George B. Reed Jr.

George B. Reed Jr.

The cultural differences between Yankees and Southerners at the time of the civil War, and to a great extent even today, can be largely attributed to differences between the Celtic people of Scottish and Irish extraction who settled the southeast and the Anglo-Saxon and German settlers of the north and Midwest.

Northwest Georgia is one of the more ethnically homogeneous areas in the country. A scan through a local telephone directory (if you can find one) or church membership rolls will reveal an abundance of Scots-Irish surnames. That’s who we are. My own ancestors settled in Northeast Alabama but were of the same ethnic stock. Today’s largely fictional "good old boy" is pretty much the incarnation of this Celtic heritage and culture.

From earliest times around here southerners have been more interested in tobacco, whiskey and leisure time pursuits than the practical northerners with their more prosaic life styles. Since antebellum times sons (and daughters) of the South have enjoyed the reputation of being more hospitable, generous, courteous, spontaneous, polite and charming. But they are also lazier, more wasteful, impractical, hot-tempered and undisciplined than their northern counterparts. The blander, less sociable Yankees were more practical, frugal, better organized and usually worked harder.

Southern culture even today is essentially Celtic: Scottish, Scots-Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Irish. As their Old World forebears, modern southerners still enjoy the more sensual pleasures of life – singing, dancing, eating, drinking, gambling, hunting, fishing and fighting.

In the early battles of the Civil War Confederate troops, largely of Celtic blood, were notably victorious where wild, ferocious charges carried the day. But where success called for patience, detailed planning and disciplined execution the men in gray could be something less than spectacular.

Historians cite three battles in Celtic military history as representative of this cultural characteristic: Telamon (Italy, 225 BCE), Culloden (Scotland 1746) and Gettysburg (1863). In each of these engagements the Celtic-dominated armies used the same tactics with the same results. They boldly and fiercely attacked well-fortified enemy positions and suffered the same humiliating defeat each time. In each case superior defensive technology, preparation and superior numbers overcame reckless Celtic dash and courage.

Before the war northern antislavery writers depicted the South as a land of cotton plantations with cruel, back-breaking labor from sun up until dark. But a couple of historians from the University of Alabama, Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald, (two Scots-Irish surnames if such ever existed), after extensive research of plantation work logs and after applying modern time and motion study methods, concluded that no one on the southern plantations worked very hard; not the master, the overseer or the slaves. They found that antebellum southerners, black and white, were contemptuous of hard work and did as little of it as possible. The involuntary immigrants from Africa quickly adopted the leisurely ways of their masters. Judging from their production records, southern plantations were models of inefficiency. But in one important area the Celts are not so laid back.

Northwest Georgia, as much of the south, has traditionally supplied an unusually high number of volunteers in every war. And it is also no coincidence that the Scottish Highlands back in the Old Country have always been a productive recruiting ground for the British Army. Fighting, it seems, is still in our blood.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at