February 26

Post #95 – Why We’re Still Fighting the Civil War

You’re in an Advanced Placement U.S. History class that analyzes different approaches to history.  As we have learned, history’s interpretation can change – use the formation of the Constitution’s interpretation as an example (Blog #93).  History can also be used as a weapon to support or discredit opponents like the way Richard Nixon / Watergate, Frederick Douglass, and Japanese internment camps are being used to discredit President Trump.  In the same way that history can be weaponized, the history of the Civil War has been discussed and fought over ever since General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.  Using the article, “The Way We Weren’t,” author David Von Drehle dissects the way Americans have viewed the bloodiest conflict in our history.

People in 2011 were polled in the 11 states of the Confederacy, and they answered that the primary cause of the Civil War was states rights, or in this case, the primacy of the states over the federal government, despite what the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause said.  However, as we have seen with the recent history we’ve studied, states rights was not just a Southern thing.  Northern states and cities resisted the new Fugitive Slave Law (and the federal government) and tried to foil sending slaves to their original owners.  Eminent Civil War historians like James McPherson and David Blight state that almost everything in the events leading up to the Civil War dovetail w/ slavery.

Confederate soldiers and citizens, the losers in the conflict, had to mentally hold onto their “due pride” after fighting so hard, so they invented the states rights cause.  Many historians, novelists, and filmmakers were willing to go along with this denial and write narratives that supported the states rights cause.  Confederate generals wrote their memoirs in the post-war world which distanced their sacrifice from slavery and attached it firmly to something more noble (in their minds) like states rights.  Insidious inside the states rights cause was the Lost Cause, the belief that slavery was a benign institution and that Black people had it better under slavery than freedom.  Freedom, as defined by the profit-hungry, industrial North, included working for tiny wages and ruthless competition. In Jefferson Davis’s book about the war, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, he portrays the South as hopelessly outgunned and outmanned (which it was) and compares the North to the serpent infiltrating the Garden of Eden (the South) where slave owners lived with their slaves in paradise.

However, this is not to blame the Civil War on just the South.  Yes, they were treasonous.  Yes, they killed hundreds of thousands of Northern soldiers, but EVERYONE was complicit in slavery.  As mentioned in the article, many Northern states, including Wall Street, benefitted dramatically from it.  Check out the New York Historical Society’s online exhibit, Slavery in New York.  There should be little doubt that the war was a long time coming, exacted a horrific toll on the nation, and still leaves us with a legacy that we are dealing with as a nation.


CSA states evolution.gif
By User:GolbezOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Questions to answer:

  1. Why was the Lost Cause or denial of slavery as the central cause so attractive to Americans in the aftermath of the war (even up until the 20th Century Civil Rights Movement)?
  2. On page 40 (1) of the article, it mentions several different causes of the Civil War:
    • Northern aggressors invading an independent Southern nation;
    • High tariffs like the Tariff of Abominations;
    • Blundering statesmen like Stephen Douglas, Roger Taney, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan;
    • Clash of industrial vs. agrarian cultures;
    • Caused by fanatics like John Brown and Southern “fire eaters”;
    • Representive of a Marxist class struggle – Southern aristocracy vs. Northern factory workers.

Which of these is most persuasive as a cause and which is the least persuasive cause?  Why?

3. The article focuses a lot on Bleeding Kansas as the pivotal point in which the Civil War seemed inevitable.  Would you agree with this assertion?  Why or why not?

Image result for gone with the wind

4. What are some major arguments that poke holes in the Lost Cause?  Think of movies like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind  and their portrayal of the South.

5. When and why did America finally start to break away from the Lost Cause mythology (a.k.a. The Dunning School of Post War America)?

Pick 4 of the questions (including #1) and answer them in 400 words minimum total.  Due Friday, March 3 by class. 

February 8

Ch. 18 -19 Google Docs

2nd Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tqXMoSfpu0mn2BdKeob0pf4ignp_3SyT6tQzn4SRAnA/edit?usp=sharing

3rd Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GVbv66VPIs2qviHGuORZpUhOkH-OqYnHDz_M2ovTNFY/edit?usp=sharing

4th Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tCDob5LKLQF0TphMLyltPA0dX-wGsfSwOafz0LPSO5w/edit?usp=sharing

5th Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1IvdNJw4R1aVniJbgQNiLSiIZOiY0uTfUyQNK56yLcWM/edit?usp=sharing

Due Sunday, February 12 by 10 pm.  

