Challenging the popular conception of Southern youth on the eve of
the Civil War as intellectually lazy, violent, and dissipated,
Peter S. Carmichael looks closely at the lives of more than one
hundred young white men from Virginia's last generation to grow up
with the institution of slavery. He finds them deeply engaged in
the political, economic, and cultural forces of their time. Age, he
concludes, created special concerns for young men who spent their
formative years in the 1850s.
Before the Civil War, these young men thought long and hard about
Virginia's place as a progressive slave society. They vigorously
lobbied for disunion despite opposition from their elders, then
served as officers in the Army of Northern Virginia as frontline
negotiators with the nonslaveholding rank and file. After the war,
however, they quickly shed their Confederate radicalism to pursue
the political goals of home rule and New South economic development
and reconciliation. Not until the turn of the century, when these
men were nearing the ends of their lives, did the mythmaking and
storytelling begin, and members of the last generation recast
themselves once more as unreconstructed Rebels.
By examining the lives of members of this generation on personal as
well as generational and cultural levels, Carmichael sheds new
light on the formation and reformation of Southern identity during
the turbulent last half of the nineteenth century.