Desertion as Localism: Army Unit Solidarity and Group Norms in the U.S. Civil War.

Bearman, Peter Shawn

Drawing from the experiences of 3,126 enlisted men from North Carolina who fought for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, this article focuses on the determinants of desertion. I argue that men deserted because their identity as Southerners was eroded by an emergent localism, sustained and organized within the Confederate army. Desertion rates were highest in companies that evidenced a high degree of local homogeneity — company solidarity thus bred rather than reduced desertion rates. There is no support for any of the historical models of desertion that search for individual-level determinants, such as social class, occupation, status, family structure, age, or time of enlistment. Finally, contextual variables seem to be weak proxies for the central variable accounting for desertion — the emergence of a localist identity.

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Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics
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April 24, 2019