Welcome to the American Civil War

The following five themes will dominate the course. Even when we are not discussing them explicitly, we will be discussing them implicitly (and they are certain to structure the exam questions).

1) Two societies, not two armies, went to war in 1861.The American Civil War was unlike any war that had come before. For the first time in history, two modernized, industrializing societies made war on each other, and the results were catastrophic. By April 1865, 625,000 men had died, roughly the losses of all other American wars combined. What made such mass slaughter possible was not the brutality of the conflict but the modernity. Mechanized agriculture allowed an unprecedented percentage of men to spend their time fighting not farming. Railroads made it possible to transport massive armies; the telegraph made it possible to coordinate them. New technologies put rifled muskets in the hands of infantrymen, and a revolution in manufacturing put them in uniforms and shoes. Because it was a modern war, then, the fighting depended to an unprecedented degree on activities away from the battlefield. Agricultural laborers, telegraph operators, munitions manufacturers, nurses, politicians, and bankers contributed as much as soldiers and generals. As William Tecumseh Sherman understood when he marched to the sea, his enemy was not the Confederate army but the civilians and resources that made that army possible. In this class, the homefront will not be seen as a sidebar to the activities of soldiers. Rather, the soldiers will be seen as an extension of their homefront societies.

2) This said, battles mattered. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln noted that "all else" depended upon the progress of Union arms, and he was right. Strategic decisions made in Washington and Richmond, tactical decisions made by generals, heroism and cowardice within individual commands, always could and sometimes did have a critical impact on the war's outcome. A loss to one side depleted its troops, devastated its resources and infrastructure, weakened its diplomatic position, and sapped the will of its people to keep fighting. Just as the Civil War cannot be understood outside its social context, it cannot be understood outside its military context.

3) In too many Civil War courses, African Americans are portrayed as essentially passive. The war, it is granted, was more or less about them, but somehow the attention remains on white actors. This is bad history, a relic of the notion that the conflict was a 'brothers' war' fought within the 'white family.' As the prime movers who brought the war on, as a critical part of the Union war machine, as a dominant force determining what the war would mean, African Americans must be understood as active players in the drama not because it is good politics but because it is correct history.

4) The Civil War evolved over time. A war to preserve the Union became a war to destroy slavery. A limited "soft" war became a decidedly "hard" one. No one saw this more clearly or articulated it more fully than Abraham Lincoln. But everyone who participated in the war -- black and white, enslaved and free, man and woman, soldier and civilian -- struggled to adapt to a war that remade them as they remade it.

5) Which brings us to our final theme. All history, the Civil War included, is a mosaic of human action. People, not forces, move the world, and a million daily choices make up any trend. The Civil War, then, cannot be understood apart from the people who lived it through. The slaves' war was not same as the soldiers'; the nurses' war was not the same as the politicians' -- but all were related and together comprise the history of the whole. By focusing on biography and collective biography, on what the war felt like to various sectors of society, we will come to see the war as a concurrent (and contingent) set of human experiences and human choices.

Welcome to the American Civil War. If you ever have questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

Required Texts

Class Schedule


How did American progress -- territorial expansion, revolutions in communication, transportation, and commerce -- actually contribute to sectional division? How was the issue of slavery politicized in each section? How did the nation become acclimated to the idea of violence in pursuit of sectional goals? What advantages and disadvantages did each side possess at the outset of the conflict? How was a Civil War army organized? How did it move, fight? How was it motivated? Why are logistics such an important part of understanding warfare?

Introductions (Aug. 14)

The "New" North (Aug. 16)
Reading: "The Differences between the Antebellum North and South

The "Old" South (Aug. 18)
Reading: The Pro-Slavery Position: George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South [excerpt] | William Trescott, The Position and Course of the South [excerpt] | George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! [excerpt] | Hinton Rowan Helper, The Impending Crisis of the South, [excerpt] | On Slaveholders' Sexual Abuse of Slaves

Slave Resistance I (Aug. 21)
Reading: Johnson, Soul By Soul, pp.

Slave Resistance II (Aug. 23)
Reading: Johnson, Soul By Soul, pp.

