Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in History

First Advisor

April Holm

Second Advisor

Shennette Garrett-Scott

Third Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Relational Format



“Beyond the Lines”: A Reassessment of Civil War Prisons, challenges the historical interpretations of Civil War military prisons. Specifically, it analyses the political, social, and economic conditions of these systems by not only adding omitted gender, class, and race scholarship but flushing out the power dynamics between these group and military administrations. The re-examination of primary source material by reading against the grain to find overlooked insights reveals these sources not only provide a wealth of information about omitted groups, but that they have been misinterpreted. Additionally, applying the concepts of historical memory establishes how the Lost Cause shaped not only the scholarly prison interpretations but how the historical actors involved with the prisoners influenced the building of a national myth. The results were uncovering that the number of Union black prisoners was far greater than most realize and that they fought for their freedom by writing letters couched in the rhetoric of citizenship rights. On top of that, these captured black soldiers were impressed by the Confederate military for their labor, which was a stage in the transition from chattel slavery to involuntary servitude. Furthermore, it showed that southern-sympathizing women living in the north were active in the war by not only contributing to the mental and physical well-being of Confederate prisoners but that they engaged in treasonous acts. This dissertation contends these women were vital components in the Union prisoner of war supply line thus, challenging the narrative that the Union supply line was a model of efficiency. This dissertation concludes that the current division found in America is tied to the misinterpretations of military prison studies and that past and present scholarly arguments tend to reinforce the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War. While many Civil War military prison scholars argue about atrocities and mortality rates of the prisons, this paper reasons that the prisons are better understood by reexamining the role of the captured black soldiers, women, and the remaining prison material culture, looking at how the prisoners survived, which ultimately upends the military prison scholarship.

Available for download on Wednesday, October 30, 2024