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Welcome to History 310

I want formally to welcome you to History 310 at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Please examine this website thoroughly. Remember, if you ever have questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

Themes of the Course

Four themes will dominate this course:

1) Two societies, not two armies, went to war in 1861.The American Civil War was unlike any war that had come before. For the first time in history, two modernized, industrializing societies made war on each other, and the results were catastrophic. By April 1865, 625,000 men had died, roughly the losses of all other American wars combined. What made such mass slaughter possible was not the brutality of the conflict but the modernity. Mechanized agriculture allowed an unprecedented percentage of men to spend their time fighting not farming. Railroads made it possible to transport massive armies; the telegraph made it possible to coordinate them. New technologies put rifled muskets in the hands of infantrymen, and a revolution in manufacturing put them in uniforms and shoes. Because it was a modern war, then, the fighting depended to an unprecedented degree on activities away from the battlefield. Agricultural laborers, telegraph operators, munitions manufacturers, nurses, politicians, and bankers contributed as much as soldiers and generals. As William Tecumseh Sherman understood when he marched to the sea, his enemy was not the Confederate army but the civilians and resources that made that army possible. In this class, the homefront will not be seen as a sidebar to the activities of soldiers. Rather, the soldiers will be seen as an extension of their homefront societies.

2) This said, battles mattered. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln noted that "all else" depended upon the progress of Union arms, and he was right. Strategic decisions made in Washington and Richmond, tactical decisions made by generals, heroism and cowardice within individual commands, always could and sometimes did have a critical impact on the war's outcome. A loss to one side depleted its troops, devastated its resources and infrastructure, weakened its diplomatic position, and sapped the will of its people to keep fighting. Just as the Civil War cannot be understood outside its social context, so it cannot be understood outside its military context.

3) The Civil War evolved over time. A war to preserve the Union became a war to destroy slavery. A limited war became a total one. No one saw this more clearly or articulated it more fully than Abraham Lincoln. But everyone who participated in the war -- black and white, slave and free, man and woman, soldier and civilian -- struggled to adapt to a war that remade them as they remade it.

4) Which brings us to our fourth theme. All history, the Civil War included, is a mosaic of human action. People, not forces, move the world, and a million daily choices make up any trend. The Civil War, then, cannot be understood apart from the people who lived it through. The slaves' war was not same as the soldiers' war; the nurses' war was not the same as the politicians' -- but all were related and together comprise the history of the whole. By focusing on biography and collective biography, on what the war felt like to various sectors of society, we will come to see the war as a concurrent set of human experiences and human choices.

August 24, 2004
Welcome to History 310. Always feel free to contact me if you are confused about anything.