Acclimating a Nation to Violence (Aug. 25)
Reading: Charles Sumner, "The Crime Against Kansas" | Thomas Bocock, Speech in Defense of the Caning | Harpweek Image

A Line in the Sand (Aug. 28)
Reading: Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union

Secession and Sumter (Aug. 30)
Reading: Declaration of Causes of Various Seceding States | Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address | Alexander Stephens, Cornerstone Speech

Amateurs Go to War (Sept. 1)
Reading: Army organization chart | Civil War glossary

Labor Day! (Sept. 4)


What is a border state and why were they important? How did the Confederacy fare in the west in the spring and summer of 1862? In the east? What accounts for the difference? How significant was the Union navy to eventual federal victory? What was a Civil War battle really like? How did soldiers process the gruesome acts they witnessed and caused? How, where, and with what results did the Confederacy "counterpunch" in the fall of 1862? What roles did African Americans play in the Civil War? Was Abraham Lincoln the "Great Emancipator"? What is "self-emancipation" and why is it important? Why did Union morale reach such a nadir at the close of 1862?

Bull Run and the Border States (Sept. 6)
Reading: Winfield Scott, The Anaconda Plan (1861) | Lyman Trumbull, The Most Shameful Rout (1861) | George McClellan, Letters to Wife (1861)

The River War in the West (Sept. 13)
Reading: Cyrus F. Boyd, An Iowa Soldier Sees the Elephant (1862) | Ulysses S. Grant, On Shiloh (1885) | Co. Aytch, ch. 1-4

The Peninsula (Sept. 15)
Reading: Lincoln-McClellan letters

Confederate Counterpunch (Sept. 18)
Reading: The Dead of Antietam

African Americans at War I (Sept. 20)
Reading: "Emancipation and Its Results -- Is Ohio to be Africanized?" by Congressman Samuel S. Cox (OH) |

African Americans at War II (Sept. 22)
Reading: Confederate Walter Lenoir on the fate of slavery in the South | Jourdan Anderson writing to decline his former master's offer to come back to work on the plantation

Home Fronts I (Sept. 25)
Reading: "The Northern Homefront," Oxford Research Encyclopedia

Home Fronts II (Sept. 27)
Reading: Explore "The Southern Homefront," Documenting the American South

First Exam Review (Sept. 29)
Due: Final Paper Topics and Sources


PART III - Battlegrounds (1863-1865)

To what degree and in what ways were Gettysburg and Vicksburg turning points in the war? How were homefront societies affected by the Civil War? What roles did women play in the Civil War? What was it like for non-combatants living through the Civil War? What was the extent and effect of irregular warfare (raiders, partisans, guerillas)? How effective was Union counter-insurgency policy? How prevalent were war atrocities? How "moral" was the Civil War? How and why did Sherman and Grant ascend to power? What did the Civil War evolve into? Did the Confederacy lose, or did the Union win? What's at stake in the question?

To Gettysburg (Oct. 4)
Reading: Gettysburg documents

Gettysburg I (Oct. 6)
Reading: Gettysburg documents [excerpt]

Gettysburg II (Oct. 9)
Reading: Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg [excerpt]

The War in the West (1863) (Oct. 11)
Reading: Vicksburg documents

Stranger (Civil War) Things Project (Oct. 13)
Reading: Michael DeGruccio, "Letting the War Slip through our Hands: Material Culture and the Weakness of Words in the Civil War Era" | Stephen Berry, "The Twenty-Five Most Influential Civil War Figures You (Probably) Never Heard Of

Things Project (Oct. 16)
Note: Unsupervised research

Things Project (Oct. 18)
Note: Unsupervised research

Things Project (Oct. 20)
Note: Unsupervised research

Grant and Lee, 1864, pt. 1 (Oct. 23)
Reading: Grant vs. Lee (1864) documents

Grant and Lee, 1864, pt. 2 (Oct. 25)
Reading: Grant vs. Lee (1864) documents

Fall Break! (Oct. 27)

Things Presentations (Oct. 30)
Due: Come to class ready to present!

Things Presentations (Nov. 1)
Due: Come to class ready to present!

