Redemption and the Civil War

Redemption and the Civil War

Posted by: on April 20, 2016   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War – Nicholas Lemann

Redemption – “the act of making something better or more acceptable”

colfax2The dictionary definition of redemption seems pretty self-explanatory, but how about redemption in relation to the Civil War? A book I read recently dealt with this concept in terms of what happened once the war “ended.” Yes, the quotes around “ended” are deliberate because, after reading this book, I questioned whether or not the war ended in 1865 with Lee’s surrender to Grant in the Appomattox courthouse. After reading this book, it would seem that the war continued on — but in a different and crueler way.

This cruelty can be seen in Colfax, Louisiana, which was the site of what became known as the Colfax Riot. I bet when you first read the name nothing came to mind – which happened to me. It holds significance that cannot be overlooked or forgotten, but most people have no idea what happened. As the picture included shows, the riot is commemorated by a sign that reads, “On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.”

Yikes. The simplicity with which this even is remembered is kind of shocking — even more so once the whole situation is known. On Easter Sunday 1873, eight years after the “end” of the Civil War, a riot broke out in which politics was the main culprit again. Voting was the actual issue, but underneath lay the tensions that caused it all. After 1865, with the “end” of the war and the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, slavery was abolished and voting rights were given to all men. On the surface, this seemed to solve the problem, but it did not. The inherent racism that was carried out by many White Americans continued, and they simply found other ways to oppress Black men and women.

The Colfax Riot was a prime example of this because it showed the corruption that ensued even after the creation of those amendments. The election for governor of Louisiana was contentious because White, Southern Democrats created shadow governments behind those that were legally in place and created an institution called the White League. Members of this group intimidated and attacked Republicans in the South, as well as Black citizens. The tensions came to a head with the election of governor. Requests were sent to Washington when it became obvious that the White League was going to show no mercy and eventually almost all Blacks that were part of the riot were murdered.

President Grant was contacted, but he did not send troops, and that worried Black residents of the Southern states. The political Civil War had ended, but the social Civil War was still raging on in the South. But, in a way, that was less overt. Many White southerners used intimidation, as seen in Colfax, and eventually loopholes that allowed them to continue to suppress members of the Black population — without technically breaking the law. Redemption then becomes another battle for Black residents, and one that is necessary for their safety in the free country they called home. They did not feel like redemption was being worked toward, and nothing was getting better for them. If anything, their lives were getting worse.

Abby Norberg



Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War – Nicholas Lemann Redemption – “the act of making something better or... MORE

Lincoln’s Ascent to Power & Lessons in Leadership

Posted by: on April 6, 2016   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research
  • In February 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln traveled from Springfield to Washington, visiting his supporters and finding his voice on his way to taking the Oath of Office on March 4.
  • In February 2016, I traveled around campus, learned a few things and concluded the month with Spring Break.

lincoln-cattlecarIn my last post I gave you a super brief summary of the Civil War and presented the case that Lincoln faced many problems leading up to his presidency — and even during the war. In this post, I want to talk about some of those.

For the most part, Lincoln’s trip to Washington D.C. from Illinois was uneventful. He stopped in 27 cities and was greeted by crowds of supporters who he spoke to about his plan-of-action while in office. However, one city in particular posed a slight problem for him — Baltimore. You may have heard about the Baltimore Plot, or you may not have. It was a supposed plot to assassinate Lincoln upon his arrival at the train station. His security caught wind of the plan and insisted that he bypass Baltimore — so he proceeded directly from Pennsylvania to Washington. Lincoln did not want to do this, but despite his many reservations about skipping the city, his convoy continued straight onto Washington.

Many people did not actually like this move, and Lincoln was ridiculed because of it. Some newspapers created caricatures of him as a coward, like the picture included, and they said that he was weak and would not be able run the country to the standards the people would have wanted. The people of the Union began to question their decision and his ability to lead them.

Even after the Baltimore Plot was cleared up, Lincoln still faced issues and problems with the people around him. He had cabinet members who made decisions behind his back, generals who did not take action against the Confederate troops, and a nation that was divided and unable to stand together as one. You would think that people would be more inclined to listen to their Commander-in-Chief, but with the tensions surrounding Lincoln’s presidency, it is more understandable why people did not listen. Now, I’m not saying this is a valid reason for not listening to your boss, and his words and actions should not be undermined at any point, but this is the root of all the problems. Secretary of War Cameron essentially went behind Lincoln’s back and tried to create actions that directly countered his ideas and weakened Lincoln’s relationship with his other cabinet members. General McClellan was cocky, hotheaded, and timid — he continually set up attacks on Confederate troops and then failed to attack further and defeat them when he could.

