Syllabus: Sectionalism and Civil War


The flag of the 24th Michigan, the last regiment to join the Iron Brigade.  Made up of men from Hillsdale College and Hillsdale County.

Sectionalism and American Civil War, H303

Instructor: Brad Birzer (

Spring 2017.  T/Th: 9:30-10:45; Lane 333

Office hours (tentative and subject to change, especially depending on the week):

T/TH: 11-1; Wed: 12-1.  And, by appointment.

Course Content

This course examines America’s movement toward secession, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, covering the years from roughly 1848 to 1877 with very brief excursions back to 1776, 1787, 1798, 1820, and 1833.  We will especially focus on the reasons for the Civil War (not surprisingly, they are varied and complex, though the issue of slavery and competing nationalist and republican visions explain many, many things), the reasons why soldiers fought, and the aftermath of the war.  We will meet heroes and villains (especially two killers with the first name of John), the Yankee Leviathan, the Yankee garden, nationalists, the C.S.A. socialist war state, the harassment committees, ignorance, bad intentions, the poets, the ministers, the priests, good intentions, idiocy, the machine, brilliance, cruelty, Christianity (in all its wondrous manifestations–Protestantism and Catholicism (sorry, no Eastern Orthodox in the war that I know of–though there were a few Greeks fighting, so probably some)), Siamese elephant troops, New Yorkers, Californians, Texans, South Carolinians, the reluctant, the beautiful, the too willing, the political theorists, the philosophers, the journalists, the ideologues and terrorists, the republicans (everywhere–North and South), the egalitarians, the enslavers, Barnburners, Fire-eaters, the weak, the dispossessed, Crackers, the strong, the brave, the liberated, the preyed upon, and the righteous.

Required texts

  • David Potter, Impending Crisis
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom
  • Michael Shaara, Killer Angels
  • Assorted Documents (posted at

Highly recommended texts

  • John J. Miller, The First Assassin
  • Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers (8th Edition)


  • Midterm examination (30%)
  • Semester-long research paper (35%)
  • Final examination (35%)

Semester-Long Research Paper Guidelines

  • The paper should be an original, well-researched, 15-20 (longer is fine) page paper in manuscript form (doubled spaced, one-inch margins, with proper footnotes and a complete bibliography).  It must be primary-source driven.  Secondary sources should be used, but, not surprisingly, only secondarily.  That is, you should employ secondary sources as guides to the bibliographic and primary sources available and as indicators of the historiographical controversies surrounding your topic.  The Mossey Library has excellent resources and some of the finest librarians—Linda Moore, for example—I have ever met.  Make sure to take advantage of their expertise.
  • Mossey databases and resources you will find especially useful for this research project: the Western Americana collection (Yale’s entire collection on microfilm); Harper’s Online; JSTOR; America: History and Life; the New York Times; the London Times; and Nineteenth-Century Masterfile.  The Mossey also owns the complete collection of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
  • For the form and structure of the final paper, footnotes, and bibliography, you must use either the latest edition of Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers or the Chicago Manual of Style.  The one exception to this: don’t use a title page.  Recommended: writing programs such as Scrivener and bibliographic programs such as Endnote.
  • Further and VITAL N.B.  This paper is a one-semester paper and worth almost 1/3 of your grade.  That is, I’m assigning it on day one of the course, and I expect you to begin it—at least the thinking about and research stage—immediately.
  • Topics include any aspect of any American person, event, or idea, 1848-1877.  You DO NOT need to clear your topic with me before you choose it.  You should begin choosing a topic immediately.  I would start with a cursory read through Battle Cry of Freedom and, especially, through his excellent bibliographic essay.

Important Dates for the Semester

  • First Day of Classes: January 18
  • PW: March 3-5
  • Midterm examination: March 9. Must have read Potter and Stowe by now.
  • Spring Break: March 11-March 19
  • Easter Break: April 14 (at noon)-April 17
  • Final research paper due: Friday, April 28, 5pm—my office (printed copy—slipped under my office door)
  • Last Day of Classes: May 2


