worthy Opponent in fiction.

Though real examples obviously existed, this trope is generally employed to avoid having to confront the uncomfortable nature of the South in the Civil War era, instead glorifying the Confederate military and glossing over the unpleasant parts.

See also Southern Gentleman, My Country, Right or Wrong, and Worthy Opponent.


Examples:

Community Feedback Replies: 34
  • April 1, 2012
    Jordan
    • The main character in Hell On Wheels is a former Confederate soldier wants revenge on Union soldiers who murdered his wife, and had previously become anti-slavery thanks to the influence of said wife.

    • Rooster Cogburn of True Grit was formerly a member of Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War, before becoming a Cowboy Cop Marshall. He is called on it, but he's a fairly sympathetic character despite that background.

    • The Outlaw Josey Wales is about a peaceful man whose wife and child are murdered by Union-backing "border ruffians", and who joins with sympathetic Confederate-backing "border ruffians" to avenge them. The movie reversed which side was sympathetic as part of being a "revisionist Western", although another explanation for the sympathetic portrayal of the Confederacy is that the novel it's based on was written by a KKK member and pro-segregationist (as discussed on the author's wikipedia page, he wrote novels under a different name than he used in political life, and so the film makers didn't know of the connection).

    Also, I've noticed in regard to presentation of slavery, that it will be (correctly) noted that most people in the Union didn't really care about ending slavery- but instead of showing both sides as equally racist, if the protagonists are from the Southern side, generally only Northerners will express racist sentiments.
  • April 1, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The Wild Wild West: James West was a Confederate officer before the South lost and he became a US superspy. TV series only.
  • April 2, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ According to the The Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Double-Edged Knife", during the Civil War James West was a subordinate of General Ball of the Union Army.
  • April 2, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Ah, all right then. I was going by something a former significant other, who was a huge TWWW fan, once told me while we were discussing the then-recent film remake.
  • April 2, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    I detect pure, uncut, 175-proof Flame Bait. Not going to be worth it.
  • April 2, 2012
    pawsplay
    ^ I share this concern. Should we next have a Noble Union Army trope about how Union soldiers are always depicted as anti-slavery and the Union cause as one of liberty, national security, and unity, rather than the ratcheting economic domination of the rural South, anti-immigrant sentiment, and cruel industrial labor practices? Nonetheless, it is a real trope.
  • April 2, 2012
    Jordan
    Yes. It annoys me though that in the course of tearing down the Noble Union stereotype, it seems like the above Southern one gets a lot of endorsement.

    but aside from my personal view, it is interesting that depending on whether the protagonists are on the Union or Confederacy side, one or the other of these will generally be true.
  • April 2, 2012
    Treblain
    I'm aware that this can be Flame Bait, but it's a real trope you see a lot. I tried to avoid making any statements that the war was or wasn't about slavery, because that's a sweeping claim that's not a discussion for TV Tropes.

    When a historian says "the Civil War wasn't actually about slavery, it was about states' rights!" or whatever, they may be trying to whitewash the Confederacy, but they might just be trying to correct The Theme Park Version of the Civil War where slavery is the only issue. Regardless, that argument is commonly used as an excuse to glorify the South, and that's where the trope comes in.