This was Lincoln’s biggest problem area and the one with which he struggled the most. General McClellan was a West Point graduate and extremely knowledgeable of war tactics — much more than me, so I’m going to do my best to explain what was going on. During the war, more specifically the Peninsula Campaign in which the Union forces attempted to take Richmond, McClellan failed to keep the trust of Lincoln. Trust was necessary to win the war, and this is what I have taken away from this reading and learning experience. The war was a complicated political situation that cannot be summed up by one thing. However, trust was something that every participant needed to have. Lincoln’s actions in removing McClellan from his position and appointing General Grant taught me that sometimes you have to make a decision that is not always the easiest or most popular. I know this sounds trivial or makes it seem that I’m diminishing the decisions Lincoln had to make throughout his presidency and the war, but it is true. There are times when I have to trust my own judgment and make an unpopular decision, not at all like the ones Lincoln had to make. His resiliency and ability to stand by what he believed shows me that even through the darkest times, it is still possible to come out on the other side and “win.”

Abby Norberg



Opening fact:

In February 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln traveled from Springfield to Washington, visiting his supporters and finding his voice on his... MORE

The Many Aspects of America’s Civil War

Posted by: on February 29, 2016   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

lincolnFebruary 23, 1861
President-elect Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C., after a tumultuous journey from Illinois, to await his inauguration on March 4, amid continued threats of succession from southern states.


February 23, 2016
I sit at my desk, after a tumultuous journey from the dining hall, to write about Lincoln’s journey, amid internal debates about going to bed instead of doing my homework.


Hi Everyone! My name is Abby Norberg and I am a history major and a senior here at PC — not quite sure if I want to put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence, so I’m not going to. As you probably can tell from the fun facts at the beginning, I’m studying the Civil War with Dr. Patrick Breen! Even though there isn’t one thing about the Civil War that has stuck out to me, hopefully over the course of my studying with Dr. Breen and the readings I’ll be doing this semester, I’ll be able to refine that a little bit more.


abby-norbergSince this is a topic that is pretty well-known by most Americans, I hope to keep this blog light and enjoyable. My goal is to provide you with a different way of looking at the Civil War and hopefully give you a different perspective on this crucial piece of our nation’s history.


With that being said, the Civil War in 30 seconds:

By June of 1861, 11 states had seceded from the Union, spurred by the election of President Lincoln, and created a confederacy led by Jefferson Davis. Lincoln believed succession was unconstitutional, so he told them to come back. They said no, and a war was fought. Neither side believed it would last long, but four years later, at the Appomattox courthouse, Lee surrendered to Grant and the war finally ended. Then began the process of reunion.


Obviously, 30 seconds does not do either side justice. The Civil War was much more complicated than that, and to boil it down to those few sentences can’t summarize the horrors these young men faced and the struggles of both sides on the home fronts. To write about every aspect of the Civil War in one post would be counterproductive since so many others have already done that – and much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do.


One such book is James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, which was published in 1988 as part of The Oxford History of the United States. In 862 pages McPherson is able to set up the war, analyze the war, and tell the story of this pivotal period of our history. However, the book does not begin where you might think to start. He does not start with the firing on Fort Sumter or the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). Instead, he begins with the Mexican American War. What? Yeah, the beginning of the Civil War dates back to 1846 not 1860. Yes, Lincoln’s election created so much tension that those 11 states seceded, but why?


Land. That is where the Mexican American War comes into play. With the acquisition of so much new land, the states needed to figure out what to do with it – would it be slave territory or free? Obviously the South wanted to make it slave so that they would have a majority in Congress, but the North also wanted a majority. Ultimately, the question of the expansion of slavery comes into play. Lincoln was against that, and the North liked that he was. He was not opposed to the institution of slavery, but he was against its expansion and believed that if it were to continue, it would need to stay where it was. One thing led to another, and eventually those 11 states created their own confederacy and elected Jefferson Davis. This leads us, finally, into Lincoln’s journey to Washington and the difficult decisions he faced during the war — like having to deal with generals who don’t listen to you, abolitionists trying to end the war, and the continued struggle of finding men to fight.  These cannot, in any way, be discussed in this post, because I feel it is already too long and I’ve lost your attention. Until next time, when we will discuss Lincoln’s struggles and the more intricate details of the war!


Abby Norberg


February 23, 1861 President-elect Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C., after a tumultuous journey from Illinois, to await his inauguration on... MORE