@Book{ sternhell2012,
	author = {Yael A. Sternhell},
	title = {Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South},
	address = {Cambridge, Mass.},
	publisher = {Harvard University Press},
	year = 2012,

Sternhell’s major argument is that we need to understand the experience of war in the South not just as an experience of violence (a la Faust) but as an experience of continual motion—of soldiers, civilians, and slaves. “The Civil War transformed the South into a land of runaways” (7). The movement of people was not incidental to the major episodes of the war but integral to them: “Movement was not merely an interlude between battles or a prelude to social and political change, but rather an essential component in each of the different realities that combined to form the matrix of the Civil War” (199–201).

For example, in chapter 1 she argues that the movement of soldiers from across the South to Virginia was a crucial part of nation-building, making concrete the abstract claims of a Confederate nation. The mobilization for war also transformed the homefront in ways that directly impacted morale and perceptions of national strength. Most importantly, in Chapter 3, she argues that motion destabilized the Southern social structure, shaking it “to its core” (202). White men’s rule centered around their prerogative to move freely (a freedom not granted to white women and slaves); but their submission to military discipline actually curtailed the freedom of white men, while dislocation on the homefront enabled women and slaves to be on the move as never before. “The slave society, in effect, collapsed on the road” (7). So did the Confederate government: she tracks the dissolution of the Confederacy with the movement of the Confederate government from Richmond in chapter 4.

Throughout she seems to be focused not just on movement as a material reality but as a “metaphor”—both something that can be tracked geographically and something that could be “elusive” and abstract as well. There seems to be more emphasis in the book on the “meaning” of movement than on its specific geography; the “routes” referred to in the title are themselves somewhat undefined, even though she frequently mentions the “roads” of the South being crowded with people. Could a GIS project help to specify what the routes were and thereby give more concrete evidence for Sternhell’s general claims?

Important to note, too, that Sternhell is focused primarily on “the eastern theater of the war” (8).

Chapter 1

p. 24: “mobilization of the Southern army … evolved from a logistical enterprise into an important political process” that helped form Southern nationalism through liturgies of farewell and greeting

Reversal of normal westward patterns of migration: “for the first time in generations Southern men were heading back to Virginia” (30). Texans’ movement to Virginia particularly exemplifies this (37–38), with Hood’s brigade serving as a great example.1

p. 43: “Marching and riding between one locale and the next, the traveling troops incarnated the existence of an independent South … men on the road were the makers of Confederate nationhood”

Chapter 2

Focusing on the 1862 eastern theater, Sternhell argues that “military movement formed the essence of the war experience” (91). Armies had to move quickly to be successful. That produced a wave of army stragglers. Civilians were above all spectators of these twin movements (certainly more often than they saw battle). They made decisions about how to regard war’s progress based on what they saw with their eyes, especially considering the fog of war, lack of information.

Chapter 3

While focusing on the revolutionary effects of black flight to Union lines, which “heralded the final demise of the old order” (99), this chapter places that experience in the same frame with the flight of white deserters and refugees, as well as civilians who were forced to move or forced to stay. Seeing both streams of flight together not only captures the actual experience better, since these groups often intersected and met each other on the roads, even—in rare cases—cooperating. This approach also brings into focus how flight eroded traditional authority and social relations in the South. “In the universe of flight that materialized across the Confederacy, slaves became free people and masters became fugitives; white men lost control over their own physical motion and white women gained it; the wealthiest families lost luxury and status on the run from the Union army, while their destitute slaves were on the path to deliverance as they ran towards the men wearing blue” (153).

Sternhell also emphasizes that “blacks dreaded and despised … forced relocations that stripped them of any stability and comfort they had achieved. Refugeeing meant disintegration of families and communities, as well as abandonment of the little property accumulated in their cabins and of carefully cultivated plots” (99). At the same time, “the frenzied flight of masters … allowed slaves the freedom to make choices like never before” (100).

Kate Stone used often as an example in the chapter, which paints a picture of flight as especially panicked and abrupt.

On the primarily wealthy white Southerners who refugeed:

Although this was a relatively small exodus in terms of the number of people involved, the hurried, frightened flight of the Southern elite in the face of its enemies was a critical episode in the history of the region. Even if just for a brief moment, an all-powerful ruling class was stripped of both material comforts and control of its own fate. Families that had dominated the region for generations were thrust from their mansions into the muddy roads of the Confederacy and would live as fugitives until the end of the war (146).

p. 146: former slave describes the experience of white refugees who fled with slaves to Texas

Numbers cited:

  • 500,000 slaves attained freedom during war (105)
  • 150,000 slaves refugeed to Texas (99, citing Berlin, Destruction of Slavery, 675–76)
  • 103,400 deserters, an underestimate (107), to 200,000
  • 250,000 white civilian refugees (140, citing Rable?)

Chapter 4

Confederate armies were defeated not just in battle but through process of retreat. “A combination of incompetent management and the dilapidated state of Confederate transportation infrastructure ensured that the army would continue to disintegrate on the move” (159). Focusing on Army of Tennessee, she argues that “the issue was no longer absenteeism or desertion; an entire army had dissipated in motion” (159). While motion of soldiers to the front had strengthened Confederate nationalism at beginning of the war, movement away from the front weakened it as civilians observed stragglers. It also was observed by slaves who began a “mass exodus” from plantations at the end of the war. Diehards clung to the idea that the nation remained free so long as space to move was preserved, but retreat of government from Richmond signaled its dissolution as surely as retreating armies.

  1. Here Sternhell draws partly on oakes1982 arguments about how antebellum slavery had made westward migration the common experience of slaveholders and slaves alike, a movement reversed to some extent by the war. (Though Refugees to Texas are an exception to that reversed movement—for them, the westward migration continued.)