Extra credit film, Oklahoma City for PBS – http://www.okcityfilm.com/

Extra credit film, Race Underground for PBS – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/race-underground/

Extra credit film, Ruby Ridge from PBS (available 2/14) – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/ruby-ridge/

All extra credit films are due 2 weeks after they’ve aired, so Race is due 2/14, OKCity is due 2/21, and Ruby is due 2/28.  Minimum 1/2 page summary, minimum 1/2 page connection to APUSH.


February 10

Blog #83 – Was the Civil War inevitable?

It’s easy to look back from the vantage point of 150 years ago and say that the Civil War was inevitable.  That there was no denying that a clash over slavery would eventually occur, that the compromises would only last so long or work so well until something else came up to shatter the delicate balance that the Northern and Southern states tried to perpetuate.

And looking back over the past ten to 15 years before the war began, events like the Wilmot Proviso, the Mexican War, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the new Fugitive Slave Law, Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry all take on additional significance because with the aid of time, historians can look back and see which events were more pivotal and which ones weren’t.

And the last year before the war, 1860, so many things had to click into place for the war to happen.  What if Lincoln wasn’t nominated or hadn’t won?  What if there was only John Bell or Stephen Douglas to win votes in the South instead of splitting up those Union votes in many parts of the South?  Could the election have gone to the House of Representatives if Lincoln hadn’t won the majority of the electoral votes, and what would have happened?

Other questions abound when I think of the last year before the war?  What if the Charleston Mercury editorial hadn’t been printed?  What if President Buchanan had been stronger in resisting the secession of the first seven states?  He tried to resupply Fort Sumter in January 1861 but the ship was fired upon and returned to Washington w/o resupplying Major Robert Anderson and his men at the South Carolina fort.  Buchanan didn’t think he had the power to stop the states from seceding, but he said it was unconstitutional. Or was Buchanan just leaving the job to Abe Lincoln (see cartoon below, courtesy of Aldo B)?

Did the Southern states actually have to leave or could they have done something else beginning in December 1860?  They must have felt that working within the system of the established Constitution was not working even though that document guarantees slavery.  The election of Lincoln had additional significance for these Deep South states b/c not all slave states left the Union right away (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware stayed, and North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee left ONLY after Lincoln called for troops when Fort Sumter was bombed).  Were these Deep South states trying to resist Lincoln or were the resisting his party’s anti-slavery platform?  He was the first president elected since John Quincy Adams in 1824 that was avowedly not a Southerner or a Northerner soft of slavery, so he must have been perceived as some kind of threat.  Another thing people should take into consideration is that the Republicans, after Lincoln was elected, would be in charge of appointing almost 1,000 governmental jobs, including marshals, post masters, and others that had been appointed for the past 8 years under the Pierce and Buchanan administrations.

I know there are a lot of questions here that I’ve raised, and that’s b/c I wanted you to think about the inevitability of this whole stream of events that led to the bombing of Fort Sumter.  Please answer the following two questions:

1. Was there ONE thing in the time period (1846-1861) that you think impacted the start of the war more than any other event or thing?  Why?

2. Which event or action in the last 16 months (1860 – 61) had the greatest impact on starting the war?  Why?  Did this event make the Civil War inevitable or not?  Why?

Due Tuesday, Feb. 23 by class time.  300 words minimum.

December 6

Blog #58 – Discuss causes of the Civil War

One of the main things that I hope that I have taught you over the past couple of weeks (going back to the Mexican War controversy) is that asking the question “What caused the Civil War?” is not a good question.  The question seems to indicate that there’s only ONE cause that can be found among all of the political compromises, peoples’ actions, economic forces, and differing social / cultural norms of the North and the South.  This oversimplification insults the intelligence of anyone who has studied the CW like we have, because there is no single, simple answer.


In the past, historians have tried to blame the war on agitators – the abolitionists or the Slave Power conspiracies.  Both sides had radical “fire-eaters” who were unwilling to accept compromise and wanted it the Frank Sinatra way, “I did it my way!”  Also, past historians have tended to blame it on economic forces or states’ rights.  The threat of losing slavery meant the loss of billions of dollars of investment in people and land for the southern economy, and so the Deep South states pushed it to the brink to be left alone from federal interference (though Lincoln wasn’t going to interfere, he claimed that he just wanted to stop the spread of slavery out west).  This dove tails nicely with the idea that Stephen Douglas and others had championed – it was up to the states to decide what to do with slavery b/c the federal government (Congress) was prohibited from interfering with slavery.  Therefore, it was a state’s right to do with slavery what it wished since the federal government had its hands tied by the Dred Scott decision in 1857.


