Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Nancy Rhoden


During the American Civil War, widely held Christian values and doctrines affected Confederate generals’ understanding and conduct of the war. This study examines the extent and the manner of religion’s influence on the war effort and the minds and lives of Confederate generals. Letters, diaries, and memoirs are used in addition to war reports and secondary sources to understand the range and complexity of this topic. Based on the supposition that each person’s religion is a unique relationship between a human being and his or her Creator, this study analyses the uniqueness of the generals’ religious beliefs using biographical details.

Religion had a variety of effects on these Southern military leaders. Some high-ranking generals, such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, embraced the virtues of faith, hope and charity as the basis of their religious behaviour. Others such as Jubal Early simply used religion to instill morality and discipline in their soldiers. Confederate generals possessed religious convictions about slavery that enabled them to support or ignore the peculiar institution. Their understanding of Providence gave them confidence in the power of their armies, and in their petitions to God. Many Confederate generals performed their duty not only through a sense of civil obligation but also religious mission. Pious generals led their men and fought the war according to Christian ethics. Many Confederate military leaders died fighting not only for their country, but for their God. Religious beliefs, specifically a belief in absolute Providence, encouraged some generals to be reckless with their lives and to believe death was not the end of their existence, but rather a new beginning.

This study examines some of the manifold relationships between religion and warfare in the Civil War South and argues that an understanding of the religious faith and practices of generals needs to be taken into account when writing military history. By integrating and comparing the religion of different Confederate generals this study offers a greater awareness of how religion influenced the conduct of the generals and the Civil War as a whole.