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America's History in the Making

A Nation Divided

In the Video

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Historical Perspectives

Historical Perspectives

In the summer of 1864, President Lincoln’s chances of re-election looked slim, as Union casualties mounted and victory seemed to be a distant possibility. The outcome of the Civil War is an example of historical contingency: key events or processes are not necessarily predetermined.

The long war began with great optimism on both sides, and many soldiers were delighted when the fighting began in the spring of 1861. They would soon be shocked, however, by the brutal nature of modern warfare and the hardships of camp life. The war proceeded differently from how people expected—and it could have ended much differently than how it did.

Faces of America

Faces of America

Phoebe Yates Pember and William Carney were dramatically changed by the Civil War; each challenged rigid social norms with their actions during the war.

Phoebe Yates Pember was the matron of the largest hospital of the Civil War, located in Richmond. With men pressed into military service, women like Pember assumed work that had previously been considered inappropriate for women.

President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of 1863 opened the door for African Americans to join the Union army. William Carney, like many others, enthusiastically joined the Massachusetts 54th, the nation’s first African American regiment. Later that year he led the charge at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, an engagement that cost the 54th nearly one-half of its men.

 

Hands on History

Hands on History

Where do history and popular culture intersect?

As head of the Virginia Military Institute’s museum, Colonel Keith Gibson frequently consults with the creators of feature films and documentaries. He uses the museum’s collection of artifacts, diaries, and other documents to ensure that these films realistically depict clothing, firearms, speech patterns, and social conventions. Read edited Hands on History interview with Colonel Keith Gibson.

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