The death toll was by far the highest in U.S. history—yet there is a new and hot debate about
how many died. The political friction leading to the war has been deemed our worst—unless you
count 1775, 1916, and 2016? 2020? Lincoln is now a hero—though his failures at the time were
unprecedented. Reconstruction after the war was a success—or so most people thought until
the 1960s. The soldiers were the cream of American youth—until you look into the problems of
desertion and crime. But more than those problems: How did ‘the American Tragedy’ compare to
previous civil wars? And wars since? We will review the main facts and features of 1860–1865 for
half of this class week and devote the other half to these and other questions, trying to gain insight,
As in recent years, we will join Terry Moran’s class for one morning to debate our overlapping topics.
James M. Cornelius ’81 has studied Lincoln and the Civil War for more than 20 years, including
11 years as curator of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum and six years as secretary
and editor for the Abraham Lincoln Association. His doctoral degree in British history
helps launch this year’s comparative approach.