American Civil War

Course No. 885
Professor Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
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Course No. 885
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Delve into the factors and circumstances that led up to the Civil War.
  • numbers Relive the major moments and milestones of the Civil War - battle by bloody battle.
  • numbers Reflect upon the climatic final campaigns and learn their short- and long-term effects.

Course Overview

Between 1861 and 1865, the clash of the greatest armies the Western hemisphere had ever seen turned small towns, little-known streams, and obscure meadows in the American countryside into names we will always remember. In those great battles streams ran red with blood, and the United States was truly born.

Leading Civil War historian Professor Gary W. Gallagher richly details the effects of the Civil War on all Americans. You'll learn how armies were recruited, equipped, and trained. You'll learn about the hard lot of prisoners. You'll hear how soldiers on both sides dealt with the rigors of camp life, campaigns, and the terror of combat. You'll understand how slaves and their falling masters responded to the advancing war. And you will see the desperate price paid by the families so many left behind.

Blue and Gray, Soaked in Red

Gettysburg. Antietam. Bull Run. Shiloh. After you absorb these lectures, the hallowed names of Civil War battles will be more than merely evocative. You will have a solid understanding of what happened and why.

Although this is not simply a course on Civil War battles and generals, about half of the lectures are devoted to the strategic and tactical dimensions of military campaigns. We must never forget: The number of dead exceeded the combined total for American wars from the 17th century through the midpoint of the Vietnam War.

Professor Gallagher's recounting of the great battles and campaigns is compelling. From Fort Sumter and First Manassas to Sherman's March and Appomattox, Dr. Gallagher brings complex patterns of events into clear focus, identifies opportunities lost or seized, and quotes memorably from firsthand accounts to give you a clear idea what it was like to be "at the sharp end" of the war's battlefields.

The Players: Leaders, Allies, Fools

Extraordinary leaders and incompetent tyrants served on both sides. Their power to fascinate, to inspire, or to exasperate remains undimmed. With powerful and telling portraits, Professor Gallagher brings to life the character of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and others. Consider this example from Lecture 12:

"Stonewall Jackson is one of the great bizarre characters from the Civil War and is just a bundle of oddities and eccentricities as a person.

"He was a hypochondriac. He had all kinds of worries about his body. He would often hold his right hand up in the air because he thought he didn't have an equilibrium of blood in his body, and if he held his right hand up, then the blood would flow down and re-establish equilibrium, as he put it. An interesting notion.

"He would not eat pepper because he thought it weakened his left leg—not his right leg, just his left leg. He wouldn't let his back touch the back of a chair because he said it jumbled his organs, and it was important to sit upright so the organs were naturally atop of one another.

"He's a very odd fellow. He's in his late 30s early in the war and about to embark on a campaign that will make him the most famous Confederate military leader."

At Work in History's Great Forces

These men—some heroes, some fools—toiled in a typhoon of broader forces. Grasping this dynamic relationship among the battlefield, the home front, and the diplomatic front is absolutely essential if you hope to understand the Civil War.

You also find revealing explanations of how military events affected crucial political factors, including the morale of the Northern and Confederate peoples, the policies of their governments, and the attitudes of key European powers such as Britain and France.

The Millions Who Paid Dearly

The course vividly recounts the sacrifices made by all Americans in this struggle.

  • Half of all men of military age in the North mustered as soldiers in the Civil War.
  • It appears that roughly 80 percent of all military age men in the South served. (The South was able to spare a greater percentage of men partly because there were slaves left behind who did the daily work.)
  • The battles soldiers fought were savage, presaging the slaughter of World War I, where similar military tactics were used.

Off the battlefield, life was not much better.

Professor Gallagher recounts: "A ration in Lee's army in the winter of 1863–64 consisted of a quarter of a pound of meat a day and a pint of cornmeal. Two-thirds of all the men who died during the war, on both sides, died of disease, and some of the greatest killers were what we would now call childhood diseases: mumps and measles. One-third died from battlefield wounds or were killed outright on the battlefield."

