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.

Members of the 6th Maine Infantry, circa 1860-1865. Photo by Mathew Brady, U.S. War Department
Members of the 6th Maine Infantry, circa 1860-1865. Photo by Mathew Brady, U.S. War Department.

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!

3 Replies to “WELCOME TO HISTORY 304!”

  1. Hello, my name is Fred. I’m preparing to start graduate school for secondary education this fall and need a few extra undergrad credits for my master’s degree. I earned a bachelor’s degree in economics so I’m excited to grow my history knowledge and specifically about the American Civil War. I coach high school baseball and enjoy working with teenagers everyday so overtime, my interest to become a high school teacher grew more and more. I specifically chose this class because I know it is a very important piece of our country’s history and is taught in every single history class every year. I’m interested to learn more about how the Civil War came about and what the underlying themes were regarding the war during this time. I’ve traveled throughout the country and have seen many memorials, battlefields and museums that offered a great understanding of what the war was all about. I’m interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on the war and how you all may perceive what was happening in those days. I’m looking forward to it!

  2. Hello, my name is Thomas; I am a finance major. I am taking this class as a requirement to graduate, but I am still interested in the civil war and history in general. I personally prefer to study American history because it is more relatable. I also like to learn history because I believe in the thought that history repeats itself. Overall, I am looking forward to taking this course because I want to learn something I did not know before starting this course.

  3. Hello my name is Jacob Diss! I’m a senior and from Traverse City, Michigan. I am very interested and excited to learn about the Civil War. The only previous exposure I’ve had to the subject was a U.S. History course I took at my local community college. I’ve always had a large interest in World War II documentaries but haven’t learned much about the Civil War. I think one of the factors that will make the Civil War more interesting to learn about is the fact that the documentation and artifacts are much more limited than those of World War I or II due to the increased technology after the Civil War. I’ll be interested to study the types of communication used by both sides of the war.

    My major is physical sciences. My favorite subjects to study are physics and engineering. After graduation I would like to work in the car or manufacturing industry. In my spare time, I work on cars, play IM volleyball, and watch the NHL. I look forward to conversing with many of you folks.

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