Lecture 14: The Civil War


The first purpose here is to understand how the great Civil War came about—both by examining the events leading up to it, and also by looking at how historians have interpreted these events. Then we go on to consider the fighting itself, with emphasis on the Civil War as the first modern war fought by citizen armies.


Outline of Lecture


The first lecture of the course talked about the uses of History for judgment and for identity. The Civil War is a chapter of American history essential to national identity.

The Coming of the Civil War

The election of 1860 precipitated war, as the South felt threatened by Lincoln and by the Republican platform of free soil. The firing on Fort Sumter began the fighting, but historians continue to debate just what caused the Civil War. The current historical consensus is that slavery was at the heart of it—that this was a conflict that could not be repressed.

The Tragedy Unfolds

The Civil War set a new standard for horrific loss—600,000 casualties in a total war involving mass armies. Both North and South possessed advantages at the outset, but the South used its advantages better it the early years of the war. In 1862, with Lee invading Maryland, Bragg advancing on the Ohio, and Sibley invading the western territories, the Confederacy reached, as one historian has said, its high water mark.

The Grinder

The years 1863-65 were a war of attrition, by which the Union eventually ground down the southern capacity to fight. After reducing Vicksburg, Grant assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, and it was he who eventually took Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. It required total war, as exemplified by Sherman’s famous march to the sea, to defeat the South.


Photographs taken by Mathew B. Brady, the most famous of Civil War photographers, or by his assistants, are available from the American Memory website of the Library of Congress. The photographs were taken on glass plates and printed as albumen prints, intended for public sale. The photographs were shocking to the public in that they exhibited Union and Confederate dead. Parcel to his commercial venture, Brady created a stirring memorial to soldier sacrifice in the Civil War.

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20. Why the Americans Are More Addicted to Practical than to Theoretical Science


It happens that in the middle of the Civil War, in 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, creating land-grant colleges across the United States. That's why we're reading this chapter of Tocqueville now.


·         In higher learning we speak of "pure research," done simply to expand knowledge, without regard to practical use; of "applied research," done to address some problem in society (say, wheat scab in North Dakota); and "technology," meaning taking the knowledge into practice. Can you find the origins of these categories in Tocqueville?

·         What sort of science flourishes in a democracy? How can you explain the eventual scientific supremacy of the United States?

·         Land-grant universities such as NDSU have been called "democracy's colleges." How does the type of research and learning done here match up with Tocqueville's sense of science in a democracy?


The Civil War marks the rise to prominence of photography as a documentary craft, particularly through the works of Mathew Brady and his assistants. You can view the horrors of war as they captured them at the Library of Congress Civil War Photographers site.

Film Review

Ride with the Devil

This film (directed by Ang Lee) portrays the undisciplined, bitter nature of guerilla warfare on the western border (a legacy of the Bleeding Kansas era).


Based on the letters of Robert Gould Shaw, the white officer who volunteered to lead one of the first black regiments.

The Red Badge of Courage

Based on the novella by Stephen Crane, wherein a youth discovers the horrors of war.

Gods and Generals

Adapted from Jeff Shaara’s novel, the film follows legendary leaders through the early campaigns in the major theaters of the war.

Cold Mountain

A wounded veteran makes a perilous journey home.

Book Review

Johannsen, Lincoln, the South, and Slavery


Vetter, Sherman


Gooding, On the Altar of Freedom