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Noble Confederate Soldier

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"You know, years ago John Calhoun said that West Point men would lead great armies. He never thought they'd be leading them against each other."
Orry Main, North and South (U.S.)

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.

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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. However, in reality, Lee owned slaves, and during his campaigns, he allowed slaver raids by his forces to take Free Blacks and drag them south in chains (Feel free to read the Encyclopieda Virginia webpage about Lee). An examination of the surviving letters and diaries of Confederate soldiers reveals that many of them were indeed fighting for home and country, though they did believe that emancipation would lead to servile insurrection (a race war).

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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:

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     Comic Books  
  • The titular cowboy of Jonah Hex is a former Confederate soldier-turned Western gunslinger, and still wears his grey uniform. Though he's an Anti-Hero, he has a strong code of honor and is a definite good guy.
  • Used to excellent effect in the graphic novel The Skin of the Hadrosaurs, whose protagonist is a Confederate officer fleeing from a group of Union troops whose commanding officer is hellbent on killing him. He meets a paleontologist who is entirely neutral in the conflict and who joins up with him, and the two end up stumbling across a lost land of dinosaurs. The Union soldiers follow them however, and their officer kills the paleontologist, prompting the enraged Confederate to fight him to the death to avenge the murdered scientist.
  • The Belgian comic series Les Tuniques Bleues is a mostly comedic approach of the Civil War, yet runs on Grey-and-Gray Morality, insisting as much as a family friendly story possibly can on the fact that War Is Hell for both camps. There are nasty greycoats villains but the army as a whole is not portrayed better nor worse than the bluecoats, with many cases of Worthy Opponent or even Enemy Mine.

     Film  

  • John Carter gives the title character a sympathetic backstory where he served as a cavalry captain and became disillusioned with fighting for a cause after he returned home to find his farm burned and his wife and child murdered. Carter's character arc in the film is overcoming his reluctance to fight for a cause after losing faith, which, by implication, glorifies his cause as a Confederate.
  • Sergeant Pencroft in the movie adaptation of Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island. He is initially a hostile character who tries to stop the Union P.O.W.s led by Captain Harding from escaping, but gets taken prisoner following their successful getaway. As the movie progresses, though, he becomes friends with Herbert and even helps rescue black soldier Neb from a Giant Enemy Crab, suggesting he doesn't care about slavery or race, and never once tries to betray or sabotage the group. It gets to the point that, his accent aside, a viewer could be forgiven for forgetting he was even an enemy soldier to begin with.
  • Rio Lobo: The Confederate soldiers are portrayed as brave, audacious, fine with taking orders from a half-Mexican officer, and willing to make peace with their former enemies after the war.
  • The protagonist of The Outlaw Josey Wales is a Confederate Rebel who is hunted down by a brutal group of Northern soldiers who slaughtered his unit. Eventually, Josie adopts a peculiar Family of Choice and tries to build a new life. Notably, it was written by ardent segregationist and Klansman Asa "Forrest" Carter, although Eastwood and the film crew were ignorant of his racist beliefs.
  • Gone with the Wind is one of the most famous examples with Ashley and Rhett Bultler both being officers in the Confederate army. The cause of the Confederacy is to maintain an idealized vision of the slaveholding South that the destruction of is considered to be a great loss.
  • Wild Wild West: Downplayed. While General McGrath wants to bring back the Confederacy and everything that entails and took part in the New Liberty massacre of runaway slaves, he is still appalled that Doctor Loveless would so callously sacrifice his men to demonstrate the deadliness of his new tank prototype. Loveless shoots him and dumps his body in a river when he objects.
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     Literature  

  • Robert E. Lee, of course, gets this treatment in Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South where he's a Reasonable Authority Figure as CSA President and works to free the slaves soon after the war ends.
    • Subverted in Turtledove's later Timeline-191 series where the Confederacy survives only to become identical to the Nazis and It goes From Bad to Worse once they get nuclear weapons.
  • John Carter of Mars: John Carter is a former Confederate officer from Virginia, created in the 1910s when this trope was popular (see The American Civil War page for background).
  • The majority of heroes in William Johnstone's western novels are former Confederate soldiers who believe in racial equality but have no guilt about fighting for the South. To a man, they believe that the war was about states' rights instead of slavery and rarely hesitate to say so in an unsubtle Author Filibuster monologue.
  • Military science fiction Victoria offers a futuristic setting for these, since one of the Successor States is the very Southern-flavored and self-consciously Neo-Confederate New Confederacy. Several examples are encountered; one that might be mentioned is Colonel Bill McMoster, commanding the 3rd Texas Rangers, who becomes one of the protagonist's key allies as they take one the Commune. As for the status of black people in the New Confederacy and the rest of the Successor States... Well, suffice to say that "they get a better deal than they did in The Turner Diaries" is about the most positive spin that can be put on it.
  • Gods and Generals and the miniseries made out of it have long been stated to be Southern apologia with Stonewall Jackson treated with an almost messianic light.

     Live Action Television  

  • The backstory of Firefly is basically the Civil War IN SPACE!!, with the Alliance as the Union and the Independents as the Confederacy (if the Civil War had really been about States' Rights, and not slavery). Malcom Reynolds (The Captain of the ship and ex-Sergeant of Zoe) and Zoe both fought for the Independents and still believe they were on the right side. As the show is a Space Western, they correspond to examples of ex-Confederates in Wild West stories, with any unpleasant aspects of the Confederacy conveniently left out of the parallel. In terms of their cultures, it's the Alliance that has more in common with the antebellum South, and from what little we see, whatever problems the Independents had the Alliance are much worse.
  • Subverted in Hell on Wheels. In the first episode, the starting protagonist Bohannon while trying to obtain a job states that he not only fought in the Civil War, but owned slaves as well. He claimed he set them free, though, before the war. He did not. Later Confederates depicted are both racist as well as brutal. The show has a general Black-and-Grey Morality.
  • The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Gettysburg" is a deconstruction of this trope. The time traveler Nicholas Prentice sends two 20th-century men who are Civil War reenactors back to the actual Battle of Gettysburg to teach the one playing the Confederate some sort of lesson since he greatly admires the Confederacy, hoping it will stop him from assassinating a future black US President for publicly burying the Confederate battle flag at the site in a symbolic denunciation. They discover that War Is Hell, most of the soldiers they're fighting alongside are demoralized conscripts, and they're led by an insane colonel who doesn't know he's dying from meningitis. The Neo-Confederate's ancestor ends up getting killed by the insane colonel after trying to prevent the disastrous Pickett's charge).

     Music  

  • Johnny Horton's song "Johnny Reb" sings about the tenacity of the titular Confederate soldier.
  • Steve Earle gives voice to one of these in his song "Ben McCulloch". The man, a poor farmer, enlists in the Texas Infantry for the pay, food, and "a rifle we could keep". But McCulloch's missteps lead to him seeing his brother killed in action, the infantry constantly retreating, and finally, he deserts the night before The Battle of Pea Ridge, where McCulloch dies.
    I killed a boy the other night who'd never even shaved
    I don't even know what I'm fighting for, I ain't ever owned a slave.
    So I snuck outta camp, and then I heard the news next night
    The Yankees won the battle, and McCulloch lost his life.


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