Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Total War?

This reading perhaps tells us one of the darkest chapters of the Civil War--one where the Union went on a campaign of complete and utter destruction of the state of Georgia on its march from Atlanta to Savannah.

How did this final stage of the war differ from previous ones?  Why did General Sherman use this strategy?  Do moral decisions get totally undermined by wartime strategy here, and was that OK?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Power of the Proclamation

We have already discussed the idea that the Emancipation changes the course of the Civil War--from a war to preserve the Union to a war to abolish slavery.

BUT, by the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the idea of slavery seemed to take a new form.  Confederates believed that they were political slaves to the Union's oppressive government.  At the same time, Union soldiers would willingly seize fugitive slaves as contraband, which, to an extent, acknowledges the concept of slaves as property.

There is no denying that the Emancipation was at least one of the fulcrums that shifted the balance of power and strength between the Union and the Confederacy.  But if it doesn't end slavery, then why is it so pivotal?  Consider not only what we've already discussed, but other items that this particular article teaches us...

Monday, October 28, 2013

War Mobilization: The Myth and the Reality

I see many parallels between the US Civil War and World War I in terms of the idea of war versus the actuality of a total war.  In both cases, the vast majority of all parties involved saw the war as something that would be violent but quick, and swift and final.  No one could have predicted how complex the war would become.

....or could they?  Consider some of the problems that both the Union and the Confederacy faced when mobilizing for the early stages of war.  How prepared were they for actual conflict?  Consider the myth and actuality of First Bull Run--why was it anticipated as a sporting event but then experienced as a bloodbath?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Glory Reflections

Many African American soldiers enlisted in the Union Army because they saw it as an equalizer.  The idea that they could fire guns against the rebels along with their white counterparts was a moment many of them had waited for.  Furthermore, some black soldiers had been born into slavery, so they saw enlisting as a further leap forward.

After watching Glory (or most of it), how much of the soldiers' hopes were realized?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Emancipation Proclamation -- Wartime Strategy or Cry for Freedom?

The articles you are reading for today provides two very different schools of thought about the Emancipation Proclamation.  Supporters and opponents of the proclamation saw it serving two seemingly disparate purposes--one to seek foreign alliances, and one to catalyze nationwide emancipation.  It was either celebrated joyfully or distrusted and feared. 

But what was its function, really?  In this "post-racial" (no, I don't believe that we actually are, hence the quotes), country that has elected a black president, we tend to celebrate Lincoln and his Proclamation.  But we know that this 1863 decision only scratched the surface of the immense and violent racial battles that were still to come (and are still occurring today). 

So what is it that we are celebrating?  What is the Emancipation Proclamation?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Battle of Bull Run

"There was a festive mood as hundreds of civilians rode out from Washington to picnic and watch the entertaining spectacle of a one-battle war.  Instead they witnessed a bloody, chaotic catastrophe."  -- p. 665

What does this quote from the reading show us about the public's understanding and role in the war?

Monday, October 21, 2013

OK, the Deep South what?

After Lincoln's election and the initial period of secession, the United States entered into a period of limbo where it was not yet known whether they would fight one another, and if so--how long that war would be.  Your readings demonstrate the chaotic nature of this period. 

So the question is, which side was more ready to fight at the beginning of war?  Consider military preparedness/training/leadership, number of recruits, foreign alliances, etc.  How do the New York City draft riots paint a more diverse picture of the North?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Union within Disunion

This article describes how the South transforms from a disjointed, locally oriented rural nation into a new nation (albeit a failed one in retrospect). With the exception of Gone with the Wind, tales of southern nationalism and romanticization of Dixie are rarely told for the shame of slavery, Jim Crow, and the seeming backwardness of the southern tradition.

Does the article successfully disprove some of these notions? Do you believe that the Civil War helped create the modern South, even if the confederacy lost? Who was more nationalistic? North or South?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

This will only hurt for a minute...

After Fort Sumter when the Union Army began to mobilize, the general consensus was that the US Civil War would be quick--violent, but fast.  Yet in hindsight, we know that the war was anything but  quick--from General McClellan's hesitancy, to bloody battles with high casualty rates but little to no forward momentum.  Plus, it was a constant struggle to adequately staff, clothe, feed and arm each army.

What do you see as the major setbacks in the early stages of the Civil War?  Evaluate the military leadership of the Confederacy versus the sheer lack thereof in the Union.  Why did Lincoln struggle so much to find an adequate military leader?

Friday, October 11, 2013

To secede or not to secede

For some states in the deep South where Breckinridge was overwhelmingly supported, secession was the logical course of action after Lincoln's election.  Others, however, especially border states, remained torn over the pros and cons.  What are some of the ideas that the readings suggest that may have motivated the border states to leave or to stay in the Union?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who to Choose?

The election of 1860 was one of the most heated in American history.  Americans on either side of the slavery issue believed that they had so much at stake.

You are not expected to read the entire article, but to what extent do you feel that their fears were true.  Would Lincoln have ended the institution of slavery?  What were the alternatives?  Why was Douglas in the race?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fueling the Fire

Many argue that the two most controversial provisions in the Compromise of 1850 were the strengthened Fugitive Slave Act and popular sovereignty in the western territories.  Not surprisingly, both of these issues caused heated controversy almost immediately after the compromise.

What do you make of Chase's argument about the Fugitive Slave Act?  Was it moral/emotional, or was he focused more on political logic?  

What is your personal reaction to the Jane Johnson piece?  What is interesting about the wording of the title?

Why is Sumner's piece so full of innuendo?  Why is Kansas a virgin, Butler a "chivalrous knight," and slavery a harlot?

p.s. Yes, I realize I scanned the Sumner piece with my handwriting all over it--apologies.

Friday, October 4, 2013


The Compromise of 1850 was meant to avert war.  Instead, it merely delayed the conflict by a decade.  The reading for tonight contains a variety of opinions asserting why the federal government needed to appease both the North and the South.  The provisions of the Compromise were drawn up by Henry Clay--a westerner. 

So--we have the benefit of hindsight.  The so-called "compromise" was nothing but a delaying of the inevitable Civil War.  Yet, many of the most prominent politicians were convinced it could save them.  How do we make sense of this?  Truly--what were they thinking?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Mexico will Poison Us"

Yes, at this point, our readings may seem to be repetitive, but perhaps that's the point.  This chapter, from Hummel's Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men highlights the degree to which westward expansion (particularly the annexation of Mexico) reshaped the political parties in the United States. 

This begs the question--is it all about money and politics?  Is slavery--an institution that we undeniably regard as a social one today--only considered with regard to its economic and political ramifications? 

Use examples from the text--they always make your discussion hold more water.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The North and South -- Always Divided?

While the reading certainly addresses slavery as one of the major factors contributing to the American Civil War, it does not oversimplify the complexity of the time period.  The article states that there were two other potential causes of sectional rift--overall cultural differences as well as the industrialization of the North versus the stagnant agricultural economy of the South. At the same time, however, there seems to be a suggestion that the two regions, despite their perceived dissimilarities, actually shared many more values than they thought.

When you respond tonight, focus more on the similarities than the dissimilarities of the two regions. What do both of these regions still hold dear?  How much does it remind us of the United States today?