Preferred Name

Thomas Richardson

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


David Dillard

Andrew Witmer

Raymond Hyser


This thesis examines the distinctiveness of Southern Catholic support of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, with a geographic emphasis on Virginian Catholics. During the antebellum decades, the Catholic Church in America thrived despite facing increasing hostility from the largely-Protestant United States. In response to these challenges, Catholics learned to support their state and federal governments whenever and wherever they could as a means to defuse anti-Catholic attacks. This led Catholics to condone (and involve themselves in) American racialized slavery, even after the Church itself condemned the practice. Seen in this light, Catholics who fought for and supported the slaveholding South in the Civil War did so in defense of a theological divide with Rome. Such Catholics also saw their military and political service as another expression of loyalty which had been so instrumental in defending American Catholicism from its detractors throughout the mid-1800s. Indeed, some Catholics were so loyal to the Southern cause they opposed and even condemned their Northern brethren who supported the Union, indicating fractures within a nominally unified Church. Building upon a wealth of primary and secondary sources, including episcopal correspondence, journals of lay and ordained Catholics, and contemporary news sources, this argument focuses on Virginia as a way to demonstrate a larger historical phenomenon. While each of these three factors—the theological rift between Southern Catholicism and Rome, Confederate service as an expression of loyalty, and an intra-denominational civil war—is definitely present within Virginia, none of them are unique to that geographic area. Future studies could assess the applicability of this argument to Catholics across the South.

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