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The American Civil War

Discover the real reasons behind the Civil War and get a blow-by-blow description of what happened in each major battle with this engrossing and comprehensive course.
The American Civil War is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 273.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough Coverage of Military, Social & Economics I completed this course about a week ago and I really enjoyed Professor Gallagher. Aside from the (very high) academic merit of the course, I liked Prof Gallagher's manner of speaking and accent, which reminded me of my family in the rural midwest growing up. He is also deliberative, well paced, and easy to follow. The course provides detailed military history for those who want it (how actual battles progressed, armies moved). It also gives sizes up the opposing sides effectively at many points in various ways to give the listener a deep understanding of all factors impacting the course of the war. He also covers the homefront, the experience of women, and the experience of African-Americans thoroughly. He does not pursue a political agenda. He just wants to facilitate understanding. His love of the subject matter is obvious and deepened my own passion for this subject matter. I look forward to hearing from him in "The History of the United States, 2nd Edition" which I recently purchased.
Date published: 2024-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Richly Detailed and Nuanced Analysis Dr. Gary W. Gallagher’s course amounts to the most multi-faceted and thorough analysis among several that I’ve studied on the American Civil War. There is nothing that feels “long ago and far away” about history the way this professor presents it. His extensive research into records, news accounts, and diaries of the era made this war seem as poignant for me as conflicts and tragedies that have taken place during my own lifetime. I respect the fact that Dr. Gallagher does not base his teaching on personal biases he might have about the legitimacy of Confederate secession from the U.S. Federal Union, or the parameters of states’ rights, or how justice and moral high ground were defined in the mid-nineteenth century. Instead, he chronicles how the people directly involved regarded such issues in the context of their own time and place. Still, he is not hesitant to point out what was well-planned or not, what was brave or not, and what seemed markedly belligerent or potentially peace-seeking on both sides in the war. He impresses me as a researcher and reporter who values evenhandedness. His speech is very natural, effective, organized, and not dependent on a teleprompter. Do watch these lectures. They are compelling.
Date published: 2024-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT, very informative, highly recommend The most informative information that covers both sides of the war. It is obvious the professor is passionate about the topic and holds your attention. The best that I have heard that explains not only the battles, but everything going on behind the scenes and how everything effected the north and south citizens. I highly recommend this series.
Date published: 2023-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very in-depth and educational, outstanding. Watch all 48 episodes on prime. So glad prime is carrying such great content. This is the third series from the great courses collection we’ve seen. Dinosaurs and the Middle Ages were the first ones. Very impressed and hope Amazon prime continues this awesome series.
Date published: 2023-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best This is a flagship course taught by an elite lecturer. This course is a thorough (48 lectures) look at the American Civil War. It does include battles, generals, and dates, but it is much more. It looks at government and politics. It looks at economics. It looks at international affairs and it looks at life of individual soldiers. It compares and contrasts life in the union and life in the confederacy. In short, it is a well-rounded look at a pivotal point in American history. Dr. Gallagher is a widely-recognized authority on the American Civil War and he is also an excellent lecturer. Although he has a somewhat nasal voice, his course material organization, his conversational speaking style, and his contagious enthusiasm for the material captivate the listener. While he is fair and objective, he does not shy from disagreeing with other authorities such as Shelby Foote. As a rule, though, he clearly notes when he is expressing a personal assessment. The course guide is below average by The Great Courses (TGC) standards. It is written in paragraph format (as opposed to outline format or bullet format), which makes it much easier to use. However, it averages less than four pages per lecture, little more than half of TGC average. Incredibly, there are only four maps in the whole course guide, all in the appendix. There are also an extensive timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, and a bibliography in the appendix. I used the video version. While there were helpful video graphics such as battle maps, one can follow the course in audio-only mode such as while exercising or commuting. The course was published in 2000.
Date published: 2023-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American Civil War Thorough and thoughtful! Context is examined and explained regarding political, social and military events. This is not a basic introductory look but a more detailed and developed account of this period and the war itself. Fine course.
Date published: 2023-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and mandatory American history for all I came to USA fifty years ago and visited forty-six states. I met fair-mined and kind people all over the country. Inevitably, one always senses the unspoken divisiveness among regions and perceptions. Every aspect of American culture is permeated by race and the effect of the Civil War often under the surface, avoided, and undiscussed. The is an excellent course that all American should study and understand. Very well delivered and balanced presented by Professor Gallagher. We should all face the truth, learn, and reconcile with the history so that this country can move toward true greatness.
Date published: 2023-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course We spent almost two weeks in Virginia last fall and visited several battlefields and historic areas. I was anxious to learn more and this course fulfilled that desire. While a bit dated the information and knowledge shared is still accurate. I enjoyed his teaching style. Happy I invested the time in this course.
Date published: 2023-01-13
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Many TV shows have dealt with the American Civil War, but not one offers the combination of crisp, comprehensive narrative and in-depth analysis that you will find in this course. In 48 masterful lectures, leading Civil War historian Professor Gary W. Gallagher explains both the strategy and battles of the war as well as its effects on all Americans. You'll learn how armies were recruited, equipped, and trained. You'll learn about the hard lot of prisoners. And you'll hear how soldiers on both sides dealt with the rigors of camp life, campaigns, and the terror of combat.


Gary W. Gallagher

It is impossible to understand the broader sweep of the United States history, without coming to terms with the Civil War, its antecedents, and its seismic consequences.


University of Virginia

Dr. Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. He graduated from Adams State College of Colorado and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to teaching at UVA, he was Professor of History at The Pennsylvania State University. Professor Gallagher is one of the leading historians of the Civil War. His books include The Confederate War, Lee and His Generals in War and Memory, and Stephen Dodson Ramseur: Lee's Gallant General. He has coauthored and edited several works on individual battles and campaigns and has published over 100 articles in scholarly journals and popular historical magazines. Professor Gallagher has received many awards for his research and writing, including the Laney Prize for the best book on the Civil War, the William Woods Hassler Award for contributions to Civil War studies, the Lincoln Prize, and the Fletcher Pratt Award for the best nonfiction book on the Civil War. Professor Gallagher was founder and first president of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites and has served on the Board of Directors of the Civil War Trust.

By This Professor

Prelude to War

01: Prelude to War

This introductory lecture explains the sectional controversies and clashes that set the stage for secession and war.

32 min
The Election of 1860

02: The Election of 1860

The presidential canvass of 1860 was the most important in U.S. history. It resulted in Abraham Lincoln's election as the first Republican to occupy the White House and brought sectional tensions to a head.

30 min
The Lower South Secedes

03: The Lower South Secedes

Beginning with South Carolina in December 1860, all of the Lower South states seceded by the first week of February 1861. They sent delegates to a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, that established the Confederate States of America.

30 min
The Crisis at Fort Sumter

04: The Crisis at Fort Sumter

From February through April 1861, the United States and the Confederacy eyed each other warily and vied for the support of eight slave states that remained in the Union. As various compromise proposals fell short, United States-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor came to be a flash point.

30 min
The Opposing Sides, I

05: The Opposing Sides, I

Was the South fated to lose, as many people think? If the Confederate States of America could have won, when did it come closest to doing so? As fighting began, each side had important advantages. We will take a close look at these.

31 min
The Opposing Sides, II

06: The Opposing Sides, II

Did the Confederacy have better generals? Which side had the edge in strategic and political leadership? What were the attitudes of England and France toward the conflict? Which side marshaled its resources and exploited its advantages more effectively?

31 min
The Common Soldier

07: The Common Soldier

Why did young men join the colors of the North or the South? What made them bear the war's awful dangers and hardships? What was it like to be a soldier in the ranks?

31 min
First Manassas or Bull Run

08: First Manassas or Bull Run

Following the Upper South's secession and the move of the Confederate capital to Richmond, Virginia, both sides geared up for war. Learn the details of General Winfield Scott's brilliant "Anaconda Plan" and the factors that led to the Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run (July 21, 1861), the first big clash of the war.

31 min
Contending for the Border States

09: Contending for the Border States

The loyalty of slaveholding states Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was an object of intense competition in the summer and autumn of 1861. What, in the end, kept those states in the Union?

30 min
Early Union Triumphs in the West

10: Early Union Triumphs in the West

Most people looked to Virginia to be the critical military arena, but many leaders on both sides believed the war would be decided in the vast area between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.

30 min
Shiloh and Corinth

11: Shiloh and Corinth

Early 1862 saw breathtaking Union successes in the West. Ulysses S. Grant took Forts Henry and Donelson and moved south up the Tennessee River, while Don Carlos Buell marched from Nashville. Aiming to crush Grant before Buell arrived, A. S. Johnston struck the unwary Federals near Shiloh Church on April 6, 1862.

30 min
The Peninsula Campaign

12: The Peninsula Campaign

Nine months of relative quiet following First Manassas ended when George B. McClellan started a slow Union drive up the Virginia Peninsula toward Richmond in April. By the end of May 1862, Union forces menaced Richmond from two directions and Confederate prospects looked bleak.

31 min
The Seven Days' Battles

13: The Seven Days' Battles

As Stonewall Jackson marched and fought in the Shenandoah Valley, Joseph E. Johnston attacked McClellan at Seven Pines or Fair Oaks (May 31, 1862). When Johnston was wounded, Robert E. Lee took command. In the Seven Days' Battles (June 25-July 1), he seized the initiative and pressed the Federals south to the James. Lee had saved Richmond and offset Union success in the West.

31 min
The Kentucky Campaign of 1862

14: The Kentucky Campaign of 1862

The Confederacy faced a difficult strategic situation in July 1862. Jefferson Davis and his generals responded by sending armies into Kentucky and Maryland in the most impressive Confederate strategic offensive of the war. Operations in Kentucky between August and October 1862 culminated in a confused battle at Perryville (October 8).

30 min

15: Antietam

After besting John Pope at Second Manassas in late August, Lee marched north into Maryland. Lincoln reluctantly returned command to McClellan, whose pursuit of Lee culminated at Antietam on September 17, the bloodiest day in American history. What happened on that battlefield? What did it mean?

31 min
The Background to Emancipation

16: The Background to Emancipation

Despite slavery's role in causing the conflict, for at least the first year it remained in the background. As long as restoring the Union remained the sole war aim, there was remarkable unity among Northerners. But what type of Union were they fighting for?

30 min
Emancipation Completed

17: Emancipation Completed

Lincoln came to see emancipation as necessary to victory. But he understood that he lacked the authority to end slavery in loyal areas, and his famous proclamation deliberately casts emancipation as a war measure. What did most Northerners think of it?

30 min
Filling the Ranks

18: Filling the Ranks

How many men served during the war? How were they recruited? How good were the United States and the CSA at putting their military-age men under arms?

30 min
Sinews of War-Finance and Supply

19: Sinews of War-Finance and Supply

War spending went on at an unprecedented scale. Both sides sold bonds, levied taxes, and printed paper money. Despite its weak economy, the Confederacy never lost a battle because its armies ran out of ordnance.

30 min
The War in the West, Winter 1862-63

20: The War in the West, Winter 1862-63

While McClellan sat north of the Potomac, Buell slowly followed Bragg's retreat into Tennessee. Lincoln, eager for good war news, named Ambrose E. Burnside to take over the Army of the Potomac and William S. Rosecrans to tackle Bragg. In December, Rosecrans moved, and Grant began his long campaign against Vicksburg.

30 min
The War in Virginia, Winter and Spring 1862-63

21: The War in Virginia, Winter and Spring 1862-63

In Virginia, the Union army suffered two setbacks along the Rappahannock. Lee threw back Burnside's costly frontal assaults at Fredericksburg on December 13. The talented, ambitious Joseph Hooker soon took command. He planned a brilliant offensive that began well at the end of April 1863, but Lee and Jackson had other plans.

30 min

22: Gettysburg

Gettysburg is often described as the turning point of the war. It took place against a background of uncertainty and unrest in the North and was the result of a major strategic debate in the South. Why did Lee go north? Was his strategic thinking sound? What swung the three-day battle's outcome? How did people on either side view Gettysburg?

31 min
Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Tullahoma

23: Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Tullahoma

In mid-April, Grant boldly ordered the Navy to run past Vicksburg's guns, ferried his troops across the south of the city, marched inland to seize Jackson, Mississippi, and then besieged Vicksburg. With skillful marching, Rosecrans pinned Bragg in Chattanooga.

30 min
A Season of Uncertainty, Summer and Fall 1863

24: A Season of Uncertainty, Summer and Fall 1863

Although the Union seemed poised for knockout blows both east and west, Meade would not force a full-blown battle, and Grant found himself without a major goal after Vicksburg. Rosecrans ably maneuvered Bragg out of Chattanooga and into north Georgia in early September. Reinforced, Bragg struck back at Chickamauga (September 19-20), the CSA's only major tactical victory in the West.

31 min
Grant at Chattanooga

25: Grant at Chattanooga

With all eyes on Chattanooga, both armies experienced command problems. Grant, named overall Union commander in the West in mid-October, took charge personally. Bragg meanwhile conducted an increasingly ineffective siege.

30 min
The Diplomatic Front

26: The Diplomatic Front

Both Lincoln and Davis cast anxious eyes toward Europe, thinking of the decisive French aid to the colonies during the American Revolution. Why, despite several flare-ups with England and France, did the Lincoln administration finally prevail in the diplomatic arena?

31 min
African Americans in Wartime, I

27: African Americans in Wartime, I

During the conflict, thousands of slaves made their way to Union lines. Approximately 500,000, roughly one-seventh of all enslaved black people in the CSA, passed from Confederate to Union control. Their plight was often hard and uncertain. Nearly 180,000 black men, most of them former slaves, wore Union blue. The "U.S. Colored Troops" faced obstacles and injustices, yet their solid serv...

31 min
African Americans in Wartime, II

28: African Americans in Wartime, II

In the North, blacks were at the center of a debate over war aims. The 13th Amendment and various other new laws marked progress toward fairer treatment. Slave labor vastly aided Southern mobilization and the CSA's economy. There were no major slave revolts, but black and white Southerners found their social and economic relations changing amid the dislocations of war.

31 min
Wartime Reconstruction

29: Wartime Reconstruction

Even as war raged, Lincoln and Congress debated what would happen after it was won. In December 1863, Lincoln offered a simple, lenient reconstruction plan. Radical Republicans in Congress objected and offered their own blueprint. The debate was continuing even as an assassin cut short Lincoln's part in it.

30 min
The Naval War

30: The Naval War

The U.S. Navy played a major, often overlooked, role in defeating the CSA. Starting the war with just 42 ships, the Navy would have nearly 700 by 1865. Northern naval strategy focused on supporting ground operations along Southern rivers and coasts, and above all, on the blockade. With nothing like the North's industrial base, how did the Confederate Navy perform?

31 min
The River War and Confederate Commerce Raiders

31: The River War and Confederate Commerce Raiders

The war in the West gave a key role to the U.S. Navy, which built special craft for river duty. Meanwhile, Southern commerce raiders like the C.S.S. Alabama became legendary. How much did they aid the CSA's war effort?...

31 min
Women at War, I

32: Women at War, I

How did Northern women experience the war? Wartime urgencies provided increased opportunities for middle-class women to enter the public sphere as nurses, clerks, or agents of benevolent organizations. The experiences of poor white women and black women-whether as farmwives, widows, or factory workers-are less well understood.

30 min
Women at War, II

33: Women at War, II

The war changed women's lives in ways dramatic and subtle, lasting and temporary. Although anxiety, grief, and hardship were felt on both sides, women in the CSA suffered most directly from the war. To black women, the war brought emancipation and the opportunity to solidify marriage and family ties. The front drew more women than might seem likely.

31 min
Stalemate in 1864

34: Stalemate in 1864

Named general-in-chief in March 1864, Grant hoped to apply enough pressure across the board to crush the Confederacy. The most important actions would be led by Sherman in Georgia and Grant himself in Virginia.

30 min
Sherman versus Johnston in Georgia

35: Sherman versus Johnston in Georgia

Moving south from Chattanooga, Sherman intended to use his large armies to outmaneuver Johnston, who fell back while looking for a chance to counterpunch. By early July, the sparring armies had settled into a siege.

30 min
The Wilderness to Spotsylvania

36: The Wilderness to Spotsylvania

In many ways the war's pre-eminent confrontation, the Overland Campaign brought together each side's greatest captain in a novel and relentless combat. The prominence of Grant and Lee ensured that their contest would deeply affect civilian morale. The armies would battle fiercely and almost continuously from early May to mid-June.

31 min
Cold Harbor to Petersburg

37: Cold Harbor to Petersburg

After Spotsylvania (May 8-21), Lee entrenched at Cold Harbor, Virginia. On June 3, Grant launched a futile and costly frontal assault. On June 12, he began one of the most impressive movements of the war, nearly taking Petersburg on June 15. By June 19, however, the opportunity had passed. Grant began a siege.

30 min
The Confederate Home Front, I

38: The Confederate Home Front, I

The war caused the CSA enormous strains, hardships, and dislocations. Eschewing formal party politics, the CSA's founders hoped to return to a Revolutionary-era ideal. But bitter divisions arose, and the political scene often seemed chaotic and a drag on the war effort. Although most Confederates remained committed to beating the Yankees, economic woes made many doubt their ability to continue the...

30 min
The Confederate Home Front, II

39: The Confederate Home Front, II

In addition to slaves who fled to Union lines, many Southern whites became refugees as they fled from Union armies. Among those who did not become refugees, increasing hardship and a demanding central government caused distress and anger as the war progressed. Did the resulting internal dissension kill the Confederacy?

31 min
The Northern Home Front, I

40: The Northern Home Front, I

Although the war did not bring severe dislocations to the North, it did produce a political sea change. The Republicans became the majority party, but bad war news and the unpopularity of some of their policies led to crises.

31 min
The Northern Home Front, II

41: The Northern Home Front, II

Unlike the Confederacy, the North was able to produce both guns and butter in abundance. With no Southern presence in Congress, the Republicans started the nation down an economic path it would follow for several decades.

31 min
Prisoners of War

42: Prisoners of War

Few aspects of the conflict were as emotionally charged, with both sides hurling charges of negligence and atrocities. More than 400,000 men were captured. Early in the war most were quickly paroled or exchanged. Later, this system broke down, and prisoners suffered.

30 min
Mobile Bay and Atlanta

43: Mobile Bay and Atlanta

In the summer of 1864, Lincoln needed victories. The first break came in August, at Mobile Bay, Alabama, when Admiral David G. Farragut closed the CSA's last major port on the Gulf. Far more important news soon followed from Atlanta: Sherman had at last taken the city (September 1-2).

30 min
Petersburg, the Crater, and the Valley

44: Petersburg, the Crater, and the Valley

While events unfolded at Atlanta, Grant and Lee confronted each other along an elaborately entrenched front from Richmond to Petersburg. In mid-June, Lee detached a corps under Jubal Early to operate in the Shenandoah Valley and Maryland. Between September 19 and October 19, Philip H. Sheridan won three victories over Early and laid waste to much of the lower Valley.

30 min
The Final Campaigns

45: The Final Campaigns

After Atlanta fell, Hood tried to draw Sherman northward. Sherman followed briefly before deciding to cut loose from his supply lines on his famous March to the Sea, implementing the "strategy of exhaustion" in the Confederate interior.

30 min
Petersburg to Appomattox

46: Petersburg to Appomattox

By March 1865, the Federals had restricted Lee's supply lines and forced him to extend his lines. Lee failed to break the siege and headed west. Grant blocked the way at Appomattox, where Lee surrendered his 28,000 starving men on April 9. CSA forces elsewhere quickly surrendered.

30 min
Closing Scenes and Reckonings

47: Closing Scenes and Reckonings

Lincoln's assassination has given rise to much speculation. What does the best evidence suggest? Lincoln was among the last casualties in a war whose staggering human and material toll can never be known. Taking everything into account, why did the South lose and the North win?

30 min
Remembering the War

48: Remembering the War

How did participants remember and interpret the conflict in the decades after Appomattox? How do modern Americans view the people and events of 1861-65? What are the types of understanding at which one can arrive?

31 min