Why Did a Video about the Civil War and Slavery Go Viral?

Yesterday I posted a video of a West Point history professor briefly discussing the central role that slavery played in the coming of the Civil War. While I suggested that there is nothing surprising in this video, Professor Ty Seidule does address a number of widely misunderstood topics related to the central issue such as why non-slaveholding whites supported the Confederacy.

The video appeared following a column by Steven Metz, director of research at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, in which he calls for the U.S. military to ‘Disavow the glorification of Confederate symbolism.’ Professor Seidule is interviewed in this article, which likely explains the statement I highlighted in yesterday’s post about the U.S. army’s role in defeating the Confederacy. Continue reading “Why Did a Video about the Civil War and Slavery Go Viral?”

Why Charles Dew’s Secessionist Commissioners Matter 150 Years Later

My abbreviated course on the Civil War has hit the ground running in the last two weeks. This time around I am using Louis Masur’s brief history of the war and Reconstruction and so far it is working out well. I tend to look for a concise narrative that I can supplement in various ways. For their first supplemental reading I had students read an essay by Charles Dew based on his book, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War.

It’s an ideal reading for high school students. The argument is concise, easy to follow, and the subject matter couldn’t be more conducive to a seminar discussion. And we did, indeed, have a dynamite discussion earlier today. Students thought that Dew’s commissioners helped to answer an important question regarding why the Deep South states interpreted Lincoln’s election as an immediate threat. At the same time they struggled with the content of their speeches and editorials. As they discussed the article further I realized that the difficulty has to do with how history students tend to think about the institution of slavery. They think about it primarily in abstract terms with an understanding that life could be incredibly violent and sad. Few survey classes have the time to dig into the complexity of the master-slave relationship or examine the day-to-day lives of slaves. What they miss, unfortunately, is the extent to which slavery was intertwined with assumptions concerning race. Continue reading “Why Charles Dew’s Secessionist Commissioners Matter 150 Years Later”

Playing Civil War in 1862

Here is an interesting little find from Slate’s history blog. In 1862 the Philadelphia publishing company Charlton and Althrop released this board game to promote patriotism and Union throughout the North. You advance on the board by landing on spaces that support the Union cause and lose ground by landing on spaces that threaten it. Some of them are quite humorous, but consider the execution of an identified Union soldier as an example of the latter. Serious stuff.

Secession Game

“A People’s Contest” and a Classroom Discussion

Yesterday I commented on my Facebook page about a pretty intense discussion in my Civil War class on what motivated northern men to volunteer for the army in the spring of 1861. We talked about about a collection of letters as well as a short selection from James McPherson’s book, What They Fought For 1861-1865.  I’ve commented on the challenges of teaching the importance that northerners attached to union, liberty and their close identification with the founding generation in contrast with Confederates. The latter’s claims to defending hearth, home, and a “way of life” tend to resonate more with my students. Continue reading ““A People’s Contest” and a Classroom Discussion”

How Would You Teach Secession?

Today my Civil War class will continue to discuss the background leading up to Lincoln’s election and the first wave of secession that took place between December 1860 and February 1861. My students are pouring through a collection of documents related to the secession conventions as well as speeches by Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis. For Monday they will read a selection from Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Continue reading “How Would You Teach Secession?”