On the home front, circumstances were often nearly as desperate. "In May 1864, a pair of pants cost $100 in Richmond," Professor Gallagher explains. "Bacon was $9 a pound, beans were $4 a quart, chickens were $15 each. A Confederate soldier earned $11 a month for much of the war. Congress very reluctantly increased that in June 1864 to $18 a month. One chicken would eat up more than a soldier's monthly pay, as you get toward the middle of the war."

Pivotal Questions

Among the many questions you'll explore in this course have to do with the history of the war and the American Republic.

  • What were the war aims of the Union and the Confederacy?
  • Why did each side choose the strategy it did, and how well did each mobilize its resources behind that approach?
  • How close did the South come to winning?
  • By what threads did Lincoln's presidency hang in 1864?
  • How did each side view the war? In the first heady days after Fort Sumter fell, Northerners predicted that talk of secession would dissipate, and Southerners boasted that any one of them could "whip 10 Yankees."
  • How did those views change as the carnage reached a barely imaginable scale?

A Great Teacher

Professor Gallagher is aleading authority on the Civil War. He is the author of several books and dozens of scholarly articles, most recently, The Confederate War. He is a founder and was first president of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites.

AudioFile magazine praises Dr. Gallagher for "well-organized, spontaneous, and entertaining lectures aimed at introductory-level students but no insult to experts."

