Confederate Atrocities: The Northern Perception of the Confederacy's Conduct of the War

Open Access
Thomas, Victoria Ann
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • William Alan Blair, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael James Milligan, Honors Advisor
  • Civil War
  • atrocity
  • massacre
  • Confederate
  • Confederacy
  • perception
  • conduct
  • rules of war
  • hard war
  • total war
During the American Civil War, the Northern perception of the Confederate conduct of the war can be gleamed from the headlines and articles of the many Northern newspapers. With time, the Northern public narrowed its definition of what constituted an atrocity and its interpretation of the rules of war while simultaneously accepting the increasing cost of hard war. In the aftermath of the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1863, shock and hysteria gripped the North, leading to the first allegations of atrocities. However, in regards to conventional Confederate forces, later Confederate actions, such as the repeated and increasingly costly invasions of Chambersburg, PA, were reported with little of the provocative and condemning language used to describe First Bull Run. Eventually, the Northern public accepted what constituted as conventional military practices. The Northern public was similarly discerning with unconventional Confederate forces and recognizing the differing degrees of irregulars by their military objectivity and conduct. While guerrillas in Missouri were seen as merely blood-thirsty criminals courting terror, partisans, such as John Singleton Mosby, was depicted as an effective scout behaving with decorum and military discipline. Lastly, with the formation of African American units in the Union Army, the issue of race and retaliation come to the forefront. It was only late in the war, following the Fort Pillow Massacre in April 1864, that the general Northern public joined the African American community in discussion of race affected the rules regarding prisoners of war and in demanding retaliation for violations of the rules of war.