Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





James Oakes

Committee Members

David Waldstreicher

Benjamin Hett

Subject Categories

Diplomatic History | Military History | United States History


Confederacy, Slavery, Military Strategy, Foreign Relations


This thesis places slavery at the center of all aspects of the Confederate war effort; from the beginning of the war until its end, the Rebel leadership in Richmond, in the army, and in the states prioritized protecting slavery.

Historians of the Civil War and the Confederacy agree that the war began when southern states declared secession to preserve the institution of slavery. When examining the war, scholars tend to not analyze slavery and its impact on Confederate military strategy, logistics, conscription, and military policy. This lack of study stands in stark contrast to how historians of the Union war effort analyze the federal government’s development and application of military emancipation policies. In many ways, it is impossible to fully understand the Union’s victory without addressing how it attacked the institution.

The Confederacy’s protection of slavery as a war aim is examined in five crucial areas: the secession crisis leading to preventive war, proslavery Confederate diplomacy with European powers, military strategy that defended the Peculiar Institution, slaveholders complicating impressment of slaves and conscription, and the failed attempt to arm slaves to fight for the Rebel cause. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the secretaries of war, state governors and legislatures, and military officers grappled with defending slaveholders’ “property” and rights amid a devastating war. In in most cases, protecting slavery was a consistent priority and a major concern. The Rebels soon discovered, however, that their choice to defend slavery hurt their ability to gain international recognition, win campaigns, use slaves as military laborers, conscript troops, and potentially arm tens of thousands of slaves to buttress their armies.

The final aspect of this project is a brief examination of how ex-Confederate leaders and officers wrote slavery out of the histories of the Civil War. They framed the study of the conflict such that slavery never caused the war, and therefore slaves and the institution played no role in either the Confederate or Union war effort.

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