Terms to know for Potter, Impending Crisis, Chapters 1-9

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, nationalism, David Wilmot, Slave Power, Negrophobia, antislavery men, conciliationists, Lewis Cass, popular sovereignty, free soilers, Nicholson Letter, Barnburners, Hunkers, Conscience Whigs, Liberty Party, little magician, holocaust of blood, Legend of 1850, Calhoun March 4 speech, Daniel Webster March 7 speech, William Seward, Higher Law, Clay’s Omnibus, Fugitive Slave Law, Finality, Constitutional Unionist, Georgia Platform, personal liberty laws, Pacific Railroad, little giant, Appeal of the Independent Democrats, Kansas Nebraska Act, Know Nothingism, William Walker, James Gadsden, Greytown, John A. Quitman, Ostend Manifesto, The War in Nicaragua, The Knights of the Golden Circle, Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, Platte County Self-Defensive Association, Bleeding Kansas, Pukes, Lecompton, Topeka, Charles Robison, Jefferson Buford, Sack of Lawrence, The Crime Against Kansas, Preston Brooks, Charles Sumner, John Brown, Army of the North.

Terms to know for Potter, Impending Crisis, Chapters 10-final

Free Soil, Pope Day, Know Nothing, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, Dred Scot, LeCompton, Robert J. Walker, Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Freeport Question/Doctrine, John Brown, Secret Six, Harper’s Ferry, Helper/THE IMPENDING CRISIS, “Congressional Party”, Baltimore Convention, Charleston Convention, John J. Crittendon, John Bell, Cooper Union Speech (Lincoln), Salmon P. Chase, Knights of the Golden Circle, Theory of Race, De Bow’s Review, Committee of Thirteen, Jeremiah S. Black, Robert Anderson/Sumter, Star of the West, Peace Conference

Terms for the course/research papers


“American System”

“Bleeding Kansas”

“Concurrent Majority”

“Manifest Destiny”

“popular sovereignty”

“Slave Power Conspiracy”

1850 Fugitive Slave Law

Alexander Stephens

American Party

American Anti-Slavery Society


Anthony Burns


Battle of San Jacinto

Battle of the Alamo

Border Ruffians

California Gold Rush

Charles Sumner


Compromise of 1850

Confederate Constitution

Conscience Whigs

Constitutional Union Party


Daniel Webster

David Walker

Denmark Vesey

Dred Scot Decision

Eli Whitney


Force Bill

Fort Sumter

Frederick Douglass

Free Soil Party

Gabriel Prosser

George Fitzhugh


Henry Clay


James Buchanan

James K. Polk

James Henry Hammond

James Chesnut


Jefferson Davis

John C. Calhoun

John Randolph

John J. Crittenden

John Brown

John B. Floyd

Kansas-Nebraska Act

Knights of the Golden Circle

Lecompton Swindle

Liberty Party

Margaret Garner Affair

Mary Chesnut

Missouri Compromise of 1820

Nashville Convention

Nat Turner

Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery

planter class

Platte County Self-Defense Association

Prigg v. Pennsylvania

Republican Party

Robert Anderson

Salmon P. Chase

Sam Houston

Second Missouri Compromise

Secret Six

slave coasts

Stephen Douglas

Stono Rebellion

Tariff of Abominations

Tertian Quids

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

triangular trade

William Walker

William H. Seward

William Lloyd Garrison

Wilmot Proviso

Young America


Civil War and Reconstruction

“Altar of my country”

“heroic surgery”

“playing off”

13th Amendment

14th Amendment

15th Amendment

54th Massachusetts

Abraham Lincoln

Anaconda Plan

Andrew Johnson


Battle of the Wilderness

Battle of Ball’s Bluff

Benjamin Wade

Benjamin Grierson


Clara Barton

Cold Harbor

Committee/Conduct of the War

Compromise of 1877

Conservative Party


G. Farragut

Eastern Theater

Emancipation Proclamation


Field Order #120

First Bull Run


G.B. McClellan

George Julian

George Meade


Glorietta Pass

Homesteading Act

Hornet’s Nest


Jim Crow

John Andrew

Johnson’s Proclamation of Amnesty

Joint Committee on Reconstruction

Joseph Hooker

Joshua Chamberlain

Julia Howe Ward


Knights of the White Camilla

March to the Sea

Mary Todd Lincoln

Nathan Bedford Forrest

New York Draft Riots

Pacific Railroad Bill

Peninsular Campaign


Plessey v. Ferguson


Radical Republicans

Raphael Semmes


Robert Gould Shaw

Robert E. Lee



Special Field Order #15

Springfield Rifle

Stonewall Jackson

Thaddeus Stevens

The Trent Affair

Total War

Trans-Mississippi Theater

U.S. Grant

U.S. Sanitary Commission


W. T. Sherman

Western Theater

Yankee Leviathan


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