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Prelude to War
    This introductory lecture explains the sectional controversies and clashes that set the stage for secession and war. x
  • 2
    The Election of 1860
    The presidential canvass of 1860 was the most important in U.S. history. It resulted in Abraham Lincoln's election as the first Republican to occupy the White House and brought sectional tensions to a head. x
  • 3
    The Lower South Secedes
    Beginning with South Carolina in December 1860, all of the Lower South states seceded by the first week of February 1861. They sent delegates to a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, that established the Confederate States of America. x
  • 4
    The Crisis at Fort Sumter
    From February through April 1861, the United States and the Confederacy eyed each other warily and vied for the support of eight slave states that remained in the Union. As various compromise proposals fell short, United States-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor came to be a flash point. x
  • 5
    The Opposing Sides, I
    Was the South fated to lose, as many people think? If the Confederate States of America could have won, when did it come closest to doing so? As fighting began, each side had important advantages. We will take a close look at these. x
  • 6
    The Opposing Sides, II
    Did the Confederacy have better generals? Which side had the edge in strategic and political leadership? What were the attitudes of England and France toward the conflict? Which side marshaled its resources and exploited its advantages more effectively? x
  • 7
    The Common Soldier
    Why did young men join the colors of the North or the South? What made them bear the war's awful dangers and hardships? What was it like to be a soldier in the ranks? x
  • 8
    First Manassas or Bull Run
    Following the Upper South's secession and the move of the Confederate capital to Richmond, Virginia, both sides geared up for war. Learn the details of General Winfield Scott's brilliant "Anaconda Plan" and the factors that led to the Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run (July 21, 1861), the first big clash of the war. x
  • 9
    Contending for the Border States
    The loyalty of slaveholding states Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was an object of intense competition in the summer and autumn of 1861. What, in the end, kept those states in the Union? x
  • 10
    Early Union Triumphs in the West
    Most people looked to Virginia to be the critical military arena, but many leaders on both sides believed the war would be decided in the vast area between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. x
  • 11
    Shiloh and Corinth
    Early 1862 saw breathtaking Union successes in the West. Ulysses S. Grant took Forts Henry and Donelson and moved south up the Tennessee River, while Don Carlos Buell marched from Nashville. Aiming to crush Grant before Buell arrived, A. S. Johnston struck the unwary Federals near Shiloh Church on April 6, 1862. x
  • 12
    The Peninsula Campaign
    Nine months of relative quiet following First Manassas ended when George B. McClellan started a slow Union drive up the Virginia Peninsula toward Richmond in April. By the end of May 1862, Union forces menaced Richmond from two directions and Confederate prospects looked bleak. x
  • 13
    The Seven Days' Battles
    As Stonewall Jackson marched and fought in the Shenandoah Valley, Joseph E. Johnston attacked McClellan at Seven Pines or Fair Oaks (May 31, 1862). When Johnston was wounded, Robert E. Lee took command. In the Seven Days' Battles (June 25–July 1), he seized the initiative and pressed the Federals south to the James. Lee had saved Richmond and offset Union success in the West. x
  • 14
    The Kentucky Campaign of 1862
    The Confederacy faced a difficult strategic situation in July 1862. Jefferson Davis and his generals responded by sending armies into Kentucky and Maryland in the most impressive Confederate strategic offensive of the war. Operations in Kentucky between August and October 1862 culminated in a confused battle at Perryville (October 8). x
  • 15
    After besting John Pope at Second Manassas in late August, Lee marched north into Maryland. Lincoln reluctantly returned command to McClellan, whose pursuit of Lee culminated at Antietam on September 17, the bloodiest day in American history. What happened on that battlefield? What did it mean? x
  • 16
    The Background to Emancipation
    Despite slavery's role in causing the conflict, for at least the first year it remained in the background. As long as restoring the Union remained the sole war aim, there was remarkable unity among Northerners. But what type of Union were they fighting for? x
  • 17
    Emancipation Completed
    Lincoln came to see emancipation as necessary to victory. But he understood that he lacked the authority to end slavery in loyal areas, and his famous proclamation deliberately casts emancipation as a war measure. What did most Northerners think of it? x
  • 18
    Filling the Ranks
    How many men served during the war? How were they recruited? How good were the United States and the CSA at putting their military-age men under arms? x
  • 19
    Sinews of War—Finance and Supply
    War spending went on at an unprecedented scale. Both sides sold bonds, levied taxes, and printed paper money. Despite its weak economy, the Con-federacy never lost a battle because its armies ran out of ordnance. x
  • 20
    The War in the West, Winter 1862–63
    While McClellan sat north of the Potomac, Buell slowly followed Bragg's retreat into Tennessee. Lincoln, eager for good war news, named Ambrose E. Burnside to take over the Army of the Potomac and William S. Rosecrans to tackle Bragg. In December, Rosecrans moved, and Grant began his long campaign against Vicksburg. x
  • 21
    The War in Virginia, Winter and Spring 1862–63
    In Virginia, the Union army suffered two setbacks along the Rappahannock. Lee threw back Burnside's costly frontal assaults at Fredericksburg on December 13. The talented, ambitious Joseph Hooker soon took command. He planned a brilliant offensive that began well at the end of April 1863, but Lee and Jackson had other plans. x
  • 22
    Gettysburg is often described as the turning point of the war. It took place against a background of uncertainty and unrest in the North and was the result of a major strategic debate in the South. Why did Lee go north? Was his strategic thinking sound? What swung the three-day battle's outcome? How did people on either side view Gettysburg? x
  • 23
    Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Tullahoma
    In mid-April, Grant boldly ordered the Navy to run past Vicksburg's guns, ferried his troops across the south of the city, marched inland to seize Jackson, Mississippi, and then besieged Vicksburg. With skillful marching, Rosecrans pinned Bragg in Chattanooga. x
  • 24
    A Season of Uncertainty, Summer and Fall 1863
    Although the Union seemed poised for knockout blows both east and west, Meade would not force a full-blown battle, and Grant found himself without a major goal after Vicksburg. Rosecrans ably maneuvered Bragg out of Chattanooga and into north Georgia in early September. Reinforced, Bragg struck back at Chickamauga (September 19–20), the CSA's only major tactical victory in the West. x
  • 25
    Grant at Chattanooga
    With all eyes on Chattanooga, both armies experienced command problems. Grant, named overall Union commander in the West in mid-October, took charge personally. Bragg meanwhile conducted an increasingly ineffective siege. x
  • 26
    The Diplomatic Front