Other historians, more recently, have placed the blame for the CW squarely on the shoulders of slavery. Many Northerners felt that slavery was on its decline or would be limited in its area of growth by the Missouri Compromise (1820), but with the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, Compromise of 1850, and Kansas Nebraska Act, that small area had quickly expanded over the course of 35 years.  Then the Dred Scott decision seemed to say that slavery could exist anywhere within the country.  Those Northerners were now angry (for many different reasons, racism being one of them) that their politicians seemed to betray them.  This anger might explain the popularity of the Republican Party in the 1850s, an avowed anti-slavery party that appealed to many Northerners by 1860.  At the center of all this anger and controversy is the volatile subject of slavery and its spread.

Modern historian Edward Ayers, a Southerner, has divided up these historians into two camps: the fundamentalists who claim that the Civil War was a struggle over the future of the United States between slavery and freedom, and the revisionists who say that the Civil War was caused by the disintegration of the Democrats, the failure of compromise, and the election of Abraham Lincoln (the first Northern president elected who wasn’t pro-slavery since John Quincy Adams in 1824).  For the fundamentalists, slavery is the main cause, while for the revisionists, slavery is buried beneath layers of white ideology and politics.  Ayers feels that slavery was a crisis of immense magnitude but didn’t lead to war.  He said that the “war came through misunderstanding, confusion, miscalculation.  Both sides underestimated the location of the fundamental loyalty in the other.  Both received incorrect images of the other in the partisan press.  Political beliefs distorted each side’s view of the other’s economy and class relations.  Both sides believed the other side was bluffing, and both sides believed that the other’s internal differences and conflicts would lead it to buckle” (134).   He wraps it up by saying that Southern whites didn’t fight for slavery, they fought for a new nation based upon slavery.  Northerners didn’t fight to end slavery, but they did fight to preserve the integrity of the Union.

Question:  Where do you find yourself when it comes to the cause(s) of the Civil War?  Do you find yourself in the fundamentalist camp or with the revisionists?  Why?  Do you think that slavery, economics, or states rights was the primary cause of the war?  Why?


Your answer is due Monday, December 9 by class time.  Minimum of 300 words, please.

March 28

Civil War Preservation Trust Essay and Postcard Contest

Go to this link to learn more about the Civil War Preservation Trust’s essay and postcard contest.  Both are due by May 1.


For the essay:

Submit essays addressing the theme, Preserving 150 Years of History: 1862-1863, Shifting Tides. 1862 and 1863 were eventful years in the American Civil War – including the Battle of Antietam, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Gettysburg Address. In your essay incorporate events such as these with the importance of preservation and the study of history.

All Essays must:

* Use the slogan as their title. 
* Discuss preservation. 
* Be authored by only one student, there is no group entry category.
* Be approximately 300 words long.
* Use proper grammar, correct spelling, and consist primarily of the student’s own words.
* Include citations for all quotations. *Plagiarism will disqualify your essay.
* Be sent through e-mail by May 1, 2013.

Essays will be judged for creativity, persuasive quality, clarity, and strength of message.

Submit your entry to:
education@civilwar.org with the subject line: “2013 Essay Contest”
**Please send your essay as an attachment either as a Word or PDF document. Please include your contact information on this document, not just in the e-mail.

For the postcard:

Submit illustrations on postcards with a short note on the back addressing the theme of Preserving 150 Years of History: 1862-1863, Shifting Tides.

Postcards Must:

* Be the correct size – 5 to 6 inches long and 3.5 to 4.25 inches high.
* Fit this year’s theme.
* Include an illustration on one side and a brief note on the other, just as one would write a postcard.
* Be authored by only one student, there is no group entry category.
* Be appropriate for all audiences, not offensive or derogatory
* Be in the Civil War Trust office by May 1, 2013. 

Postcards will be judged for creativity, clarity, and strength of message.

Send your postcard to:

Civil War Trust Education Department
1156 15th St. NW Suite 900
Washington, DC 20005


To see last year’s winners in both the postcard and essay contest, go here (remember, you’re in the senior division): http://www.civilwar.org/education/contests-quizzes/essay-contest/2012-essay-contest/2012-essay-postcard-contest.html


December 12

Blog #44 – Most important turning point

This blog asks you to pick which of the three turning points in the Civil War are the most important and why. 

