Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Mark Wahlgren Summers


This study explores how Americans chose to conduct war in the mid-nineteenth century and the relationship between race and the onset of “total war” policies. It is my argument that enlisted soldiers in the Civil War era selectively waged total war using race and cultural standards as determining factors. A comparative analysis of the treatment of noncombatants throughout the United States between 1861 and 1865 demonstrates that nonwhites invariably suffered greater depredations at the hands of military forces than did whites. Five types of encounters are examined: 1) the treatment of white noncombatants by regular Union and Confederate forces; 2) the fate of noncombatants caught up in the guerrilla wars of the border regions; 3) the relationship between native New Mexicans, Anglo Union troops and Confederate Texans; 4) the relationship between African American noncombatants and Union and Confederate forces; and 5) the conflict between various Indian tribes and Union and Confederate forces apart from the Civil War.

By moving away from a narrow focus of white involvement in a single conflict and instead speaking of a “Civil War era,” new comparisons can be drawn that illuminate the multi-faceted nature of American warfare in the mid-nineteenth century. Such a comparison, advances the notion that there has been not one “American way of war,” but two – the first waged against whites, and the second against all others. A thorough study of the language soldiers employed to stereotype explains how the process of dehumanization functioned and why similar groups of men behaved with restraint in one instance and committed atrocity in another. Though the fates of Hispanic, black, and Indian noncombatants have generally been obscured by the “greater” aspects of the Civil War, they are integral to understanding both the capacity of mid-nineteenth century Americans to inflict destruction and the importance of race in shaping military responses.

Ultimately, the racialist assumptions of white soldiers served to prevent atrocities against white noncombatants, while the desire to maintain white privilege virtually guaranteed the implementation of harsh tactics against nonwhites.



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