    Both Lincoln and Davis cast anxious eyes toward Europe, thinking of the decisive French aid to the colonies during the American Revolution. Why, despite several flare-ups with England and France, did the Lincoln administration finally prevail in the diplomatic arena? x
  • 27
    African Americans in Wartime, I
    During the conflict, thousands of slaves made their way to Union lines. Approximately 500,000, roughly one-seventh of all enslaved black people in the CSA, passed from Confederate to Union control. Their plight was often hard and uncertain. Nearly 180,000 black men, most of them former slaves, wore Union blue. The "U.S. Colored Troops" faced obstacles and injustices, yet their solid service made a strong case for full citizenship. x
  • 28
    African Americans in Wartime, II
    In the North, blacks were at the center of a debate over war aims. The 13th Amendment and various other new laws marked progress toward fairer treatment. Slave labor vastly aided Southern mobilization and the CSA's economy. There were no major slave revolts, but black and white Southerners found their social and economic relations changing amid the dislocations of war. x
  • 29
    Wartime Reconstruction
    Even as war raged, Lincoln and Congress debated what would happen after it was won. In December 1863, Lincoln offered a simple, lenient reconstruction plan. Radical Republicans in Congress objected and offered their own blueprint. The debate was continuing even as an assassin cut short Lincoln's part in it. x
  • 30
    The Naval War
    The U.S. Navy played a major, often overlooked, role in defeating the CSA. Starting the war with just 42 ships, the Navy would have nearly 700 by 1865. Northern naval strategy focused on supporting ground operations along Southern rivers and coasts, and above all, on the blockade. With nothing like the North's industrial base, how did the Confederate Navy perform? x
  • 31
    The River War and Confederate Commerce Raiders
    The war in the West gave a key role to the U.S. Navy, which built special craft for river duty. Meanwhile, Southern commerce raiders like the C.S.S. Alabama became legendary. How much did they aid the CSA's war effort? x
  • 32
    Women at War, I
    How did Northern women experience the war? Wartime urgencies provided increased opportunities for middle-class women to enter the public sphere as nurses, clerks, or agents of benevolent organizations. The experiences of poor white women and black women—whether as farmwives, widows, or factory workers—are less well understood. x
  • 33
    Women at War, II
    The war changed women's lives in ways dramatic and subtle, lasting and temporary. Although anxiety, grief, and hardship were felt on both sides, women in the CSA suffered most directly from the war. To black women, the war brought emancipation and the opportunity to solidify marriage and family ties. The front drew more women than might seem likely. x
  • 34
    Stalemate in 1864
    Named general-in-chief in March 1864, Grant hoped to apply enough pressure across the board to crush the Confederacy. The most important actions would be led by Sherman in Georgia and Grant himself in Virginia. x
  • 35
    Sherman versus Johnston in Georgia
    Moving south from Chattanooga, Sherman intended to use his large armies to outmaneuver Johnston, who fell back while looking for a chance to counterpunch. By early July, the sparring armies had settled into a siege. x
  • 36
    The Wilderness to Spotsylvania
    In many ways the war's pre-eminent confrontation, the Overland Campaign brought together each side's greatest captain in a novel and relentless combat. The prominence of Grant and Lee ensured that their contest would deeply affect civilian morale. The armies would battle fiercely and almost continuously from early May to mid-June. x
  • 37
    Cold Harbor to Petersburg
    After Spotsylvania (May 8–21), Lee entrenched at Cold Harbor, Virginia. On June 3, Grant launched a futile and costly frontal assault. On June 12, he began one of the most impressive movements of the war, nearly taking Petersburg on June 15. By June 19, however, the opportunity had passed. Grant began a siege. x
  • 38
    The Confederate Home Front, I
    The war caused the CSA enormous strains, hardships, and dislocations. Eschewing formal party politics, the CSA's founders hoped to return to a Revolutionary-era ideal. But bitter divisions arose, and the political scene often seemed chaotic and a drag on the war effort. Although most Confederates remained committed to beating the Yankees, economic woes made many doubt their ability to continue the war. x
  • 39
    The Confederate Home Front, II
    In addition to slaves who fled to Union lines, many Southern whites became refugees as they fled from Union armies. Among those who did not become refugees, increasing hardship and a demanding central government caused distress and anger as the war progressed. Did the resulting internal dissension kill the Confederacy? x
  • 40
    The Northern Home Front, I
    Although the war did not bring severe dislocations to the North, it did produce a political sea change. The Republicans became the majority party, but bad war news and the unpopularity of some of their policies led to crises. x
  • 41
    The Northern Home Front, II
    Unlike the Confederacy, the North was able to produce both guns and butter in abundance. With no Southern presence in Congress, the Republicans started the nation down an economic path it would follow for several decades. x
  • 42
    Prisoners of War
    Few aspects of the conflict were as emotionally charged, with both sides hurling charges of negligence and atrocities. More than 400,000 men were captured. Early in the war most were quickly paroled or exchanged. Later, this system broke down, and prisoners suffered. x
  • 43
    Mobile Bay and Atlanta
    In the summer of 1864, Lincoln needed victories. The first break came in August, at Mobile Bay, Alabama, when Admiral David G. Farragut closed the CSA's last major port on the Gulf. Far more important news soon followed from Atlanta: Sherman had at last taken the city (September 1–2). x
  • 44
    Petersburg, the Crater, and the Valley
    While events unfolded at Atlanta, Grant and Lee confronted each other along an elaborately entrenched front from Richmond to Petersburg. In mid-June, Lee detached a corps under Jubal Early to operate in the Shenandoah Valley and Maryland. Between September 19 and October 19, Philip H. Sheridan won three victories over Early and laid waste to much of the lower Valley. x
  • 45
    The Final Campaigns
    After Atlanta fell, Hood tried to draw Sherman northward. Sherman followed briefly before deciding to cut loose from his supply lines on his famous March to the Sea, implementing the "strategy of exhaustion" in the Confederate interior. x
  • 46
    Petersburg to Appomattox
    By March 1865, the Federals had restricted Lee's supply lines and forced him to extend his lines. Lee failed to break the siege and headed west. Grant blocked the way at Appomattox, where Lee surrendered his 28,000 starving men on April 9. CSA forces elsewhere quickly surrendered. x
  • 47
    Closing Scenes and Reckonings
    Lincoln's assassination has given rise to much speculation. What does the best evidence suggest? Lincoln was among the last casualties in a war whose staggering human and material toll can never be known. Taking everything into account, why did the South lose and the North win? x
  • 48
    Remembering the War
    How did participants remember and interpret the conflict in the decades after Appomattox? How do modern Americans view the people and events of 1861–65? What are the types of understanding at which one can arrive? x

