|dc.description.abstract||The Old South’s masculine culture involved two dominant ethics that historians have explored well, though independently. The first, masculine honor, prioritized the public recognition and defense of white male claims to reputation and authority; it also, to a perhaps lesser degree, emphasized private self-reflective fantasies of worthiness to claim such honor, and self-castigations for consistent fallings-short. The second ethic was piety, an emphasis on moral self-reflection and an encouragement of believers to curb excessive pride and passion and ready themselves for God’s Kingdom.
Obviously honor and piety could pull a man in different directions. The former ended at the dueling grounds. The latter ended at the communion table. Piety, to a degree, operated as a check on the more hedonistic and anarchic aspects of honor. But in Edgefield, South Carolina in the 1830s, and increasingly across the South as war approached, the honor creed came to capture piety, creating a new compound, a wrathful ethic I call “righteous honor”—the ethic in which the South would make war in defense of its material interests, first against Indians and Mexicans, then later against the American Union itself.
Even as “righteous honor” came to dominate white men’s public culture, privately they struggled more than ever to live up to its dictates. White southern men knew well what vices undermined their righteous claims: sensual and sexual lust, alcoholic indulgence, wanton violence, and unrestrained racial exploitation. More than ever, these needed to be conquered. More than ever in the late antebellum period, “self-mastery” became key to the public culture of the South. And, more than ever, the struggle (and inability) to achieve that mastery produced a tension, indeed a fury, that found its best release in the Civil War.
Drinkin’, Fightin’, Prayin’: The Southern White Male in the Civil War Era unmasks the personal, emotional, and moral dimensions of antebellum white southern manhood as it lurched toward its self-destructive apotheosis and cast about for justification, explanation, and direction in the breach and aftermath.||