Skip to content

Greenbacks and Greybacks: Iconographic Depictions of Union and Confederate Nationalism on Civil War-Era Currency


Book Summary

A dissertation submitted to Kent State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Christian M. Lengyel, December 2021.

Nationalism studies have recently increased in popularity, and particularly those focused on the era of the U.S. Civil War. But for all the attention scholars have given to this specific area of research, no single investigation exists that directly compares and contrasts the visual patriotic impulses of the North and the South under the banner of one holistic work. Further, no authority has ever accomplished such a feat using the iconographies on both sides’ government-issued paper dollars as the main vehicles for inquiring into this important facet of the country’s history. The present dissertation utilizes those essential artifacts as a means of illustrating the Union and the Confederacy’s separate nationalistic philosophies and highlighting that, from the start of the struggle, they included different casts of characters, subjects, and symbols. These findings indicate that each body attempted to portray itself as a distinct entity who relied on inherently individualized sets of “signs” to exemplify its leaders’ divergent ideas about proper American patriotism. Therefore, by using the analytical technique of semiotics – as well as quantitative and qualitative assessments – to classify the images at-hand, the following review tests the significance, frequency, and type(s) of monetary vignettes that northern and southern Treasury officials employed to represent their respective nations. What it discovers is that the initial batteries of U.S. Greenbacks were far simpler, less inconsistent, and more unique in their appearance than early C.S.A. Greybacks, only showcasing added layers complexity when it became apparent that the North would emerge victorious. This project thus argues that contrary to the convoluted designs of Confederate bills, the fixed features of United States scrip simultaneously brought to the forefront and continued to mold citizens’ trust in the State which, in turn, helped to partially ensure the successes of the country and its currency.

Note: this document is restricted on NNP. Snippets will appear in NNP search results. The document may be accessed at (link verified 2/2022).

NNP is 100% non-profit and independent // Your feedback is essential and welcome. // Your feedback is essential and welcome.