Title page for ETD etd-11142007-113721

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Pratt, Adam Jeffrey
URN etd-11142007-113721
Title The Cavalier in the Mind of the South, 1876-1916
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Gaines M. Foster Committee Chair
Paul F> Paskoff Committee Member
William J. Cooper Committee Member
  • George Armstrong Custer
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Tenth Cavalry
  • cavalier
Date of Defense 2007-11-13
Availability unrestricted
The cavalier image in the antebellum South represented the pinnacle of white southern manhood. Defined by their chivalry, honor, bravery, and skills as horsemen and fighters—characteristics found valuable by southerners. Cavaliers, however, also embodied the white South’s control over a large enslaved black population, and many southern planters fashioned themselves according to this image. Over time, the image became more aristocratic as cavalier became synonymous with slaveholders, and slaveholders, most believed, provided social order.

After the Civil War, the cavalier did not completely disappear. Instead, southerners slowly began a transformation of the cavalier. By applying the title of cavalier to George Armstrong Custer after his death, southerners honored his military ability, his manhood, and most important, the uses his death had in aiding southerners in their call to end Reconstruction. Applying the title to a northerner, however, hastened the downfall of the cavalier image. During the Spanish-American War, southerners honored Theodore Roosevelt for his manliness and his martial abilities, but never called him a cavalier. In fact, most southerners agreed that the cavalier had become a figure of the past ensconced in the history of the Civil War. In 1898, most of the South’s praise went to volunteer soldiers, who now commanded a powerful place in the southern mind for their prowess in combat, their dutiful response to the call for volunteers, bravery, and manliness. Southern manhood and volunteerism had become such powerful notions that by 1916 both white and black volunteers received praise. Replacing the cavalier, the volunteer image came to embody many of the characteristics its predecessor: honor, manhood, and martial prowess.

The declension of the cavalier image can be attributed to three distinctive themes. First, chivalrous manhood became less important to southern society, and as chivalry faded, so too did the cavalier image. Warfare and society also became more egalitarian. Volunteer soldiers became just as potent symbolically as the cavalier had once been. Finally, the nature of warfare itself changed. No longer able to mount cavalry charges because of technological advancements, the importance of the mounted warrior dwindled away.

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