Rites of Retaliation

Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil War

By Lorien Foote

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 40 halftones, 6 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6527-6
    Published: October 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6526-9
    Published: October 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6528-3
    Published: October 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6226-6
    Published: October 2021

Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era

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Awards & distinctions

2022 Civil War and Reconstruction Book Award, Organization of American Historians

During the Civil War, Union and Confederate politicians, military commanders, everyday soldiers, and civilians claimed their approach to the conflict was civilized, in keeping with centuries of military tradition meant to restrain violence and preserve national honor. One hallmark of civilized warfare was a highly ritualized approach to retaliation. This ritual provided a forum to accuse the enemy of excessive behavior, to negotiate redress according to the laws of war, and to appeal to the judgment of other civilized nations. As the war progressed, Northerners and Southerners feared they were losing their essential identity as civilized, and the attention to retaliation grew more intense. When Black soldiers joined the Union army in campaigns in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, raiding plantations and liberating enslaved people, Confederates argued the war had become a servile insurrection. And when Confederates massacred Black troops after battle, killed white Union foragers after capture, and used prisoners of war as human shields, Federals thought their enemy raised the black flag and embraced savagery.

Blending military and cultural history, Lorien Foote’s rich and insightful book sheds light on how Americans fought over what it meant to be civilized and who should be extended the protections of a civilized world.

About the Author

Lorien Foote is Patricia & Bookman Peters Professor of History at Texas A&M University, and author of The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy.

For more information about Lorien Foote, visit the Author Page.


“This book provides a detailed explication of the rite of retaliation and its use in the extremely complex context of the American Civil War.”—The Journal of America's Military Past

"Rites of Retaliation makes its most significant interventions by ‘connecting dots that historians have not connected before’ and setting the historical record straight on questions of race, retaliation, and prisoners of war.”—Journal of Military History

“This is a great book. Students, buffs, and scholars of the war will all enjoy this fresh take on a part of the war they probably thought they knew well. It is highly recommended.”—Civil War Book Review

“Lorien Foote has captured the mindset of Civil War America and produced a masterful case for the importance of seeking honorable, civilized warfare with retaliation rites designed to preserve civilization.”—New Mexico Historical Review

“In meshing ideas about Union, civilization, the morality of warfare, and military decision-making, Foote’s important book is the first of its kind, shedding new light on debates about the nature and conduct of the American Civil War.”--Andrew S. Bledsoe, Lee University

“Foote’s study of retaliation—at times moving, always fascinating—will help readers better appreciate this unseemly and little understood aspect of the Civil War.”—Jonathan W. White, author of To Address You as My Friend: African Americans’ Letters to Abraham Lincoln