    When you watch a movie featuring the Civil War or using it as backstory, even if both sides are portrayed evenly, you expect the practice of slavery to be a strike against the Confederate side. When it's conveniently ignored, and Confederate soldiers in media are all wonderful guys fighting for My Country Right Or Wrong, that's a trope. It's counter to expectations and a tool to remove moral complexity.
  • April 2, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    Understand, but this is a case where one man's "moral complexity" can be another man's Bias Steamroller. Expect plenty of accusations of bad faith, mutual recriminations, and debates about the degree to which slavery really mattered to average Northerners (as contrasted w/their heartfelt passion for keeping the South under their bootheels). I don't see any way here to avoid stirring passions that are best left unstirred.
  • April 2, 2012
    fulltimeD
    @agreed with pawsplay: being potential flamebait shouldn't disqualify it as a trope; I think the community generally is mature enough to handle something like this.
  • April 2, 2012
    randomsurfer
    A sketch on Saturday Night Live concerned the return of a noble confederate Colonel to his home after the war. The sketch was just an excuse for a lot of Double Entendre and puns, as his family name is Angus. Colonel Angus.
  • April 2, 2012
    pawsplay
    I can't think of any good reason why the slavery debate should be invading the examples anyway. Thread mode in wikis is disallowed.
  • April 3, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    It's just, Pawsplay, that the alleged trope's noteworthiness is entirely based on said debate. Note that in the draft article above, we encounter turns of phrase such as "unexpectedly positive light," "historical whitewashing," and the entire last paragraph--all of which have a single obvious referent.

    I'm not questioning anyone's maturity here; it's just that the subject itself invites interpretations and implications that will step on people's toes.
  • April 3, 2012
    pawsplay
    The thing would be to make sure the description is launch-worthy before launching.
  • April 3, 2012
    Treblain
    Look, I didn't think it was a good idea to have the article be prefaced with a long historical explanation about how the conflict between Union and Confederacy had many contributing factors. That's the exact mess of a Golden Mean Fallacy compromise that leads to this trope being excused in media; oh, just because there were other issues, it's okay to misrepresent or ignore the topic of slavery when portraying Confederate or former Confederates.

    Rewriting it with less focus- just saying that Confederate soldiers are portrayed as proud, loyal, honest men and former soldiers are portrayed as romanticized fighters of a lost cause- is doable, but it's dodging the reason that this is a repeated and unexpected pattern in media. It's ignoring the elephant in the room.
  • April 3, 2012
    kjnoren
    I think as a trope, this should go to one disconnected from The American Civil War. We already have tropes like Worthy Opponent, which comes close to this.

    As for the discussion about slavery and The American Civil War and how the two are portrayed in fiction, that belongs in the main article, not here.
  • April 3, 2012
    TBeholder
    So what's the "trope"? A tentative roundabout hint that until after WWI demonization was more frequently treated as something on which decent people raise eyebrows and look down rather than an obligation? Good grief. I said it straight here, the sky didn't fall. Move along?
  • April 4, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    Precisely, Treblain. And it's that "elephant in the room" which is likely to generate ill-will and give offense on various fronts. You're right that "rewriting it with less focus" would give us a weak, kinda-pointless trope, but the only alternative is writing it in a way that reasonable people could find tendentious, and that invites an online donnybrook. Ergo, it's a no-win situation.
  • Twilight: Jasper Hale, a member of the Cullen family, was a major in the Confederate army before he was turned into a vampire. He is portrayed positively and the political issues of the American Civil War are given no mention.
  • April 4, 2012
    Treblain
    Hmmmmm, I'm thinking of putting this aside and trying to fold some examples into a more general trope about sympathetic/romanticized ex-soldiers of a failed cause, especially the wrong side of civil wars and revolutions. We don't seem to have a trope for that, from what I can tell.
  • April 4, 2012
    kjnoren
    Something like Champions Of A Lost Cause? It'd fit lots of fictionalised portrayals of The American Civil War, a movie like The Last Samurai, Hector of the Iliad and probably many more.
  • April 5, 2012
    Treblain
    More like characters whose cause is already finished, and while they're still proud of it, they're not still fighting the old war; they're just hanging around aimless and disillusioned. They might have to find a new way to carry on their beliefs, or not. Mal on Firefly, some of the Confederate examples here, the Blackfyre supporters in the prequels to A Song Of Ice And Fire, and so on. Hector wouldn't work, but Aeneas might.
  • April 5, 2012
    kjnoren
    That's more the flip side of what I thought: one is before and during the final conflict, and the other is after.