Turning Point #1 — Battle of Antietam – Sept. 17, 1862 — On this day, America suffered more casualties (23,000) than the total casualties of the Revolution, War of 1812, and Mexican War combined.  At stake was the Confederate invasion of Maryland and General George McClellan’s reputation as the next great American general.  McClellan stopped the invasion and Lee turned back.  Britain and France delayed their vital recognition of the Confederacy (which could have aided the cash-strapped rebels and also provided them with much-needed aid).  In addition, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation four days later which completely changed the scope of the war by making it not just about keeping the Union together but also ending slavery.  With the EP in place on January 1, 1863, freed blacks could now join the Union Army and fight for their own freedom.  And lastly, the momentum swung to the Northern side, if just for a little while. 

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/antietam/maps/antietam-animated-map.html  Antietam animated map. 


General George Meade

Turning Point #2 – Battle of Gettysburg – July 1-3, 1863 — After two crushing defeats, the Army of the Potomac (led by General George Meade, a.k.a. the snapping turtle) finally got one in the win column by defeating General Lee and the Confederacy on a hot, sweaty battlefield in eastern Pennsylvania.  Over three days, the Union Army was able to defend their positions from ferocious Confederate assaults and turn the tide of the war.  The largest and deadliest battle on the North American continent (53,000 casualties), this Union victory slammed the door shut on any chance of foreign recognition that the Confederacy had left.  Also, Confederate hero Robert E. Lee never went on a major offensive again afterwards, b/c his army was too crippled and further large scale attacks would have been futile.  Coupled with the victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Gettysburg dealt a serious blow to the Confederacy’s hopes of winning this war.  They could not continue to lose 1/3 of their best army every time they took on the Union nor lose valuable commanders and field generals.   For many, this July 4 of 1863 had a special meaning as the Union headed towards victory. 


Turning Point #3 – The Election of 1864 – this political battle is considered by James McPherson to be the third turning point of the war because it had still not been decided on the battlefield in the summer of 1864.  Ulysses S. Grant had taken command of all of the Union armies and been expected to bring his pounding style of attack to the eastern theatre of the war (Virginia) like he had done out west in Mississippi and Tennessee.  However, the 4-pronged attack on the Confederacy soon got bogged down in the reality of war and many Americans had expressed their war weariness in many ways.  One of those ways was to support silly peace plans with Jeff Davis that would have ended the war w/o ending slavery. Another way Americans showed their war weariness was by picking Democrat George McClellan to be their presidential nominee.  The Peace Democrats wanted to end the war w/o ending slavery, but McClellan publicly contradicted them by saying he would push for peace through victory – read, war!  Lincoln’s party flirted w/ picking another candidate but never really did that, and by putting Tennessean Andrew Johnson on the ticket as his V.P., Lincoln was trying to be the “Union” candidate.  Luckily for Lincoln (and the country), Union general William T. Sherman captured the pivotal Confederate city of Atlanta in September, and the hits just kept coming.  In October, Union General Sheridan defeated the Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley.  78% of the Union soldiers voted for Lincoln and only 29% of McClellan’s former army, the Army of the Potomac, voted for their old boss.  Lincoln swept up the electoral college 212 to 21 as well.   This was the final turning point of the war b/c the end of slavery and the Confederacy appeared just to be a matter of time.  Lincoln planned on having a forgiving Reconstruction policy as exemplified in his 2nd Inaugural address (http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html).   If McClellan had won this election, who knew what would have happened?  Would there have been peace after four long bitter years with nothing to show for it except the dead and injured? 

Pick what you think is the most important turning point in the Civil War and explain why in your own words. 

200 words minimum (except for Tamia!  You know how much you have to do) due by class on Thursday, Dec. 13. 

Here’s the closing paragraph of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

April 21

The Conspirator – E.C. Blog

The Conspirator came out this weekend (No. 9 in movie sales) and told a little known story about the trial of Mary Surratt and the three assassins accused of being involved in John Wilkes Booth’s plan to throw the country into chaos immediately after the Civil War had been won in mid April 1865.  Confederate general Robert E. Lee had surrendered on April 9, and the country was in the mood for celebrating that Easter weekend beginning with Friday, April 14.  But President Lincoln was killed so suddenly afterwards that there was little time for rejoicing.

One of the things that I wondered before I saw the film was, why was the film being made?  Sure, the film could capitalize on the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war this month.  The film was telling an unknown part of American history, as I mentioned earlier, so at least it wasn’t covering old ground.  As the film started examining the tensions still bubbling under the surface during the trial, it became clearer to me why Robert Redford made the film.

