War in Earnest: The Union and its Effort to Wage a Just War

Dilbeck, Dale, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Gallagher, Gary, Department of History, University of Virginia

During the American Civil War, the loyal Union citizenry confronted a first-order moral dilemma: What does it mean to wage a just war? Even as the Civil War reached levels of carnage unforeseen and once unimaginable, Federals still earnestly endeavored to prosecute their war against the Confederacy in accordance with their understanding of the nature of a justly waged war.

This dissertation seeks to answer several related questions: How did the Union citizenry define a justly waged war? What were the most significant ideas, assumptions, and bodies of belief that informed their thinking? How did Federal officials refine these ideas into military policies, and when and where did these policies first appear? To what extent did Union military and political leaders, as well as regular soldiers, abide by these policies and agree with their underlying vision of just warfare?

In answering these questions, this dissertation provides a better framework for understanding the nature and limits of the violence unleashed by Union armies in the American Civil War. It explicates the vast array of legal, religious, and political ideas that shaped Union just war military policies -- particularly the idea, in the words of Francis Lieber, that "the more vigorously wars are pursued, the better it is for humanity." Ultimately, then, this dissertation provides a clearer understanding of a defining quality of the nature of the Civil War itself, its paradoxical mixture of destructiveness and restraint.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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