    I'm not sure you can do the latter without having or including the former.
  • April 5, 2012
    StevenT
    DC Comics has The Haunted Tank.
  • April 5, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    That's a thought, Treblain. Maybe Defeated Veteran or something like that. Depending on how you stretched it, could also apply to the troperrific Japanese ronin.
  • April 6, 2012
    Arivne
    Live Action TV
    • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Still Valley". During the Civil War, a Confederate soldier is given a magic book with a spell that could make the entire Union army as still as statues, thus allowing an easy Southern victory. The problem? The spell calls upon Satan and requires the user to renounce God. After being tempted, he eventually decides to burn the book and accept the possibility of defeat. In his words, "If this cause is to be buried, let it be put in hallowed ground."

    Poetry
    • John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Barbara Frietchie". As Confederate general Stonewall Jackson's troops are marching through Frederick, Maryland, his troops haul down the Union flag. The title character, a 90 year old woman, takes the flag and flies it out her window . Jackson orders his troops to fire on the flag, knocking it down. Barbara Frietchie picks up the flag and holds it out the window.
    "Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
    But spare your country's flag," she said.
    A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
    Over the face of the leader came;
    The nobler nature within him stirred
    To life at that woman's deed and word;
    "Who touches a hair of yon gray head
    Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.
  • July 3, 2012
    Chabal2
    Mentioned in Space Cowboys: When the astronauts (who were in the Air Force in the 1960's, mind you) mention their training on a TV show, the host asks if they fought for the North or the South.
  • July 3, 2012
    ElCheViva
    Bill in True Blood.
  • July 4, 2012
    DrRadon
    The movie and book "Cold Mountain" tells the story of Inman, a deserting Confederate soldier, and his attempt to get back home.
  • August 17, 2012
    Dead
    If the point of tvtropes was to avoid tropes that might bother someone, the site wouldn't exist.

    I have to say, it seems to me that some of the replies here are just members tearing down this trope suggestion on account of the fact that they seem to like the trope too much to have it exposed. There's lots of discussion of possible hurt feelings, people trying to justify/defend the trope, and too many people thinking that this is the right place to start arguing the merits or demerits of the Union, none of which takes away from the fact that it IS a recurring trope that crops up in a lot of fiction. Obviously being most prevalent in westerns, it also creeps into other genres.

    I have noticed the trope myself a number of times and I found this page while searching the site for the phenomenon in question. The civil war page addresses this, but I think it deserves its own page. Perhaps some of the "Several tropes therefore became standard..." content within the civil war page could be incorporated into a page for this trope, since the bullet points wedged into that page are already a de facto "Noble Confederate" trope description anyway and have been written and put together rather well.
  • August 17, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ it seems to me that most of the complaints have been about the description, not the trope.

    eta: that and complaints that the trope is too narrow, and that exactly the same thing is done with other wars, including purely fictional ones--see Firefly.
  • August 18, 2012
    TBeholder
    ^ that's because there's no trope to complain about. "Demonization, averted in one specific case against the (just above ten-year old) custom" definitely isn't a trope.
  • August 19, 2012
    foxley
    JT Edson's western heroes all fought for the South in the Civil War. His Civil War series details Dusty Fog's career as the youngest cavalry captain in the Confederate army.
  • August 19, 2012
    ClockStopping
    • In the Choice Of Games game Choice of the Vampire, one of the potential love interests Silas Hope is a Confederate soldier and he's a perfectly nice guy. There are indications that he realises that slavery is wrong, especially if the player character is an African America, but he feels such a strong tie of brotherhood to his fellow soldiers and family back home that he fights for them regardless. And, of course, the fact that the Confederacy is portrayed somewhat neutrally in the games is partially to avoid Politically Correct History and partially because the PC is an immortal supernatural being who isn't generally going to be too interested in the affairs of humans.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=w74ko0fln0mvdn1ntyethub0&trope=DiscardedYKTTW