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by William L. Barney,
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The military side of the Southern bid for political independence is far better known than its domestic counterpart, the struggle behind the military lines to create a new nation under wartime conditions. "The Southern Homefront" begins to redress this imbalance by providing access to a rich sampling of official documents, private correspondence, and pamphlets that focus on Confederate life behind the battlelines. These sources detail both the political and administrative workings of the Confederacy and the efforts of Southerners—men and women, whites and African Americans, and Confederates as well as dissidents—to establish their loyalties and define a place for themselves in a South wracked by a massive war.

The digitized documents and images are accessible individually as well as in several categories of closely related items to help researchers identify quickly an area of particular interest. At the national level, the section on Confederate Official Documents covers all the key debates, legislation, and policy decisions in the Confederate Congress and the various government bureaus. All of the Confederate states can be found in alphabetical order in State Official Documents, a collection of constitutions, laws, and convention and legislative proceedings. They reveal how the states wrestled with such issues as taxation, public services, governmental structures, and mobilization of resources. Almanacs and books and pamphlets that offer descriptive accounts of Confederate society or deal with such contentious issues as impressment, conscription, and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus are gathered under Politics and Social Issues. Business and Economic Affairs includes the proceedings and reports of private companies as well as extensive commentary on economic conditions. Science and Medicine presents works dealing with hospitals and the medical side of the Confederate war effort.

Despite nearly crippling shortages of ink, paper, and printing presses, Confederate authors produced an impressive number of literary works as they strove to create a cultural equivalent to Southern political independence. The novels and poems found under Belles-Lettres provide a representative introduction to this literature. Proponents of Southern independence viewed education and religion as vital to the establishment of an enduring Confederate nationalism. The entries under these headings reveal clearly how educational and religious authorities tried to build and sustain Confederate patriotism. Of special interest here are the tract literature of evangelical societies and the new textbooks commissioned for use by Confederate students.

Unrivalled for their sense of immediacy and emotional involvement, diaries and personal letters open perhaps the clearest window onto the Confederate homefront. The Samuel Andrew Agnew and Jason Niles diaries, for instance, convey an almost tactile feel for the insecurities and uncertainties of civilian life in central Mississippi in the midst of the war. The extensive selections from the Lenoir Family Papers discuss a range of issues in North Carolina from secession to Tories and Union invasion. Here, one can empathize with the frustration of Walter Lenoir as he struggles after a war wound to adjust to his new and awkward wooden leg, or marvel at the passion with which he tries to convince one of his doubting brothers to share his total commitment to the Confederacy. Here, as well, one can gain insights into the impact of the war on women and slaves. The entries under Diaries and Personal Correspondence will prove for many readers to be the most fascinating and rewarding documents in "The Southern Homefront" Project.