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Defining Reconstruction: How the Civil War Changed a People and a Nation

All-Day Program

Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Code: 1M2017
This Currier & Ives engraving, in 1872, celebrated the election of first black senator and congressmen

For historian Stephen D. Engle, reconstruction of the United States commenced not in April 1865 with peace, but in April 1861 with war. Southern secession forced Americans to adjust their lives to preserve the Union on the one hand, and to establish a Confederacy on the other. As the bloody and transformative Civil War dragged on, citizens and soldiers, Northern and Southern alike, adapted to the changes wrought by the devastating conflict.

Engle holds that reframing reconstruction as a process concurrent with the Civil War—instead of limited to the historically defined postwar Reconstruction era—offers new insights into the conflict, and bolsters the modern quest to understand the nature of war and society. By surveying the wider scope of social and political changes sparked by the war, he argues that it truly represented a reconstruction that resulted in fundamental shifts that included not only the liberation of southern slaves, but also the vindication of democracy itself.

9:30–10:45 a.m.  Revolution and Reconstruction in 1861

That the Civil War inaugurated the reconstruction of the United States has much to do with the wartime challenges and adjustments that tested the fragility of the political cultures North and South. The story begins with how each side justified their resort to war and how unintended consequences reshaped society and the relationship between states and the federal government from the very start.

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  Wartime Emancipation: American Odyssey

Few Americans could imagine a more revolutionary decree than Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, but some scholars mark this milestone as the turning point in the Reconstruction era because it commenced the journey from slavery to freedom and fundamentally changed the United States.

12:15–1:30 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own)

1:30–2:45 p.m.  The Total War of Reconstruction: Blacks Troops and Conscription

Perhaps the most defining aspect of wartime reconstruction was the enlistment of black troops into the Union army and national conscription. Together these controversial decisions reshaped attitudes towards race and the federal government.

3–4:15 p.m.  The Thirteenth Amendment and the World the War Made

That the war brought about the abolition of slavery revealed its revolutionary nature. The Union victory over the Confederacy, however, also strengthened federalism and granted to the federal government unprecedented powers that led to a guarantee of civil rights.

Engle is a professor of history and director of the Alan B. and Charna Larkin Symposium on the American Presidency at Florida Atlantic University, and has written extensively on the Civil War and Reconstruction era.

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)