But the military condition of the Confederacy must be studied in connection with the general decay of public spirit that had taken place in the country, and the impatience of the hardships of the war, when the people had no longer confidence in its ultimate results. This impatience was manifested everywhere; it amounted to the feeling, that taking the war to be hopeless, the sooner it reached an adverse conclusion the better; that victories which merely amused the imagination and insured prolongation of the war, were rather to be deprecated than otherwise, and that to hurry the catastrophe would be mercy in the end. Unpopular as the administration of President Davis was, evident as was its failure, there were not nerve and elasticity enough in the country for a new experiment. The history of the last Confederate Congress is that of vacillating and bewildered attempts to reform and check the existing disorder and the evident tendency to ruin - weak, spasmodic action, showing the sense of necessity for effort, but the want of a certain plan and a sustained resolution.
In the last periods of the war, the demoralization of the Confederacy was painfully apparent. The popular resolution that had been equal to so long a contest, that had made so many proffers of devotion, that had given so many testimonies of sacrifice and endurance, had not perhaps inherently failed. But it had greatly declined in view of Executive mismanagement, in the utter loss of confidence in the Richmond Administration, and under the oppressive conviction that its sacrifices were wasted, its purposes thwarted, and its efforts brought to nought, by an incompetent government. This official mismanagement not only impaired the popular effort, but by the unequal distribution of burdens incident to weak and irregular governments, even where such is not designed, incurred the charge of corrupt favour, and exasperated large portions of the community. Rich and powerful citizens managed to escape the conscription - it was said in Richmond that it was "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Camp Lee;" but the rigour of the law did not spare the poor and helpless, and the complaint was made in the Confederate Congress that even destitute cripples had been taken from their homes, and confined in the conscription camps, without reference to physical disability so conspicuous and pitiful. It was not unusual to see at the railroad stations long lines of squalid men, with scraps of blankets in their hands, or small pine boxes of provisions, or whatever else they might snatch in their hurried departure from their homes, whence they had been taken almost without a moment's notice, and ticketed for the various camps of instruction in the Confederacy.
In armies thus recruited, desertions were the events of every day. There were other causes of desertion. Owing to the gross mismanagement of the commissariat, and a proper effort to mobilize the subsistence of the Confederacy, the armies were almost constantly on short rations, sometimes without a scrap of meat, and frequently in a condition bordering on absolute starvation. The Confederate soldier, almost starving himself, heard constantly of destitution at home, and was distressed with the suffering of his family, and was constantly plied with temptation to go to their protection and relief. A deprecated currency, which had been long abused by ignorant remedies and empirical treatment reduced nearly every home in the Confederacy to the straits of poverty. A loaf of bread was worth three dollars in Richmond. A soldier's monthly pay would scarcely buy a pair of socks; and paltry as this pay was, it was constantly in arrears, and there were thousands of soldiers who had not received a cent in the last two years of the war. In such a condition of affairs it was no wonder that desertions were numerous, where there was really no infidelity to the Confederate cause, and where the circumstances appealed so strongly to the senses of humanity, that it was impossible to deal harshly with the offence, and adopt for example the penalty of death. For every Confederate soldier who went over to the Federal lines, there were hundreds who dropped out from the rear and deserted to their homes. It was estimated in 1864, that the conscription would put more than four hundred thousand men in the field. Scarcely more than one-fourth of this number were found under arms when the close of the war tore the veil from the thin lines of Confederate defense.