Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Fall 2020

Department 1



This inquiry centers on the way that sexual violence became the terrain upon which the struggles of the postemancipation and early Reconstruction South were waged. At the start of the Civil War, Confederate discourse played upon the fears of sexual violence engulfing the South with the invasion of Union armies. The nightmare never came to Southern households; rape was infrequently reported. However, Southern women, especially if they were African American, were subjected to sexual violence, which likely increased as the war dragged on. Sexual violence includes, but is not limited to, rape. Destruction of clothing, invasion of domestic spaces, and other actions could also constitute sexualized violence. With Confederate surrender came the ultimate humiliation to white Southerners: the military occupation of the South by United States Colored Troops. To white Southerners, occupation by USCTs marked the complete collapse of slavery and the inversion of Southern racial relations. Race and gender’s link in the 19th century South meant that the racial instability caused by military occupation would frequently be depicted in gendered discourses. Southern newspapers continually reported on sexual crimes committed by African Americans during 1865 and 1866 to justify white supremacist violence. The newspapers reportage of a rape committed by black soldiers in South Carolina marked a transition in white Southern discourses about black sexuality. Once described as docile and obedient, white Southerners now articulated a vision of hypersexual black men who threatened the purity of white Southern men. In retaliation for real and imagined “outrages” committed by African Americans, white vigilante groups engaged in violence that attempted to demonstrate the superiority of white masculinity. Lynch mobs were the most common public demonstration of white masculine power. Lynch mobs and “night-rider” organizations engaged in brutal attacks against black men for alleged sexual indiscretions.


Written for History 425: Seminar on the American Civil War

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.