US Civil War and Reconstruction (HIUS112)

“There never will be anything more interesting in America than that Civil War never.” – Gertrude Stein 

  • Time: TU/TH, 8:00 – 9:20 a.m.
  • Place: CSB 004
  • Prof. Plant’s office: HSS 4062
  • Office hours: Tuesdays, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
  • email:

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Civil War and Reconstruction in shaping modern U.S. history. By settling the question of whether the Union, long strained by sectional differences, would endure, the war set the stage for the nation’s eventual emergence as a major world power. In the process, the war ended the practice slavery within the United States, enhanced the authority of the federal government over that of the states, dramatically shifted the balance of power between North and South, disrupted the global economy, and changed the course of countless individual lives.

Taking 1850 as our starting point, we will first probe some of the major causes of the Civil War. We will analyze how, over the course of the decade, competing world views hardened in response to a series of legislative, legal, and political acts. As tensions mounted, the existing party system frayed and collapsed, paving the way for the rise of the Republicans and Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, as well as the secessionist movement in the South. We will then study how both regions mobilized for war, and how the war’s goals, conduct, and meaning changed over time. Topics to be explored include: the motivations ordinary soldiers; the specter of foreign intervention; developments in military technology and warfare; the experiences of slaves who liberated themselves by fleeing to Union lines; mounting dissent in both the North and South as the conflict dragged on; and widely shared religious views on suffering and death that shaped Americans’ responses to the unprecedented carnage. In the final two weeks we will turn to the history of Reconstruction and the memory of the Civil War. We will discuss how various factions competed to control the emergence of a new social order in South and investigate why freedmen’s and women’s attempts to gain political equality, legal rights, and economic security ultimately failed. Finally, the course concludes with an exploration of how the war came to be remembered and memorialized in the late 19th century in ways that fostered sectional reconciliation at the expense of racial justice.

Ground rules: This is a no-electronics course, meaning that the use of laptops or other electronic devices, including phones, is not permitted in class. We all love our computers, but I have found that a significant percentage of students cannot refrain from going online during class. Moreover, studies have shown that even those students who use laptops only for note taking perform worse on conceptual questions—in other words, the most important questions—than students who take notes by hand. (This is because when you take notes on a laptop, you are more inclined to simply transcribe rather than processing information as you write). See “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.”  

Academic integrity: I take the issue of academic integrity very seriously and will report all suspected cases of cheating or plagiarism. Indeed, as a UCSD professor, I am required by the Office of the Academic Integrity Coordinator to file a report if I suspected such activity has occurred. Please do not make me take this step. (See the “Instructors’ Responsibility” and “Students’ Responsibility” sections of the University’s Academic Integrity Statement.) Plagiarism is not limited to the most flagrant examples of cutting and pasting material from the web. Any time you take a sentence, or even a phrase, from another person’s work without using quotation marks and providing proper attribution, you are plagiarizing. When you write a paper, the best way to avoid plagiarism is to do all the necessary reading, including online reading, before you begin to write. Once you start, you should not go online again until the paper is done. If you have any questions as to what is or is not plagiarism, please review the attached MLA statement. If you still have questions, please contact me.

Teaching + Learning Commons offers the following services to help you with your writing:

  • One-on-one writing tutoring by appointment, 6 days/week
  • Supportive, in-depth conversations about writing, the writing process, and writing skills
  • Help with every stage in the writing process
  • Walk-in tutoring (Mon-Thurs 5pm-7pm, and by availability)

Late paper policy: I will accept late papers without penalty only if an extension is requested by email at least seven days in advance of the due date. Otherwise, a letter grade will be deducted for each day beyond the due date.

Reading: Please have the day’s reading completed before you come to class. All course readings either have active links below or can be accessed through e-reserves. Unless you do all of your reading on-campus, you must establish a connection to the library’s proxy server — please do this immediately. The people at the library will help you if you encounter problems.

Course requirements:

  • Short writing assignment (25%).
  • In-class midterm (25%). The midterm will consist of a series of short answer questions. Short answer questions require a long paragraph or two in response.
  • Final examination (35%).
  • In-class quizzes (15%; 5% each). This is essentially your attendance/participation grade. Over the course of the quarter, we will have a total of 5 quizzes on the weekly reading. At the end of the quarter, I will take your top 3 quizzes (out of however many you have turned in) and disregard the rest. As with my no-electronics policy, my use of quizzes has a two-fold purpose. First, I of course want to reward people for coming to class and doing the reading. But I also want to help you master the material and prepare for the final, and it turns out that being tested significantly enhances people’s ability to remember material that they study. (See “How Tests Make Us Smarter.”)

Grading: 97-100 = A+; 94-96 = A; 90-93 = A-; 87-89 = B+; 84-86 = B; 80-83 = B-; 77-79 = C+; 74-76 = C; 70-73 = C-; etc. Grading for this class will not be on a scale. 


