Date of Award

8-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

History

Major Professor

Stephen V. Ash

Committee Members

Daniel Feller, G. Kurt Piehler, Asafa Jalata

Abstract

This dissertation explores the meaning of the Civil War in the South by examining the experience of Tennessee’s black Union army soldiers and veterans from the 1860s through the early twentieth century. Today historians almost reflexively agree that the black military experience took on an “ever larger meaning” in American society, but few scholars have given sustained attention to black soldiers’ lives in the postwar South. My dissertation finds that the black military experience profoundly disrupted Southern hierarchies and presented black men with unprecedented opportunities to elevate their political, economic, and social status; however, these aspirations rarely went uncontested. Nearly 40 percent of Tennessee’s black male population of military age enlisted in the Union army during the Civil War, and as these men pursued individual agendas and attempted to build families and communities they played a critical part in the postwar remaking of the urban and rural South. The redefinition of Southern society produced inter- and intra-racial tension and occasionally brutal violence, but it also involved striking accommodations and reconciliations. This study also explores conflicting commemoration of the war by contrasting black prominence in the state’s racially integrated Grand Army of the Republic veterans’ organization with efforts to recognize Confederate “colored soldiers.” The dissertation’s most important sources are federal military pension records at the National Archives in Washington, which allow the study to focus on otherwise largely undocumented and unexplored lives. These invaluable records provide information about antebellum, wartime, and postwar family life, health conditions, employment history, economic mobility, geographical mobility, race relations, and relationships with white ex-soldiers.

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