The Civil War has been subject to a great deal of historical whitewashing, due to the popularizing of the pseudohistorical "Lost Cause of the Confederacy" mythology. 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 Noble Confederate Soldier won't care about slavery, and if he owns slaves he treats them well. 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).
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.
- 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.
- Kid Colt (2009): Sherman Wilks was a Confederate officer who believed in the Southern cause. He's spent the years since the war as a bounty hunter, compensating the families of the men who died under his command, and he absolutely will not break his word or compromise his personal code of honor. In the end, the conflict between the two things gets him killed in a duel with Colt.
- 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.
- Cold Mountain: Played with. Most of the prominent Confederate soldiers in the movie are highly sympathetic but are also deserters who hate the Confederacy (although self-preservation is a major part of that). However, a flashback shows most of those same people voluntarily enlisting to fight for the Confederacy (although some were peer-pressured into it) while brushing over the fact that they're fighting to preserve slavery. When Acton Swanger boasts about fighting for the South, his father tells him that the South is just a direction, which Action, his brother, and their friends ignore. The Home Guard, on the other hand, is portrayed entirely negatively, working to keep the worst aspects of the Confederacy alive without taking any risks in battle and hunting and killing soldiers who do abandon the war.
- 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.
- Gettysburg makes it clear that the cause of the war is slavery, but it plays up the bravery of the Confederate soldiers and their mixed feelings about fighting old West Point classmates. In the film, it's the Confederate politicians who care so much about slavery; the Confederate soldiers who discuss "the Cause" use the idea of "our rights" (or rahts) while not elaborating on what rights they want to preserve.note To get away with this illusion, the film does not include the aforementioned fact that Lee's army abducted and enslaved every Black person they could find on their invasion of Pennsylvania.
- The Killing Box:
- Many minor or secondary Confederate characters are sleazy or thuggish, but the government's main representative, Colonel Strayn is a brave and affable man who (eventually) admits that slavery is wrong but still believes that the Confederacy is a glorious government that should be preserved. However, the epilogue notes that Strayn's new anti-slavery beliefs were very rare and unpopular amongst the Confederacy's officer corps.
- Corporal Dawson and his men are looters, but they happily surrender to and then fight alongside the Union soldiers to get away from the zombies and never show any prejudice toward Rebecca.* Shenandoah: Downplayed. Many of the individual Confederate soldiers (especially Boy's friend Carter and Jennie's fiancé Sam) are highly sympathetic characters who just want to survive the war (the only explicitly racist character is Gabriel's owner, a civilian) and some of them are conscripts who don't have a choice about fighting. The only completely villainous Confederate soldiers in the movie are deserters. However, Charlie emphasizes to his sons in an early scene that fighting for the Confederacy boils down to fighting to preserve slavery, and none of the Confederates try to claim that they're fighting for states' rights.
- Fort Apache and Geronimo: An American Legend both feature noble former Confederate soldiers who are always brave in combat and respectful of Native Americans while remaining extremely proud of their former Confederate service and never bringing up the ugly truths of slavery.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Killer Angels portrays the Union protagonists (particularly Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his Maine soldiers) as being genuinely abolitionist. The Confederate soldiers severely downplay the fact that they are fighting for slavery—the main characters on that side (Longstreet, Lee, and Armistead) don't like talking about "the Cause" while their comrades use the nebulous idea of "state's rights" whenever they're trying to defend it.note Although Longstreet does privately acknowledge that "the Cause" is slavery, the book keeps the Southern characters sympathetic by downplaying their own allegiance to it and cuts out the fact that Lee's army abducted and enslaved any Black person they found in Pennsylvania.
- 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.
- 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 (with Afro-Cuban-American actor Gina Torres playing Zoe, for example). In terms of their cultures, however, 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.
- Discussed in How I Met Your Mother. Long story short, Marshall and Robin lie to Lily that her and Marshall's new apartment has the ghost of a Confederate general living in it to try to cover up the fact the floor is crooked. Lily is not pleased to hear this, pointing out being a Confederate ghost means he fought against the United States and is probably racist. Marshall then claims the ghost loves people of all races and was simply fighting for states' rights.
- 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).
- 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.