Civil War the Period Surrounding the U Research Proposal

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Civil War

The period surrounding the U.S. Civil war is often seen through the eyes of the generalists in history textbooks. Yet, this is not demonstrative of the fact that countless documents have been preserved that offer insight into how the war, its precursors, its politics and its reality affected individuals in both the North and the South. The Valley of Shadow project website offers for the reader a group of primary documents from two communities, Franklin County Pennsylvania and Augusta County Virginia, These works discuss, in their own words how individuals were affected by the war its politics and its reality, before during and after the conflict. These documents give radical new insight to what the war was really like and can be interpreted to answer many questions about the war and how it was felt by all.

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This work will answer several logical questions in a comparison and contrast fashion using the primary sources found in the Valley of Shadow project. The questions to be answered are four; 1. Why did the people in these respective communities choose to go to war in 1861 and how did they define their causes? 2. Did those motivations change over time or remain consistent? 3. What role did the idea of community play in people's motivations? Were people motivated primarily by local or national concerns? Which were more important to people living in these two communities? 4. How similar and/or different were the experiences of these two communities? These various questions will define for this researcher the myriad of realities that existed for the two locations and the real people who lived these torrid years.

Why did the people in these respective communities choose to go to war in 1861 and how did they define their causes?

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Civil War the Period Surrounding the U.S. Assignment

To answer the initial question one can see from the documents that many were both foundationally split on the issues surrounding the war, secession, slavery and the politics of the day, while they had firm ideas about right and wrong many were concerned about the reality of change causing conflict. Only one document of the many I reviewed offered a succinct answer to the question of slavery, an issue on the minds of people but according to the textbooks, not the primary motivation for the war. To some degree the age and position of the speaker in the following source must be taken into consideration:

… I shun the very idea of submitting to Black Republican party, who desire to place the insignificant negro on an equality with us, who will submit none but those who at heart if they would but express themselves are partial to the North I fear Va has too many of them in Convention, how glad I was when I saw that Va wished to pre-sent an ordinance of secession to the convention. I thought then if they were all like him we would this moment be honored & loved by our seceding Southern Sisters, who now almost as it were despise us. I am ready at any time to join the southern army although I am not prepared to die but [unclear: this] I know Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori [It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country.] (George Wils Augusta County VA to Writer's sister, March 18, 1861)

George Wils is away at school, when he writes this letter to his sister and being of military eligible age obviously lends him to a younger group. This in fact is the only clear and simplistic, almost stereotypical (southern) resolution regarding the war, slavery and secession. Wils hoped that the late to secede Virginia would soon take up the decision of the other Southern states and remove itself from a Union that seeks to call black men equal to whites. Like the valiant young, he does not fear war; he only fears death, though he closes with the idea that it is an honor to die for one's country again a youthful ideal and though the documents end here it would be interesting to see how Wils felt after the events played out and after he returned to his once forsaken Virginia.

While in the same community, a more wizened and aged individual sees slavery and secession as abhorrent, a situation that must be lived with until such time as God sees fit to find a way to end it that would be favorable to both races.

Dr McGill proposed to buy Selena to-day, and offered me $1,000 -- I would not have sold her for $20,000, unless she desired to go, or had grossly misbehaved. This thing of speculating on human flesh is utterly horrible to me -- the money would eat into my flesh like hot iron. Slavery itself is extremely repulsive to my feelings, and I earnestly desire its extinction everywhere, when it can be done judiciously, and so as to promote the welfare of both races. Yet I am no abolitionists . The day for emancipation with us has not come, and we must wait God's time. For the present all that the most philanthropic can do is to endeavor to ameliorate the institution; but it is hard to do this in the midst of the mischievous interference of outside fanatics. (Augusta County: Diary of Joseph Addison Waddell Wednesday night, Oct. 15th 1856)

Waddell, writes in his diary of the peculiar institution, calling it extremely repulsive and expressing sentiment for the slave Selena, whom he owns and has been offered a fair price for. His concerns lie in the fact that outsiders are the agitators in the situation and that dissolving slavery in haste would likely be a mistake. This forethought, representative of the real and terrible situation of the reformation period, could be in part due to the fact that Waddell, though a staunch southerner was also the owner of a newspaper. His position afforded him exposure to a great deal of debate, ideas and a diversity of people and opinions not all others would have been privileged to.

The sentiment of outside agitators, spurning on change that was not yet due is supported by other letters and document sin the collection, especially with regard to the Augusta County documents, here Millard Fillmore writes to Alexander H.H. Stuart, regarding the need of the South to hold firm on its stand regarding the debate of expanding slavery into new states.

This Nebraska matter presents a new phase to things in Washington. But is it wise for the South to set the example separating the compromise of 1820? If one compromise be disregarded will not another be, and will not the South in the end be left to the tender mercy of Northern fanaticism with an overwhelming numerical majority? These are Serious questions for the South and yes it may be difficult for her to resist the proffered favor of Douglas' Bill. She may suspect the motive; she may see its fatal consequences and its delusive benefits, but can she resist it? / I think the measure will pass the senate by a decided majority, but its fate is doubtful in the house, and there is reason to apprehend that it will reopen the slavery agitation, [ much] with all its bitterness, if not all its dangers to our Union. We had fondly hoped that this question was at rest, for a time at least, but I fear we are to be disappointed. (Augusta County: Millard Fillmore to Alexander H.H. Stuart, February 9, 1854)

Fillmore stresses that the voice of the North is outweighing that of the South and that real compromise is not likely. The challenge is clearly one of Northern dominance regarding the difficult "slavery agitation" question. Yet, it is also clear that a voice for the South is desired, but within the Union, rather than out of it. In a letter written by Alexander H.H. Stuart, again in Virginia, concerns about secession are expressed fully;

If clothed with power by the voice of the people it will put its heel to the head of the serpent of disunion & return harmony to the Country by recalling the people of all parts of the confederacy to a proper sense of their duty to the Constitution, to each other, & to the Country. I should deprecate the election to the Presidency of a man who was the representative of extreme opinion, whether southern or northern, as one of the most direful curses that could befal the country in the present condition of its affairs, Exasperation of feeling, civil dessension[?] & most probably convulsion & disunion would follow. All hope of the restoration of harmony & fraternal feeling would be lost & and an appeal to arms would… (Alexander H.H. Stuart Letters Hot Springs Va Aug 18th 1856 )

Stuart foresees the coming secession and probable war and laments that a compromise has not been made. George Junkin writes to Francis McFarland in Augusta County that even as late as 1861, on… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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