For soldiers, leaving home and entering a world far different from civilian life, change would come rapidly and without mercy. Soldiers went through a psychological evolution from civilian to volunteer to soldier as they coped with the challenges of war, each step changing them more and taking them further from their civilian lives. This process included suppressing pre-war identities and creating new ones, identities based on professionalism and a certain amount of callousness in order to survive the war.Read More
On the evening of July 3, 1861, a dozen Union soldiers (self -described “disciples of Faust”) broke into the offices of the of the Virginia Republican—a decidedly secessionist organ—and appropriated the newspaper’s office for their own use. The next morning—on the Fourth of July—the first issues of the American Union hit the streets of Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). The newspaper—composed and printed entirely by Union soldiers—enjoyed a brief existence in Martinsburg, lasting only as long as the Union troops occupied the town. Despite its brief existence, however, the paper sheds light onto the patriotism and zeal of Union soldiers during the war's opening months.Read More
Dred and Harriet Scott hold hands in front of the St. Louis courthouse where they first sued for their freedom, and look forever through the famous St. Louis Arch. While the arch specifically relates to the Louis and Clark expedition and westward expansion, it also represents for many the American Dream...Read More
In March 1857, the Supreme Court delivered a ruling that sent shock waves through the north. In the Court opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roger Taney, slaves were not considered citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal Court, but more importantly Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories. For free labor/free soil advocates in the north, this was a major step backwards in the efforts to contain the spread of slavery.
Everything centered on one man, a slave named Dred Scott.Read More
At the turn of the 19th century, the United States’ foremost democratic thinkers were not just focused on refining their government. Instead, they looked widely at the nation and its institutions, agonizing over how to best create a respectable, responsible, republican citizenry. Consequently, the 19th century witnessed a myriad of different reform movements aimed at perfecting every aspect of society. As Americans considered what they should and should not keep from the old systems in Europe, their attention fell quickly to what we would term criminal justice. Prior to the Revolution, the colonies utilized punishments that might look familiar to students of Civil War era military discipline – public shaming, branding, corporal punishment. Prisons were little more than overcrowded holding facilities where the guilty of all ages shared an unregulated space. Understandably, reform-minded observers saw this as a den for breeding criminals rather than an institution that would improve the country.Read More
1863, as we have noted, was a memorable year for Emilie Davis. A free black woman living in Philadelphia, Emilie celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation, twin Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and steps toward lasting change as northern states like Maryland chose to end slavery voluntarily. But 1863 was also a year of devastation for Emilie, one in which she would witness the deterioration of her family as a direct result of the new rights that came along with the Emancipation Proclamation.
This is the third installment of Memorable Days: the Civil War through the eyes of a free black woman. To read an introduction of Emilie, click here. To read her take on the Battle of Gettysburg, click here.Read More
At the root of any civil war lays loyalty. Internal conflicts, fought over everything from politics to religion, produce deep divisions amongst a nation’s populace. America’s Civil War was no exception, as it witnessed divisions along geographic, social, political, and racial lines. Not only did the war divide former countrymen, but these divisions were something that Americans talked extensively about throughout the war. As historian William Blair recently noted, in the Civil War North it is almost impossible to find a newspaper that did not discuss treason or loyalty in nearly every issue. Along with extensive discussion about loyalty and treason in local newspapers, these conversations carried over into the personal correspondences of contemporary men and women. I, like many other historians, have studied the issue of wartime loyalty, yet my research takes that subject in a different direction.Read More
The United States did not enter the Civil War with the intent to destroy slavery. However, by the end of the war in 1865 slavery had been dealt its death blow. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment passing Congress, and moving on to the states for ratification. While the Emancipation Proclamation is more famous, it was the 13th Amendment that gave emancipation meaning and solidified the end of the war as the end of slavery in America.Read More
On August 9, 1862, twenty year old Henry Livermore Abbott suffered a great personal tragedy; the death of his beloved older brother, Ned. Writing to his father weeks later, Abbott admitted, “I have had a good many letters about Ned but I can’t answer them. To think of the subject unmans me. I have to keep it from my thoughts.” He struggled to come to terms with this loss, as this was more than the death of a sibling. It was the loss of a comrade killed in battle.Read More