A Cruel and Just War

2009 March 11
by Leah Yale Potter

Last month, ASHP celebrated Lincoln’s 200th birthday with a joint Making Connections-Teaching American History professional development workshop on “Slavery & Freedom in the Civil War.” It may have been the first workshop that we’ve done on the Civil War in which “state’s rights” did not come up as a casus belli, suggesting that the”lost cause” may finally be lost for good.  It probably helped that Frank, who after 37 years teaching in the New York City is a big fan of visible knowledge, started the day off with this statement from soldiers in the Thirteenth Wisconsin Infantry Regiment:“The fact that slavery is the sole undeniable cause of this infamous rebellion, that it is a war of, by,  and for Slavery, is as plain as the noon-day sun.”

Chandra Manning uses the quote to begin What This Cruel War Was Over, her very impressive and convincing examination what motivated soldiers—white and black, North and South—to fight.  Manning’s study will likely become essential reading for every course on the Civil War (and is a powerful reminder that no topic in  history is ever “done”.)

We are grateful to our guest scholar, Jeanie Attie, for suggesting Manning’s book and for helping us to conceptualize and sharpen our teaching of the Civil War for the past couple of years.  Attie gave a wonderful presentation on the different meanings of freedom that antebellum Americans wrestled with before and during the war, and ended with a reading of the Gettysburg Address…272 words that continue to inspire.

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