The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877

About the Course

This course explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877. The primary goal of the course is to understand the multiple meanings of a transforming event in American history. Those meanings may be defined in many ways: national, sectional, racial, constitutional, individual, social, intellectual, or moral. Four broad themes are closely examined: the crisis of union and disunion in an expanding republic; slavery, race, and emancipation as national problem, personal experience, and social process; the experience of modern, total war for individuals and society; and the political and social challenges of Reconstruction.

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Course Structure

This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2008.

Course Materials

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About Professor David W. Blight

David W. Blight is the Class of 1954 Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (for which he received the Bancroft, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass prizes), and Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War. He is also the co-author of the bestselling American history textbook, A People and a Nation.

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Syllabus

Professor

David W. Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of American History

Description

This course explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877. The primary goal of the course is to understand the multiple meanings of a transforming event in American history. Those meanings may be defined in many ways: national, sectional, racial, constitutional, individual, social, intellectual, or moral. Four broad themes are closely examined: the crisis of union and disunion in an expanding republic; slavery, race, and emancipation as national problem, personal experience, and social process; the experience of modern, total war for individuals and society; and the political and social challenges of Reconstruction.

Texts

Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War. Hill and Wang.

David Blight, Why the Civil War Came. New York: Oxford University.

Charles R. Dew, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. University of Virginia Press.

Drew G. Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. University of North Carolina Press.

E. L. Doctorow, The March. Random House.

Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877. Harper & Row.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, ed. by David W. Blight. Bedford Books.

Gary Gallagher, The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat.Harvard University Press.

James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford University Press.

Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Sketches, ed. by Alice Fahs. Bedford Books.

Michael P. Johnson, ed., Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War. Bedford Books.

Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War. Farrar Strauss Giroux.

William Gienapp, ed., Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection. Norton.

We are using two anthologies of documents (Gienapp and Johnson). Teaching Assistants will have discretion in assigning particular documents for each week's sections, and many such documents will be especially important for use in paper assignments. James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era is provided largely as background reading. For further background reading on the post-war period you may want to consult David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War In American Memory.

Films:

Films will be scheduled during the course: especially several episodes of the PBS series, "The Civil War." The film, "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Civil War," will also be assigned. Selections of Civil War era poetry may also be provided at times during the course.

 

Requirements

There will be two required papers of 5-6 pages each. Choices of topics and readings will be provided in each of two broad categories or sections of the course: 1) antebellum society and Civil War causation; and, 2) the military, political, and social meanings of the Civil War itself. The challenges, accomplishments, and failures of the Reconstruction era will be a significant part of a scheduled, final examination during finals week.

Grading

Paper 1: 30%
Paper 2: 30%
Final exam: 30%
Discussion section attendance and participation: 10%

Sessions

Lecture 1 Introductions: Why Does the Civil War Era Have a Hold on American Historical Imagination?
Lecture 2 Southern Society: Slavery, King Cotton, and Antebellum America's "Peculiar" Region
Lecture 3 A Southern World View: The Old South and Proslavery Ideology
Lecture 4 A Northern World View: Yankee Society, Antislavery Ideology and the Abolition Movement
Lecture 5 Telling a Free Story: Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad in Myth and Reality
Lecture 6 Expansion and Slavery: Legacies of the Mexican War and the Compromise of 1850
Lecture 7 "A Hell of a Storm": The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Birth of the Republican Party, 1854-55
Lecture 8 Dred Scott, Bleeding Kansas, and the Impending Crisis of the Union, 1855-58
Lecture 9 John Brown's Holy War: Terrorist or Heroic Revolutionary?
Lecture 10 The Election of 1860 and the Secession Crisis
Lecture 11 Slavery and State Rights, Economies and Ways of Life: What Caused the Civil War?
Lecture 12 "And the War Came," 1861: The Sumter Crisis, Comparative Strategies
Lecture 13 Terrible Swift Sword: The Period of Confederate Ascendency, 1861-1862
Lecture 14 Never Call Retreat: Military and Political Turning Points in 1863
Lecture 15 Lincoln, Leadership, and Race: Emancipation as Policy
Lecture 16 Days of Jubilee: The Meanings of Emancipation and Total War
Lecture 17 Homefronts and Battlefronts: "Hard War" and the Social Impact of the Civil War
Lecture 18 "War So Terrible": Why the Union Won and the Confederacy Lost at Home and Abroad
Lecture 19 To Appomattox and Beyond: The End of the War and a Search for Meanings
Lecture 20 Wartime Reconstruction: Imagining the Aftermath and a Second American Republic
Lecture 21 Andrew Johnson and the Radicals: A Contest over the Meaning of Reconstruction
Lecture 22 Constitutional Crisis and Impeachment of a President
Lecture 23 Black Reconstruction in the South: The Freedpeople and the Economics of Land and Labor
Lecture 24 Retreat from Reconstruction: The Grant Era and Paths to "Southern Redemption"
Lecture 25 The "End" of Reconstruction: Disputed Election of 1876, and the "Compromise of 1877"
Lecture 26 Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
Lecture 27 Legacies of the Civil War
Exam Final Exam

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