The Life of William W. Belknap, Impeached Post-Resignation in 1876

Grant’s speedy acceptance of Belknap’s resignation undoubtedly saved him from conviction. Introduction William Worth Belknap (September 22, 1829 – October 12, 1890) was a lawyer, soldier in the Union Army, government administrator in Iowa, and the 30th United States Secretary of War, serving under President Ulysses S. Grant. Belknap was impeached on March 2, 1876,[…]

The Civil War: The Cult of the Lost Cause and the Invention of General Pickett

We are still living with the bitter consequences of his wife’s revisionist narrative today. George Pickett – Major General George E. Pickett – was our family’s marquee Confederate relation, distant cousin though he was.  Every schoolchild in America has heard of him, thanks to the ill-fated infantry charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.  For a[…]

The Revolutionary Summer of 1862: How Congress Abolished Slavery

Secession and the Civil War were about slavery and race. Introduction In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln recalled, “All knew that” the “peculiar and powerful interest” in slaves “was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even[…]

John Brown’s “Tragic Prelude” to the U.S. Civil War

John Brown first became a nationally known figure in 1856 through his actions in the Kansas Territory, three years before Harper’s Ferry. Who Was John Brown? “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” John Brown, shortly before his execution, 1859[…]

“​Sweltering with Treason”​: The Civil War Trials of William Matthew Merrick

From the beginning of the war, Merrick was suspected of disloyalty. The American Civil War was not just a conflict between North and South. Indeed, many smaller conflicts pervaded both sections of the divided nation. In the South, for example, Jefferson Davis had to deal with noncompliant and obstructive governors in North Carolina and Georgia.[…]

Ending the Bloodshed: The Last Surrenders of the Civil War

Not until sixteen months after Appomattox, on August 20, 1866, did the President formally declare an end to the war. Introduction Appomattox. To many Americans the word Appomattox is synonymous with the end of the Civil War. The war, however, did not officially conclude at that tiny village west of Petersburg, Virginia. But what happened[…]

In Freedom’s Shadow: The Reconstruction Legacy of Renty Franklin Greaves

His story represents the lives of many African American leaders who remain in the shadows of history during Reconstruction and beyond. Introduction The period in American history known as “Reconstruction” began a social revolution that changed the South forever. For 14 years (1863–1877), persons of African descent once held in chattel slavery worked and served[…]

Out of War, a New Nation: The Impact and Legacy of the Civil War

Why did Americans fight each other with a ferocity unmatched in the Western world? The Civil War had a greater impact on American society and the polity than any other event in the country’s history. It was also the most traumatic experience endured by any generation of Americans. At least 620,000 soldiers lost their lives[…]

How the Civil War Drove Medical Innovation

The federal government was able to spur innovation to meet the needs of the crisis. Introduction The current COVID-19 pandemic, the largest public health crisis in a century, threatens the health of people across the globe. The U.S. has had the most diagnosed cases – surpassing 6 million – and more than 180,000 deaths. But[…]

The Diplomatic Impacts of U.S. Victory in the Civil War

The victory provided a renewed strength of the U.S. government and allowed shifting resources to fight external intervention. Introduction The outcome of the Civil War resulted in a strengthening of U.S. foreign power and influence, as the definitive Union defeat of the Confederacy firmly demonstrated the strength of the United States Government and restored its[…]

The Impact of the Trent Affair on U.S.-British Relations in the Civil War

The Lincoln administration understood that it would be unwise to risk a possible armed conflict while already in the midst of a war. Introduction On November 8, 1861, Charles Wilkes, a U.S. Navy Officer, captured two Confederate envoys aboard the British mail ship, the Trent. Great Britain accused the United States of violating British neutrality,[…]

A History of the Civil War, from the Preceding Crisis to the End of Reconstruction

Examining the initial fractures, course, and ultimate resolution of the Civil War that divided the nation. Decade of Crisis Slave Resistance During the 1850s, Americans witnessed a decade of sectional crises that threatened the very existence of the Union. Ralph Waldo Emerson was right in predicting that the Mexican Cession would reignite the explosive issue[…]