In the aftermath of a very traumatic event, while the country was still in a war mood (the last Confederate army under Joseph Johnston still hadn’t been captured or surrendered yet, nor had Confederate President Jefferson Davis been arrested yet either), Confederate prisoners like Mary Surratt and the assassins weren’t treated like regular prisoners.  They were tried by a military tribunal (with nine military men acting as judges and jury), the prisoners’ rights to due process, a fair trial by jury, a lawyer’s preparation for trial, disclosure of evidence, and other legal rights were violated in these procedures.

Pick two of the following questions to answer:

 – What did you think of the Union’s treatment of Confederate sympathizers / assassins?  Did it seem fair or unjust?  Why?

 – The government’s prosecutor, Judge Advocate Holt argued against any further delay of the trial of the assassins in order to help the nation “heal its wounds.”  Do you think the trial helped this process or prolong the healing of the country?

 – Since the North couldn’t execute the primary assassin, John Wilkes Booth, do you think the nation’s rage and anger became directed at the remaining assassins?  Why or why not?

 – Explain the deeper subtext of the film in a post – 9/11/01 terrorist attack America and the wider treatment of Muslims as suspects (w/ little to no evidence). 

Due Monday May 9.  Max 10 points (200 words minimum). 

March 26

Turner Classic Movies – Civil War movies all through April!

Every Monday and Wednesday night in April, Turner Classic Movies will broadcast 34 movies dealing with the Civil War to celebrate (if that’s the right word) or commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the war (April 12, 1861, 4:30 a.m., bombing of Fort Sumter, S.C.). 

Check out the schedule here: http://www.tcm.com/ 

The first two movies on Monday night, April 4 (also, the same day Dr. King was shot in 1968), at 8 pm, the granddaddy of them all, Gone With the Wind.  After that, a 1957 film called Raintree County which is about “a willful southern belle goes mad out of fear that she may be part black.”   Sounds ridiculous, but check out the film for yourself.   However, I sense a trend, b/c on Wednesday, another 1957 movie called Band of Angels deals w/ a similar topic, but this time, the story focuses on the southern belle surviving after the war and she discovers that her mother is part black.   Maybe it’s anxiety over integration brought on by the Civil Rights Movement manifesting itself in movies? 

On April 11, you’ll get to watch the silent film classic that jump started the KKK in 1915, Birth of a Nation at 8 pm.  In fact, the whole evening is devoted to the earliest silent films on the war.  Wednesday night April 13 includes two comedies about the war, The Southern Yankee starring Red Skelton and Advance to the Rear.  Sandwiched in between those two is a Shirley Temple “classic” called, The Littlest Rebel.   After those three is a musical number called Golden Girl and then another comedy called General Spanky that includes some of the cast from a TV show called The Little Rascals

What you really might learn from these movies is not a true accurate portrayal of the war but you’ll probably get a glimpse into how Americans wanted to view this conflict and the racial strife that tore the country apart.  You’ll also see unflattering stereotypes of African Americans, sometimes played by Black actors themselves. 

On Monday, April 18, the schedule finally gets better with a Clint Eastwood classic from 1976, The Outlaw Josey Wales followed by Major Dundee with Charleton Heston and Richard Harris (the first Dumbledore) made in 1965.   A John Wayne epic called Horse Soldiers follows those two, and then Escape from Fort Bravo and A Time for Killing

Wednesday, April 20 brings a few interesting movies including Virginia City, in which suave ladies’ man Errol Flynn poses as a dance hall girl to become a rebel spy.  The other movies shown on this day deal with tensions created by the CW out West. 

On the last week of April, Monday April 25, we see (in my humble opinion) one of the best CW movies in Glory followed by what many consider to be one of the best, Gettysburg.  The source material for the movie is the great book, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, but the movie is too long, has terrible acting and dialogue, and repetitive scenes.  It’s a case of the director going for accuracy over drama. 

On April 27, the director of Birth of a Nation returns 15 years later with a biography pic on Abraham Lincoln.  I’ll hold off judgement until I see it.  After that is a bio pic of Vice President Andrew Johnson called Tennessee Johnson.   The last film of the evening (and of the month) is Drango, in which a Union soldier encounters animosity while he tries to help Southerners rebuild their town. 

Also, Twitter has an ongoing hash tag (#cw150) where you can check out anything to do w/ the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  A lot of these tweets are news on re-enactments, newly available digital archives, book announcements, and day-by-day tweets as to what was going on at that time.