The soldiers who fought for the Confederacy did not come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The majority of them had ancestors from Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland; many others, however, could point to roots in France, Southern Europe, and North America itself. The Hispanic soldiers of such regiments as the 33rd Texas Cavalry, C.S., also served, and could count forebears farther back than their Eastern brothers, who boasted ancestors that had founded their states or commonwealths. The Easterners chose their officers from among the descendants of men who had led the revolution: George Washington's grandnephew, John Augustine Washington, died fighting for Virginia.
Robert E. Lee's father, "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, had been a trusted friend of Washington's, and one of his most skilled cavalrymen. Joseph and Albert S. Johnston could name Revolutionary forebears. JEB Stuart was a relative of Virginia patriots who had helped frame the Constitution. The Texans chose leaders from among the patriots who had formed the old Texas Republic, or who were descended from the lines of the Spanish Conquistadors. And in parts of the deep South, the Cherokee Nation allied itself as an equal with the Confederacy, contributing many brave regiments of Native Americans and giving the South one of its most colorful generals, the Cherokee chief General Stand Watie.
The sense of honor that so often hampered as well as aided Confederate efforts to obtain independence could be legitimately traced back to the staunch patriotism of more distant Celtic ancestors, who had in their turn fought bravely against tremendous odds in hopes of attaining their goals, or to the unbending pride of the old Spanish nobility with their rigid moral codes, or to the quiet pride of the ancestral Cherokee. There was a kind of paternalism, a cavalier sense of nobility and a dogged belief in the rightness of their cause which hallmarked the Confederate forces-and in the end, according to many historians, may have been one of the major causes of their defeat. If so, then it was also the stuff of which their survival and rebirth as a region was made, for such qualities generally allow a people to come back strongly from a devastating defeat.
The Union forces were a more disparate lot. Because the North was not ringed about by a blockade, immigration continued unabated, and was in fact enhanced, by the war; some of the newcomers, grateful to be in the land of the free, joined up within months of their arrival in hopes of somehow becoming more worthy of their new land. But the forces that marched off at the beginning of the war to subdue the secessionists were made up of just as many old Revolutionary families as the South could boast; descendants of Paul Revere, of Ethan Allen, and of other colonial Americans were among them. Whole regiments from the privileged families of the East Coast marched off to war; their commanding officers were very often their professors from the university, a fact of life in the South, as well.
German immigrants from Pennsylvania and western New York; Swedes and Norwegians from the upper Midwest; Irish and Italians from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York; and the North, too, had its Texan contingents, such as the Second Texas Cavalry (union).
On both sides, the men brought along with them to war their own ethnic and racial stereotypes. The industrious drive of some of the Northerners made them look down on the Southerners as a slothful lot. Some of the fastidious Germans and Scandinavians were appalled at what they termed "squalor" and laziness-until they experienced their first deep South summer, and learned why life takes a slower pace in other climates. The Southerners, on the other hand, were by turns annoyed or amused at the incessant busyness of their Northern brethren, believing that gentlemen did not need to always "have something to do." The Southerners who went off to war were almost unilaterally horse-oriented, be they Virginians, Kentuckians or Texans; Northern boys, many of them raised in cities, had to be taught how to ride at all before they could begin more basic training as cavalrymen. And all of them were men convinced they were right, and that God was on their side.