Long before the War Between the States started there was a tendency for many men in the institutions of learning in the north to examine and criticize the South. During the days of reconstruction the trend became more obvious and since that time it has continued to increase. For years much of this criticism was confined to a handful of men that wanted to exert their will over the Southern lifestyle. Since the late 1890's the number of men who relished their role as "critic of Southern lifestyles" has increased and were supported by much of the faculty of these institutions. While many of these men had good intentions and thought they could improve the life of Southerners, few of them ever obtained a very thorough understanding of the way people in the South thought or why they thought as they did.
This country was not settled by people with money and stability. The people who became the leaders of this nation were not born into a higher social status but became leaders because of their desire to excel and their willingness to work for what they wanted. There were few gentlemen or aristocrats in the days of our founding. Wresting land from the forests and the intractable red man were not suitable tasks for either.
The South was developed in a span of only a few years. Land in those days could be bought for fifty cents an acre. With the savings of a lifetime a man buy forty acres, build a one or two room log cabin, and clear his land. When that was accomplished he set about the tasks of raising a large family, a few head of livestock, and a few acres of corn. Hunting and fishing supplemented his diet and provided him with trade goods with which he could obtain a year's supply of the few items he could not grow. During the winter he would load a boat with the whiskey he had made from his corn and perhaps some of the course woolen cloth his wife had spun and make the trip to one of the trading centers scattered across the South.
For many years the settlers grew a few stalks of cotton they harvested so their wives could spin cotton cloth. In the late 1700's the invention of the cotton gin brought revolution to the South. For the few that realized cotton was the means of obtaining riches beyond their wildest dreams, the cotton gin also brought tremendous change to their lives. These small farmers became plantation owners in one
generation. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin there was very little social distinction among the people that settled in the South. It was the plantation owners that became the aristocrats in the South. They were not born into that status but were common people that realized their dream.
While the plantation provided it's owner with a lifestyle that doted on excesses, most of the small farmers that settled the South seldom knew serious need. Unlike the farmers of New England who scratched a living from their meager rocky soil and worked in a bitter unfriendly climate, the small farmers of the South often had leisure time. Whether planter or farmer, the men in the South were completely and wholly responsible for themselves. They hated working in gangs or groups. They valued their leisure time. They developed a sense of obligation that was not known or understood in the north. They valued horses, dogs, and guns not books, ideas, and art. Individualism was honored, it was the dominant trait of Southerners. While any man might skin a business associate in a trade, he would split rails from dawn to dusk if needed in order to repay a debt he felt obligated to pay.
The South was permeated with the "Honor Complex" even if the defense of honor meant a duel to the death. In every rank men sat on verandahs or under the trees to give thought to their life. They created legends about themselves and often sought celebrity as the dashing blade. They were concerned with the running of the ponies, with hearing the band, with making love, with dancing, eating and even their playing. Many Southerners were Celtic, in the heat of passion they did not take time to think - they felt.
This pervasive individualism reached its ultimate incarnation in the Confederate soldier. To the end of his service, the Confederate soldier was never fully disciplined. He slouched when he should have stood erect. He could never salute in the brisk fashion of a West Pointer. He might jeer openly in the face of his commander but his officers knew if they used flattery and jest he would do anything asked of him. It is because of his ancestry and background and by virtue of these unsoldierly qualities that the Confederate soldiers were -
"The Greatest Fighting Force Ever Assembled".
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