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The Confederate Soldier For more on this topic, see uploaded document "Chivalry" Southern Chivalry Principles of chivalry were admired in the Old South. One writer, Weaver, suggested that a reason for the Confederate States losing the War of 1861-1865, was adherence by so many of the C.S. army’s officer class to the principles of chivalry. Weaver claims that the two winingest Confederate generals were the most devoid of chivalry. One of the two, Stonewall Jackson, wanted to attack the Republican soldiers at Fredericksburg under cover of darkness and drive them into the river. General Lee forbade it thinking it not an honorable way to prosecute war. The idea of chivalry includes protecting the institutions upon which civilization is founded, such as family, religion, education, and government, and protecting the weaker members of civilization, especially women. The man of chivalry always told the truth and was never excessive when partaking of vices; his ideal was to avoid vices. Chivalry placed a high importance on romantic love between ladies and knights. Chivalry, as a code of knightly behavior, had arisen during the Middle Ages in reaction to the barbaric behavior of many robber barons and their bands. The regard for women that was one of its principles had the good effect of raising opinions of women above the deprecating one that had predominated for centuries. Southerners of the Old South embraced chivalry’s notions of romantic love and gave special honor to women. Sources for the Confederate soldiers’ knowledge of chivalry included: Charles Mills’s 1844 The History of Chivalry; it was assigned in Southern schools. Southern youth read Morte d’ Arthur in school. George P. R. James’s History of Chivalry and his novels of knights and chivalry caught Southern fancy, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Pelham became something of a rage with its chivalric themes. Fox-Genovese and Genovese say that most Southerners acquired much of their familiarity with the chivalric tradition from the sixteenth-century flowering of the literature of chivalry, notably by the Italian and Iberian writers Ludovico Ariosto, Torquato Tasso, Miguel de Cervantes, and Luis vaz de Camoes. Reprints of some of these old books can be had from Kessinger Publishing. In 1846, "C" published in a popular magazine of the time, an entertaining fictional short story which show-cased the characteristics of chivalry. During that same decade, Southern Literary Messenger published several articles on the history of knights. Sir Walter Scott’s novels were popular; some were about chivalry. There was a chapter on chivalry in Dew’s Digest, a textbook in Southern academies and colleges that is still available for purchase. Two articles by Southerners, that say something about what Southerners understood chivalry to be, are R. G. Barnwell and "A member of Stonewall Jackson’s staff."  

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Ruth Williams eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is absurd. The Civil War had nothing to do with chivalry. Chivalry is a code of honor. It recognizes courtesy and honorable behavior toward others including enemies, the weak, and the downtrodden. The Civil War was not about any of these things, although some might have said the were protecting the honor of the old south. The Civil War was about power--gaining, achieving, retaining power.

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lrwilliams eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the heat of the battle I am not sure how much chivalry was actually practiced. I believe that in most cases the chivalry of the southerners followed along class lines. As the previous post states, when it got right down to it neither side had any qualms about killing one another.

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lynn30k eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a bizarre thread. It goes from suggesting the South lost the war in part because the soldiers were too chivalrous, but when examples of very non-chivalrous behavior are pointed out, the reaction is along the lines of "Oh, yeah? Well, the North was worse." The two sides blasted the living daylights out of each other, and the North had more fire-power and resources to do so.

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McKinstry Rose eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I would first say that one cannot cite Andersonville without citing Elmira and some of the other barbaric prison camps "managed" by the North.  While I personally see the same faults in both sides, the North and the South, during the Civil War, if one looks at what chivalry meant during the 19th century, it does appear that the Southern soldier seemed to exemplify more of its ideals than the Northern soldier.  General Lee's demeanor, motivation for fighting, and concern for his men and for civilians with whom he came in contact certainly emulate chivalrous ideals. Similarly, many Southern soldiers--aristocratic and common--volunteered to fight for their "cause" or homelands similar to a knight fighting for his lord, while many Northern soldiers were drafted.

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brettd eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Taking Andersonville as a specific example, chivalry still existed in that those in the educated, upper aristocracy, such as with Mary Chesnut, who protested such conditions at Andersonville to the government, as did others even in the southern military.  Those among the "downtrodden masses" as it were, had less and less reason as the war went on to act with something we would consider chivalry, as did Union soldiers, say under Sherman, for example.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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No doubt many Confederate officers (and enlisted men) who came from Southern aristocracy and wealthy families believed in the chivalric values and practiced them when possible. Of course, ancient chivalry did not always filter down to the downtrodden masses; there was probably little chivalric thought when it came to slaves and servants. Chivalry did not always extend to the battlefield or its aftermath--Andersonville Prison being a case in point.

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geosc eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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We have not freed ourselves today of all those short-comings that the Southeners of the Old South had, nor has the rest of the world.  The world as it was, as it is, as it realistically can be, is what we should dwell upon, not upon the world as it can never be except in the imaginings of utopian dreamers.  Southerners had ideals which guided behavior into different (and in the case of chivalry, better) channels than it would have taken without those ideals.  That is all.  Their ideals did not make them perfect, nor ever could make any people anywhere, perfect.

The South exiled their native Americans; the North exterminated and sold into slavery their native Americans; epollock would not suggest the South should have followed the pattern laid down for them by the North.  And the blacks?  Northerners transported them to America, sold most of them south into slavery, kept the rest in the North as their own slaves, and when they no longer needed their own slaves, they sold them south into slavery too.

So, just as today we have not freed ourselves of faullts, neither was anyone back in those days free of faults.  My essay is about an ideal that Southerners (many of them) once had (some still do).  I do not claim that ideals wipe out all faults; only that people are better for having them.  The ideal of Chivalry gave Southerners a guide that they otherwise would not have had.  They were more virtuous for it, not perfect.

Heavens!  The knight of old who lived by the code of chivalry fell far short of its ideals.  He was a rogue, but he seldom practiced the evil that chivalry had arisen as a reaction to.  Chivalry improved the knight's world, and the Old South.  Compare the civilization of the Old South to the North or to now-a-days America, not to perfection.

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epollock | Student

I think it is a misinterpretation of what chivalry is. If the South actually believed in it, and stood for the rights of ", religion, education, and government, and protecting the weaker members of civilization, especially women," then what about blacks, Native Americans, the downtrodden and outcasts? Their chivalry was misplaced and considered ironic in their actual treatment of others. It reminds me of the hypocrisy in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where the Widow Douglas had the slaves come in to pray during the day,(for what?, to whom?), and later in the novel, it is the minister who enslaves Jim in his barn and speaks of the rights of everyone; I guess not really for everyone.