Welcome to HST 304, The American Civil War!
The American Civil War stands out as the greatest crisis the Republic faced in its history after 1788, when the Constitution was ratified. The war was fought between the Southern states of the Confederacy and those that remained loyal to the Union. And, though many scholars debate the causes of the war, the institution of slavery–and the economic, political, and social impacts it had on the slave South and the free North–was deeply embedded in the controversy between the two sections. The war began in April 1861, and ended four years later in May 1865 (not April, as is often misunderstood). An estimated 620,000 Confederate and Union soldiers lost their lives.
Several momentous changes emerged from the war. First, US President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863, an act that freed all slaves living in Confederate-held territory. The war thus became a war for freedom and equality.
It resulted in ex-slaves joining the Union army to fight for their freedom, and in the extension of the rights of citizenship to the freed people. Second, the XIV Amendment encoded into the fundamental law of the US that the people, not the states, were sovereign. That is, the US was a government of the people, by the people, and for the people; it was not a collection of federated, yet independent states. Third, Reconstruction after the war placed the US on a path to rapid industrial expansion based on federal support for business enterprise. In the end, by 1876, the dominant Republican Party would choose to prioritize that vision at the expense of continuing its efforts to ensure equality before the law for the freed people of the South.
The study of the Civil War that you are about to undertake will give you a glimpse into the rich history of the period. We have constructed the course so that you can develop confidence that you know the key events and people of the period (via readings and lectures) while also learning to investigate the Civil War period through hands-on research (your assignments). Equally important, this course creates a digital community to facilitate your learning as a group. Despite the public’s myth that historians live in an ivory tower, we actually freely and constantly share information, ideas, and analysis to understand better the past. Much of what you produce for the class will be posted on this blog so that we may act as a similar scholarly community.
So, welcome to the course. Take time to navigate around the site, friend colleagues in the course, and enjoy learning more about one of the greatest events in US history!