History professor Scott Hancock and Alexandra Milano, class of 2014, co-authored a story published on the New York Times' Disunion Civil War Blog on October 15. In the column, they challenge the idea that the true rebels of the Civil War were the Confederate soldiers.
From the New York Times:
During the first months of 1861, “rebel” was a pejorative label in most American newspapers, North and South. The genius of secessionists, however, was to quickly embrace it. They flipped the script to help unify a divided white South. Within weeks of Fort Sumter, some Southern newspapers crowed that “More Rebels” from Virginia and Maryland had resigned their military commissions with the federal government and were “rushing to the land of their birth.” White Southerners made “rebel” a label to bear proudly.
And the term fits in the narrowest sense — a rebel can be defined as anyone who defies an authority, which the Confederacy did. But for many white Southerners, the connotations of “rebel” evolved into something deeper, a calculated defiance characterized by one of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions: “Reacting against conventions, nonconformist.” It is a pride that persists today, evinced by the use of “rebel” in the names of sports teams, on T-shirts, hats and bumper stickers as an expression of Southern identity and a defiant resistance against any suppression of that identity. It is also why people with no attachment to Southern identity, in America and around the world, still fall back on Confederate iconography to express their independence.