Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in History

First Advisor

April Holm

Second Advisor

Anne Twitty

Third Advisor

Paul J. Polgar


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



Gender roles and conceptions of gender have varied cultures throughout the world and have transformed over time. Times of significant change, such as times of intense conflict and warfare, have often aided these transformations in gender as people adapted to their circumstances. The opening of Kansas Territory and the eventual start of the Civil War mark one of these moments, as white abolitionists moved from the eastern United States to the West in order to prevent the spread of slavery and encountered violence from proslavery actors who sought to preserve the institution. Bleeding Kansas, the violent conflict between proslavery and antislavery activists in Kansas Territory, eventually gave way to the Civil War, where white abolitionists continued to embrace violent expressions of masculinity as they enlisted in the Union army. The Civil War also marked an opportunity for Black men, both free and enslaved, to legally assert identities as citizens and men because of the pathways enlistment created for them later in the war. This potential reward came with significant risk, though, as Confederate soldiers refused to see Black soldiers as anything other than escaped enslaved men and would not respect their surrenders on the battlefield, either executing them or selling them back into slavery. Furthermore, there were groups of people not eager to embrace change, such as white Kentuckians, whose ideas of masculinity were inseparable from maintaining the institution of slavery and white supremacy. While some white abolitionist and Black men used enlistment to embrace new ideas of masculinity, white Kentuckians used the environment of warfare to protect what was familiar.

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