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Your professor

Gary W. Gallagher

About Your Professor

Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. He graduated from Adams State College of Colorado and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to teaching at UVA, he was Professor of History at The Pennsylvania State University. Professor Gallagher is one of the leading historians of the Civil War. His...
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American Civil War is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 234.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done history of the war Well done and very comprehensive coverage of the Civil War. Gary Gallagher is quite well versed in the history of the war and is a fine speaker.
Date published: 2020-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant, Outstanding, In-Depth Presentation This course is well worth the investment, and would rival courses taken at any college or University on this subject. The Professor is extremely knowledgeable, engaging, obviously having researched this topic for many years, conveying the writings, letters and personal stories of many war participants, able to place this key event of U.S. history in context for the reader, without bias or preconceived notions. Professor Gallagher's lectures are presented in a factual, yet conversational, riveting, story-telling detail, easily understood by the layperson or advanced student. He discusses the prelude to the war, causes of the conflict from different perspectives, battles and results, thinking of decision-makers, both in the military and government, and implications on the population at large in the North and the South. If you're interested in the subject, and really want to learn about the civil war from political, economic, social, and military perspectives and more, in descriptive, narrative detail, this is your lecture series, in my opinion, absolutely superb!
Date published: 2020-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great refresher on the Civil War For me for someone who never really cared what happened during this time in US history, it sure was worth listening too. But I do live in a part of the country that was involved in the war and work on a fort that is named after a Civil War General. It gave me a sense of better understanding politically what was going on at the time. I will most likely listen to it again in the future.
Date published: 2020-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an impressive body of work. I especially liked the inclusion of all aspects of the War—vast. I really enjoyed this.
Date published: 2020-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent survey of the War from start to finish. He managed to keep it in chronological order with inclusions of interesting non battle issues. Recommended.
Date published: 2020-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm only on the 2nd disk, but so far I am not dissatisfied.
Date published: 2020-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course The course is detailed and much more than about battles and strategy. The American Civil War cannot be covered in one course but Professor Gallagher gives the student a lot of different subjects to gain a grasp and then launch into if the student desires.
Date published: 2020-07-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A favorite subject made unendurable! I love learning about the Civil War time period. This professor is about as boring as any professor I ever had in school. I could only get through 3 and a half lectures and I am being generous. One other question: Does this guy ever change into a different outfit??
Date published: 2020-07-01
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