Key Personalities of the American Civil War

Taking a look at some of the key figures who played important roles during one of our nation’s most divisive times. Abraham Lincoln February 12 1809 – April 15 1865 Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and the first Republican elected to that office. Lincoln was president during the Civil War,[…]

Elections in 1864 during the Civil War

Lincoln was presiding over a bloody civil war with waning popularity. But he steadfastly rejected pleas to postpone the election. Introduction The outlook was not promising in 1864 for President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. Hundreds of thousands of Americans had been killed, wounded or displaced in a civil war with no end in sight. Lincoln was[…]

The Gentleman’s Agreement That Ended the Civil War

An unusually civil armistice in the most punishing conflict ever fought on American soil. One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 9, 1865, a lone Confederate horseman violently waving a white towel as a flag of truce galloped up to the men of the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry near Appomattox Court House and asked for[…]

The Civil War Overwhelmed the Senses Like No Other

The loudest booms people had ever heard and the powerful stench of death on a staggering scale. In rhetoric and substance, wars are generally fought for ideals that are noble, dignified, and lofty. Leaders justify waging war—and endeavor to inspire those who fight them—by appealing to powerful abstractions: liberty, self-determination, and national identity. In turn,[…]

A History of Reconstruction

African Americans gained political power yet faced the backlash of white supremacy and racial violence. Introduction I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about Black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.” Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six[…]

The Civil War Diarist Who Chronicled the Confederacy’s Fall

Raised in plantation privilege, Mary Boykin Chestnut was unprepared for the trauma of war and defeat. “February 18, 1861…. I do not allow myself vain regrets or sad foreboding. This Southern Confederacy must be supported now by calm determination and cool brains. We have risked all, and we must play our best, for the stake[…]

African American Spirituals: From Cotton Fields to Concert Halls

After the Civil War, touring groups of black college singers popularized slavery-era songs, giving rise to a new musical genre. “Swing low, sweet chariot….” These words are familiar to many Americans, who might sing them in worship, in Sunday school, around campfires, in school, and in community choruses. But the black singers responsible for introducing[…]

The Bostonian Who Armed the Anti-Slavery Settlers in ‘Bleeding Kansas’

Amos Lawrence backed abolitionist pioneers in the town that bears his name. On May 24, 1854, Anthony Burns, a young African-American man, was captured on his way home from work. He had escaped from slavery in Virginia and had made his way to Boston, where he was employed in a men’s clothing store. His owner[…]

How Charleston Celebrated Its Last July 4th Before the Civil War

As the South Carolina city prepared to break from the Union, its people swung between nostalgia and rebellion. In the cooling evening air, Charleston, South Carolina’s notable citizens filed into Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street for the traditional banquet to close their July 4th festivities. The year was 1860, and the host, as always, was[…]

Black Lives at Arlington National Cemetery: From Slavery to Segregation

Insights into the lives of African Americans at Arlington and other plantations in the Upper South before and after the Civil War. In the following excerpt from Civil War Places, William A. Blair reads the inscriptions on the headstones in Section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery for insights into the lives of African Americans at[…]

The Confederate Exodus to Mexico after Losing the Civil War

They created self-contained enclaves characterized by a southern Protestantism in sharp contrast to Mexican Catholicism. The defeat of the Confederacy, the prospect of military occupation and Republican state government, and the financial collapse of many plantations and businesses sent a number of white southerners in pursuit of life in a foreign land during the late[…]

Abraham Lincoln’s Leadership in Crisis

Lincoln expertly managed leading politicians, related well with the people, and dealt clearly with the military. Introduction In March 1861, as Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president, the United States faced its greatest crisis: its sudden and unexpected dissolution. Seven of the then 31 states had already voted to secede from the Union. What he[…]

Roundheads and Cavaliers: The English Civil Wars, 1642-1651

These wars were between supporters of the king’s right to absolute authority, and supporters of the rights of Parliament. Introduction The term English Civil War (or Wars) refers to the series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between Parliamentarians (often called the Roundheads) and Royalists (or the cavaliers) from 1642 until 1651.[…]