The study of Confederate troops, generals, and politicians during the Civil War often overshadows the history of noncombatants—slave and free, male and female, rich and poor—threatening obscurity for important voices of the period. Although civilians comprised the vast majority of those affected by the conflict, even the number of civilian casualties over the course of the Civil War remains unknown. Wallace Hettle’s The Confederate Homefront provides a sample of the enormous documentary record on the domestic population of the Confederate states, offering a glimpse of what it was like to live through a brutal war fought almost entirely on southern soil.
The Confederate Homefront collects excerpts from slave narratives, poems, and diaries and journals, along with brief introductions that examine the circumstances and biases of each source. Bearing witness to the lives of marginalized groups, narratives by women navigating complex webs of loyalties and former slaves resisting and escaping the Confederacy feature prominently. Hettle also focuses on lesser-known aspects of the war, such as conscription, draft evasion, and the development of Union military policies that helped bring about the demise of slavery. Reflecting recent work by Civil War historians, Hettle includes numerous documents that focus on the role of Christianity in justifying the Confederacy’s increasingly destructive moral and ideological position in the war. He also examines the guerrilla war on the southern homefront and the plight of black and white refugees, adding new insights into the destructive impact of warfare on the lives of civilians.
The first documentary history to foreground the experiences of Confederate civilians, The Confederate Homefront illuminates the overlooked lives of noncombatants in the Civil War and bears witness to the traumatic final years of the institution of American slavery.
Wallace Hettle is professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa and the author of Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory.