Civil War Studies

July 12, 2023

Civil War Studies
This is what we did, roughly, with my oldest two girls when studying America’s Civil War. I wrote this up at the time. I started to update it, but my tenses got confused, so I stopped, probably leaving them even more confused.=)

…. Lucidity, personal conviction, directness- these are some of the qualities we look for when selecting the books for our children to read.
Currently we are studying the War Between the States, or more accurately, at this time we are studying the events leading up to it. I knew we had found a living book, one written with that personal conviction which Charlotte [Mason] mentions, when I read this in the introduction:
“I discovered the true story told in these pages while I was working on something else- on “America’s Moral and Intellectual Underpinnings,” as I rather grandly put it. I had decided to deal with that subject, not a small one, by telling stories. When I came across this one, it grabbed me by the collar, threw me upon the floor, sat upon my chest and insisted on being told.”
The book is Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress. The author is William Lee Miller. He researched the congressional records during the decades prior to 1861, reviewing the discussions, arguments, and fights on the issue of slavery. He shares them here, with plentiful commentary and background. His style is riveting, the story fascinating, and his personal conviction clearly evident.

My teens, especially my then 16 y.o., were captivated. My eldest made a copybook of quotes from this book alone. By the time she was halfway through the 500 page volume she had six pages (double sided) of handwritten quotes. She met people in the pages of this book whom she feels she ‘knows’ now, and she is eager to find out more about them [she is finished now, and has put together a wonderful notebook of her studies in this area]. As I wrote at the time: Our (then) 14 y.o. is also working through the book on her own, making her own copybook. The two girls are planning to compare their quotebooks when they are done, to see if they selected any of the same quotes. In addition to the copywork, my teens write their oral narrations of the day’s reading each day, spending from thirty minutes to an hour writing. Once a week we have a time set aside for making entries in their Book of The Centuries. They made their own, following directions in one of Catherine Levison’s magazines [ this is no longer published, and I do not know if back issues are still available]. They read for at least two hours of the day, at this time, mostly from Arguing About Slavery. This book is the centerpiece of our study.

Playing significant supporting roles are three other volumes, each rather large, one videotape and one cassette tape series, each with important contributions to make to our understanding of the first six decades of the 19th century. We are reading from Samuel Eliot Morrison’s The Oxford History of the American People, _Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People, and _Clarence Carson’s A Basic History of the United States (Vol.3): the Sections and the Civil War 1826-1877. (I hope to add sections from _A People’s History of the United States_ at some point, however my copy apparently has moved out of the house]. Arguing About Slavery addresses States’ Rights issues, but obviously, from the title, concerns itself primarily with the slavery question. I wanted to get some balance in our studies. I chose Morrison’s book because he is a careful, meticulous scholar who deeply loves his subject. He is a wee bit on the dry side, but he attempts to be carefully neutral and avoid taking sides in the conflicts of the time.

Johnson’s book is enthusiastic, with a slightly humorous touch. It is another literary gem, written by a British born journalist who genuinely loves this country and its history. He also is rather more pro-Northern, although he also does mention the tariffs, the state bank, and government schools. However, I thought he was important because he represents John Quincy Adams as a bit of a crank, and a stiff, sour, unbending old man, while in Millers’ book Adams comes out as the hero of the day. Once more, I desire my children to see that there are many sides to the issues we’re studying, and many ways of interpreting the facts, so we’ll read the corresponding sections of Johnson’s book when we’ve finished Arguing About Slavery.

Clarence Carson’s books are the driest of the lot, to my taste, but they are indispensable, in my view. Carson is one of the few historians I know of who truly understands the Constitution of this country and the limits it places on the federal government. Therefore, he continually discusses political changes with an eye to their constitutionality.

Those are the books we are reading. We began this study with a cassette series, America’s First 350 Years, by Steve Wilkins. Wilkins is unabashedly pro-South, and defends his position with all the self-conviction, passion, and sincerity which Charlotte Mason could wish. He makes me rather aggravated when he discusses slavery, as, unlike him, I believe that the institution of race based slavery cannot be defended on biblical, or any other, grounds. However, his is an important voice, and on the issues of State’s Rights, I feel a powerful and prophetic one. On the issue of why the South fought, his intellectual honesty is questionable, however. he often conveniently leaves out important information that negates his premises, and how he twists others and makes unwarranted assumptions. [he aggravated my eldest so much that she wrote him a three page letter delineating all the points on which she thought he was wrong. He aggravated my 14 y.o. so much that she is pretty much reduced to speechless fury when asked to discuss him]. (when we finished this school year we ended up selling this resource).

Another important resource we are using in our studies is a videocassette tape published by American Vision (associated with Gary DeMar). AV hosted a debate between Steve Wilkins and Peter Marshall (author of the The Light and the Glory, From From Sea to Shining Sea: 1787-1837 (God’s Plan for America)) about the causes of the War Between the States. We watched this two-hour video after listening to Wilkin’s tape series (the part concerned with the events leading up to the War), and we were all entranced. I expected it to be boring, but it was fascinating. We will watch it again at the conclusion of our studies.

The videotape is an important component of our studies because I think it is an apt illustration of the fact that our reason leads us to conclude what our hearts have already accepted, and that good and wise men can come down firmly on opposite sides of the same question. As Miss Mason says in Volume 6, page 139:

“…the function of reason is to give logical demonstration of (a) mathematical truth and (b) of initial ideas accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible giddy but in the latter is not always a safe one, for whether the initial idea be right or wrong reason will confirm it by irrefragible proofs….” Teach them to accept or reject ideas based on the “principles of conduct and a wide range of fitting knowledge.”

Peter Marshall has written a third book, which title escapes me now, concerning the events leading up to the War. We aren’t using it primarily because we don’t own it. I did look for it at our local homeschool store, but they didn’t carry it. Others may be interested in it [he’s not at all an unbiased author, but I don’t seek to provide balance by using unbiased authors. I don’t think they exist. I prefer to offer opposing viewpoints].

These are not all the books we are reading; these volumes are the core. The girls are also reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Halcyon Classics) [ and we added the Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin when my eldest spotted a reprint at a curriculum fair], Across Five Aprils, Poems and Songs of the Civil War, A Confederate Primer, The Red Badge of Courage, and a biography or two (we especially like those by Albert Marrin), for a sampling. They also are reading the poetry of William Cullen Bryant, Whitman, Emerson, and the writings of Thoreau.

Those poets, are of course, all Northerners. Southern Poetry of the era was nearly impossible to find, other than that in Songs and Poem of the Civil War. I did find this website useful: There are other poets of the period, a multitude of them, that I would have liked to include in this study, but we do have to stop somewhere.
Emily Dickinson, for example, is a favorite of mine, and she did live and write during this period. However, she was not published until many years later. I wanted our studies to include poets and writers who were representative of their day and their region. That was part of my criteria for inclusion. Bryant is a good example of what I mean. He is not currently ‘popular’ with the literary elite of our day. However, he was a major voice of his time, considered the leading poet of his generation. I didn’t think we could leave him out and do justice to the historical period.

Each of the children has a poem by Bryant to memorize. The younger children have shorter poems. In this way, they all gain a greater familiar with a broader sampling of his work. I type the poems and print them out, using our word processor (and playing with fancy fonts). I put each poem into a page protector and thumbtacked each one onto a kitchen cupboard. My plan was to have about five or ten minutes a day where the children each stood in front of their poem, studied it attentively (that all important CM concept) and then took turns reciting as much as they had memorized. The children prefer to take their five or ten minutes of memorization at individual times. One child takes her poem down and sits out on the back porch, one takes it to the bathroom and closes the door, one leaves it where it is and studies it as she dries dishes, and one curls up on the couch with hers. They return their poems to the kitchen cupboards, and that way they don’t get lost. We spend about two weeks on a poem.

We include music appreciation in our studies in a simple, painless way. I used to find out which composers were representative of the time period. Then I looked through our rather extensive collection of CDs for any of the composers I had. Finally, I arbitrarily selected a few specific composers, mainly based on which were best represented in my collection. If I had a smaller collection, I would utilize the library. My children like to listen to music as they study and during meals and chores- in short, all day. I simply put a limit on which composers they could listen to during school hours.
During the first week, they can only listen to Schubert during school hours. During the second week, it will be Chopin, and in the third Wagner [rats, I forgot to do the Wagner bit!]. For the rest of our time spent on this era, they may choose whatever they prefer, as long as it comes from this era. They may utilize the library themselves to broaden their choices.
We plan to spend from 6 to 8 weeks on this, although I suspect we’ll go a bit over [sigh, we went waaaay over].

In conclusion, let me leave you with these words of Charlotte Mason from volume 6:

“It is not enough to teach reasoning, logic, we must have knowledge of character, of principles, of God most of all, because “without knowledge, Reason carries a man into the wilderness and Rebellion joins company.” Page 315 A well read person will be familiar with “Men and their motives, the historical sequence of events, principles for the conduct of life, in fact, practical philosophy, is what the emergencies of the times require us to possess and to be able to communicate.” Page 313 “These things are… are the gathered harvests of many seasons’ sowing of poetry, literature, history.”

The books I have mentioned here are only a small part of one season of ‘sowing poetry, literature, and history.’ Other books would serve equally well, so long as they helped a child to understand “men and their motives, the historical sequence of events, and principles for the conduct of life,” and as quoted above, “be written with the lucidity, concentration, personal conviction, directness, and admirable simplicity which characterizes a work of literary caliber.”