One of the most powerful bonds which can unite a people together and create a nation from an ethnic group with a common culture and identity is the experience of shared suffering. Professor and author Paul Quigley’s describes the power of this concept and its impact on the rise of Southern nationalism prior to and during the Confederate era on pages 199-200 of his book Nationalism & the American South 1848-1865. It is beyond the scope of his book, but Southern suffering in the post-war Reconstruction era under Union military occupation greatly strengthened the existing sense of Southern identity and ensured that Southern nationalism survived the defeat of the Confederacy. Quigley writes:
In many cases, suffering generated renewed devotion. Anticipating this, in one public speech Jefferson Davis tried to steel Confederates’ resolve by linking an acknowledgment of suffering with remembrance of the revolutionary generation. “To show ourselves worthy of the inheritance bequeathed to us by the patriots of the Revolution,” he urged, “we must emulate that heroic devotion which made reverse to them but the crucible in which their patriotism was refined.” The suffering of war helped define Confederates’ conceptions of national responsibility. This was, in part, the old story of a South united in shared victimhood. Recall Ernest Renan’s observation that “suffering in common unifies more than joy does. Where national memories are concerned, griefs are of more values than triumphs, for they impose duties, and require a common effort.” Recall too the prewar radicals’ oft-repeated litanies of complaints about northern oppression, and the role that perceptions of northern attacks had played in the unraveling of American nationalism. Southern nationalists had long portrayed the South as a victim and an underdog, and whipping up resentment of apparent northern oppression had long fuelled southern nationalism. They realized that when it comes to justifying claims to national independence, victimhood confers power. In the nineteenth-century Western world, the principle of nationality privileged those claims to national independence that were based on allegations of oppression at the hands of a stronger power. The narrative of northern oppression mandating southern national independence was well established.
Because of the realities of war, this old narrative was infused with a new element, one more potent and with more capacity to unite the white South in national community than could ever have been possible in peacetime. The new element was, of course, blood. In addition to filling William Trescot’s “great, red river” of national separation, the blood of the Civil War [sic] functioned as a sort of sacred adhesive of Confederate nationalism, binding individuals to each other and to the nation in the potent and sanctified bond of human sacrifice.