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Reconstructing the Campus

Higher Education and the American Civil War

Michael David Cohen

Publication Year: 2012

The Civil War transformed American life. Not only did thousands of men die on battlefields and millions of slaves become free; cultural institutions reshaped themselves in the context of the war and its aftermath. The first book to examine the Civil War’s immediate and long-term impact on higher education, Reconstructing the Campus begins by tracing college communities’ responses to the secession crisis and the outbreak of war. Students made supplies for the armies or left campus to fight. Professors joined the war effort or struggled to keep colleges open. The Union and Confederacy even took over some campuses for military use.

Then moving beyond 1865, the book explores the war’s long-term effects on colleges. Michael David Cohen argues that the Civil War and the political and social conditions the war created prompted major reforms, including the establishment of a new federal role in education. Reminded by the war of the importance of a well-trained military, Congress began providing resources to colleges that offered military courses and other practical curricula. Congress also, as part of a general expansion of the federal bureaucracy that accompanied the war, created the Department of Education to collect and publish data on education. For the first time, the U.S. government both influenced curricula and monitored institutions.

The war posed special challenges to Southern colleges. Often bereft of students and sometimes physically damaged, they needed to rebuild. Some took the opportunity to redesign themselves into the first Southern universities. They also admitted new types of students, including the poor, women, and, sometimes, formerly enslaved blacks. Thus, while the Civil War did great harm, it also stimulated growth, helping, especially in the South, to create our modern system of higher education.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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Title Page

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p. iii


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p. vii


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p. viii

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pp. ix-xi

Writing a book involves many hours spent alone in an archive or at a computer. But it is hardly done in isolation. This book has benefited immensely from the advice, feedback, assistance, and support of many individuals and organizations. It began at Harvard University, where my readers guided me through the process of turning an idea into a...

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pp. 1-17

When Americans think of the Civil War, few images come to mind more often than those from the epic film Gone with the Wind. We remember Scarlett O’Hara’s early fright and growing fortitude as she loses and regains her estate. We remember Rhett Butler’s dry cynicism about his compatriots’ lust for war. And we remember, with incredulity...

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1. Dwellers beside the Sea: Colleges at War

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pp. 19-51

When Sallie Love received her college diploma, she may well have heaved a sigh of relief. Few knew the difficulties of attending college in wartime better than she. When the Civil War broke out, the Love, Mississippi, native was attending the State Female College in Memphis, Tennessee. Upon the surrender of Tennessee’s Fort Donelson to Northern...

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2. The Curriculum: Teaching the Arts of Peace and War

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pp. 52-91

On September 30, 1859, the lawyer and failed senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln spoke to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society at its annual fair in Milwaukee. Although conceding that he was “in no sort a farmer” himself, Lincoln pointed to what he saw as some of the most important issues of the day relating to agriculture. ...

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3. Admissions: Race, Class, Gender

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pp. 92-127

In October 1876 South Carolina’s governor received a letter from Grandison Harris, a justice of the peace in Augusta, Georgia. Harris wished to send his son to study law at the University of South Carolina. He wrote to the governor, who chaired the board of trustees, to inquire about admissions procedures and tuition fees. ...

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4. Admissions: Geography, Service, Morality

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pp. 128-152

William H. Lynch, a lieutenant in the Thirty-second Missouri Volunteer Infantry (USA), returned to his home state in August 1865. But instead of going to his hometown of Houston, he headed one hundred miles north to Columbia. There he enrolled at the University of Missouri. He spent the next year studying Greek, Latin, mathematics...

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5. College, Community, and Nation

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pp. 153-186

In a Pennsylvania hall in 1876, adults leafed through examination papers by Lincoln University students. But they were not professors at the African American university. They were not even on the Chester County campus. Nearby, others watched children engaged in a kindergarten lesson. But they were neither teachers nor parents. They were not even in...

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pp. 187-195

When the Civil War began, higher education in America comprised chiefl y small colleges that taught students an abstract curriculum rooted in the classical languages and mathematics. In the North they attracted students from a broad range of social classes who wished to become ministers, doctors, lawyers, or teachers. In the South they enrolled...

Notes and Bibliography

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pp. 197-258


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pp. 259-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780813933184
E-ISBN-10: 0813933188
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813933177
Print-ISBN-10: 081393317X

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 2 maps, 3 charts
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 811829653
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reconstructing the Campus

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Education and the war.
  • Universities and colleges -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Universities and colleges -- United States -- Admission -- History -- 19th century.
  • Universities and colleges -- Curricula -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Education, Higher -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Educational change -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Influence
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