I’ve been pondering this article by Katherine A. Giuffre for the better part of a week now. The article is entitled "First in Flight: Desertion as Politics in the North Carolina Confederate Army" and was published in 1997 in Social Science History.
Through looking at deserters in the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 17th (2nd organization), 20th, 22nd, 28th, and 30th regiments, Giuffre came to the conclusion that "desertion was a politically motivated act on the part of some members of the relatively deprived class that was at odds with the eastern elites and that shouldered the burden of fighting the Civil War in North Carolina."
Let’s deconstruct this a bit and see what we come up with.
Giuffre writes "desertion was a politically motivated act on the part of some members of the relatively deprived class..." So, the poor were more likely to desert than the middle class or rich? In another article, Peter Bearman contends that "Stayers and deserters look very similar with respect to class, occupation, age, family composition, and enlistment date. Interest as structured by the occupancy of differential position in civil society cannot account for desertion."
So we have two differing views. Did your position in life influence you to desert the army? For some, even many, the answer would be a resounding yes. The wives of many wrote home saying that they were starving and needed the men at home. But I sometimes think that opinion is overplayed. Most of these families lived within large kinship groups that looked out after each other.
How was it politically motivated? Giuffre writes: "the relatively deprived class that was at odds with the eastern elites..." That is possible, but what about Yancey County? The people of the Toe River Valley fought with eastern politicians for years before the creation of a new county in 1833. Yet when the secession crisis came, Yancey voted with the eastern counties to separate from the Union.
Having spent the all of the past week studying the deserter problem with regards to the 58th and 60th Regiments, I have come to this conclusion. Some deserted because of hardships, family responsibilities, and a few were even cowards. Most simply did not want to be in the army. Some were anti-Confederate. Most were anti anything that was imposed upon them. Had the Federal army come in and conscripted the mountaineers of Ashe or Yancey counties, I am quite sure that they would have likewise deserted at the first convenient opportunity.
I wonder what Giuffre’s study would have found if she had included the 58th, 60th, 62nd, or 64th Regiments?