The Yankee Plague

Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy

By Lorien Foote

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 5 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5205-4
    Published: February 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3055-7
    Published: November 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3056-4
    Published: October 2016

Civil War America

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Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 2017 Colonel Richard W. Ulbrich Award, U.S. Military History Group

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2017

During the winter of 1864, more than 3,000 Federal prisoners of war escaped from Confederate prison camps into South Carolina and North Carolina, often with the aid of local slaves. Their flight created, in the words of contemporary observers, a "Yankee plague," heralding a grim end to the Confederate cause. In this fascinating look at Union soldiers' flight for freedom in the last months of the Civil War, Lorien Foote reveals new connections between the collapse of the Confederate prison system, the large-scale escape of Union soldiers, and the full unraveling of the Confederate States of America. By this point in the war, the Confederacy was reeling from prison overpopulation, a crumbling military, violence from internal enemies, and slavery’s breakdown. The fugitive Federals moving across the countryside in mass numbers, Foote argues, accelerated the collapse as slaves and deserters decided the presence of these men presented an opportune moment for escalated resistance.

Blending rich analysis with an engaging narrative, Foote uses these ragged Union escapees as a lens with which to assess the dying Confederate States, providing a new window into the South’s ultimate defeat.

About the Author

Lorien Foote is the Patricia & Bookman Peters Professor in History at Texas A&M University.
For more information about Lorien Foote, visit the Author Page.


“Foote delivers a story rich in style and powerful in substance. With insight and alacrity, the author delivers a powerful perspective on how the ‘Yankee Plague’ of escaped prisoners became an integral part of a process that contributed to the disintegration and demise of the Confederacy. There are few books that combine well-written, easy-to-read prose with groundbreaking historical insights and perspectives. This is one of them.”--American Historical Review

“This is a prime example of the very best of current Civil War History. By applying the analytical power of social history and razor-sharp military and political analysis, Foote constructs a new paradigm for understanding the war in which the most potent invading armies run away from the enemy, slaves hold the key to freedom, and women are the most domineering commanders.”--Journal of American History

“A fascinating examination of one of the under-studied effects of a collapsing war effort, namely, the inability to hold, guard, and maintain enemy prisoners of war (POWs). A brilliant examination of a complex subject.”--Journal of Military History

“An illuminating and powerful study that enhances both Civil War history and POW studies. Essential.”--Choice

The Yankee Plague makes for an important addition to the literature on Civil War prisoners and the collapse of the Confederacy.”--Civil War Monitor

“Packs a very powerful scholarly punch. . . . Definitely merits award consideration and will likely earn a spot on many of this year’s ‘Best Of’ lists.”--Civil War Books and Authors