Week 1: The Legacy of Slavery and Competing World Views

1/10 Lecture 1: “Somehow the cause of the war”: The History of Slavery in the U.S.

1/12 Lecture 2: A Hardening of Views: Proslavery v. Free Labor Ideologies

Week 2: Rising Sectionalism and the Origins of the War

1/17 Lecture 3: Coming Apart: Political Crises of the 1850s

1/19 Lecture 4: Prelude to War: The 1860 Election and Secession

Week 3: The Fight for Allegiance and Allies

1/24 Lecture 5: Mobilizing for War, North and South

  • James M. McPherson, “On the Altar of My Country,” chap. 7 of For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) (e-reserves; 13 pages)
  • Lorien Foote, “Rich Man’s War, Rich Man’s Fight: Class, Ideology, and Discipline in the Union Army,” Civil War History 51 (2005): 269-287 (e-reserves; 18 pages)
  • Aaron Sheehan-Dean, “Everyman’s War: Confederate Enlistment in Civil War Virginia,” Civil War History 50 (2004), 5-26 (e-reserves; 21 pages)

1/26 Lecture 6: War for Foreign Support

  • James McPherson, “The Saratoga That Wasn’t: The Impact of Antietam Abroad,” in This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 65-77 (e-reserves; 12 pages)

Week 4: Toward Total War

1/31 Lecture 7: The Stalemated War: 1861

  • Mark Grimsley, “Conciliation and Its Failure, 1861-1862,” Civil War History 39:4 (December 1993): 317-335 (e-reserves; 18 pages)

WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE IN CLASS (prompt sent by email)

2/2 Lecture 8: Military and Political Turning Points

Week 5: The War’s Emotional Toll

2/7 Trauma, Suffering and Death in Civil War America


Week 6: Wartime Experiences of African Americans and Women

2/14 Lecture 10: African Americans’ Struggle for Freedom and Citizenship

2/16 Lecture 11: Women’s Voluntary Activities

Week 7: The Homefront and the Strains of War

2/21 Lecture 12: Transformation and Dissent in the North

  • Joan E. Cashin, “Deserters, Civilians, and Draft Resistance in the North,” in The War Was You and Me: Civilians in the American Civil War, edited by Joan E. Cashin (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002), 262-285 (e-reserves; 23 pages)

2/23 Lecture 13: The Limits of Confederate Nationalism

  • Stephanie McCurry, “Women Numerous and Armed: Gender and the Politics of Subsistence in the Civil War South,” in Joan Waugh and Gary Gallagher, eds., Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 1-26 (e-reserves; 25 pages)
  • Lisa Laskin, “’The army is not near so much demoralized as the country is’: Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate home front,” in Aaron Sheehan-Dean, ed., The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 91-120 (e-reserves; 29 pages)

Week 8: The Hard Hand of War

2/28 Lecture 14: Vicksburg and the Changing Nature of Warfare

3/2 Lecture 15: Military Campaigns of 1864-65

  • Lance Janda, “Shutting the Gates of Mercy: The American Origins of Total War, 1860-1880,” Journal of Military History 59:1 (1995): 7-26 (e-reserves; 19 pages)
  • Mark E. Neely, Jr., “Was the Civil War a Total War?” Civil War History 50:4 (December 2004): 434-58 (e-reserves; 24 pages)
  • Diary extracts from Robert Manson Myers, ed., The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 1220-48 (e-reserves; 28 pages)
  • Correspondence Pertaining to Sherman’s Evacuation of Atlanta (September 1864)

Week 9: Reconstruction

3/7 Lecture 16: Presidential Reconstruction

3/9 Lecture 17: Radical Reconstruction

  • Michael W. Fitzgerald, “To Give Our Votes to the Party’: Black Political Agitation and Agricultural Change in Alabama, 1865-1870,” Journal of American History 72:2 (September 1989), 489-505 (e-reserves; 19 pages)
  • Hannah Rosen, “Testifying to Violence,” chap. 6 in Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 222-42 (e-reserves; 20 pages)

Week 10: Sectional Reconciliation and Its Costs

3/14 Lecture 18: Losing the Peace

  • Frederick Douglas, Decoration Day Speech (May 1871)
  • David W. Blight, “‘For Something beyond the Battlefield’: Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the Memory of the Civil War,” Journal of American History 75: 4 (March 1989): 1156-78 (e-reserves; 22 pages)
  • Judith Ann Giesberg, “‘To Forget and Forgive’: Reconstructing the Nation in the Post-Civil War Classroom,” Civil War History 52:3 (September 2006): 282-302 (e-reserves; 20 pages)

3/16 Lecture 19: The Politics of Memory

3/23 FINAL EXAMINATION, 8-11 a.m.

 Helpful Resources:

Timeline of events from 1859 to 1865 (Smithsonian Institution)