Project (Nov. 3)
Assignment: Work on Papers
Note: Unsupervised work

Sherman vs. Johnston in Georgia (Nov. 6)
Reading: Sherman in 1864 documents | Reelecting Lincoln documents | Garry Wills, "Lincoln's Greatest Speech?" | Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Project (Nov. 8)
Assignment: Work on Papers
Note: Unsupervised work

Project (Nov. 10)
Assignment: Work on Papers
Note: Unsupervised work

Coda (Nov. 13)
Reading: The End documents | Images of Jefferson Davis's capture 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Due: Final Paper Thesis Statement


What questions did the war answer? What questions did it leave unanswered? What was the condition of the country that would have to answer those questions? How did Reconstruction play out in Washington, D.C.? How did Reconstuction play out on the ground in the South? What would you include in a short history of the Klan? What is the future of the Civil War in American culture?

Reconstruction, From the Top Down (Nov. 15)
Reading:Articles of Impeachment against Andrew Johnson

Reconstruction, From the Top Down (cont'd) (Nov. 17)

Thanksgiving! (Nov. 20-24)

Reconstruction, From the Bottom Up (Nov. 27)
Reading: James McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, 545-553 | Eric Foner, Nothing But Freedom

The Klan (Nov. 29)
Reading: Elaine Parsons, Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction

Reconstruction Rolling Back (Dec. 1)
Reading: Familiarize yourself with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision and dissenting opinion, along with their contemporary reception, but browsing the Library of Congress's webguide to Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

War & Remembrance (Dec. 4)
Reading: Ambrose Bierce, "Chickamauga" | Mark Twain, "A Private History of a Campaign That Failed" | Margaret Mitchell, selection one and selection two from Gone With the Wind

Final Exam Review (Dec. 5)

FINAL EXAM (Dec. 11, 12:00PM to 3:00PM)
Due: Final Papers


Participation: Hamilton Holt once described the typical academic lecture as "that mysterious process by means of which the contents of the professor's notebooks are transferred ... to the pages of the student's notebook without passing through the mind of either." For a class to be pedagogically defensible there must be a reason we all make the effort to physically drag our carcasses in to class. Expect, then, to be active participants in this class, and fully expect that I will call on you by name to ask you for your thoughts.

Reaction Papers: So here’s what happens: If you don’t read, you blame me when our discussions are stilted and boring. That’s just not fair. To ensure that you read, I'm going to ask you to bring to class every day, written down, two questions you'd like to ask or points you'd like to raise. These needn't be formal or brilliant. They just need to be genuine reactions to your reading.

Stranger (Civil War) Things Project: The study of material culture is undergoing something of a renaissance in Civil War studies. For this assignment, we will create a website or web essay that tells the story of the Civil War in 30 objects. These need not, and probably should not, be specific objects (Lincoln's hat) but general objects whose invention or use can be particularly and meaningfully associated with the war (identification discs, the carte de visite, patriotic covers) regardless of who owned it. (Lincoln's hat derives most of its interest from its "Lincoln-ness" not its "hat-ness," and we are trying to write a history of the war in things not people.) We will work on this project as a class, but each student will be responsible for thinking up and writing up one object.

"Professional" History Paper: The work of a professional historian is to: 1) contribute to an ongoing historiographical argument while; 2) grappling with primary sources. This is what you will do for your final paper. My expectations are not that your work will be of professional quality; rather my belief is that you will better understand what a professional historian is you have to 'walk the walk.' Your first step will be to find a subject. You will want it to be something rather small and specific. *Seriously*. The biggest mistake you can make is to pick a subject so broad that your coverage becomes necessarily breezy and insubstantial. Second, you will want to find two or three academic history books that relate in some significant way to your subject. Finally, you will want to identify a small set of primary sources that you think are critical to understanding the subject in some new way. Your final paper (fifteen to twenty pages long) will consist of two equal sections: the first should be devoted to your secondary sources -- the insights you are borrowing from them and how they helped you frame your subject; the second should be devoted to your primary sources and how they help us to think differently about the subject under review. Ample instruction will be given in how to write your papers.

Exams: There will be two exams in this class, a midterm and a final. Aspects of the final will be cumulative. Ample instruction will be given on what to expect on the exams.


Participation: 10%

Reaction Papers: 10%

Stranger (Civil War) Things Project: 15%

First Exam: 25%

"Professional" History Paper: 15%

Final Exam: 25%

Contacting Me

I am happy to meet with students at my office (111 LeConte Hall) on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:00p to 3:30p. To schedule a meeting at another time, please feel free to call (706-542-8848) or email me.