Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion

Civil War Conference

4-6 April 2013

Conference Overview

The program will begin on Thursday evening with a keynote address by Professor John Stauffer, a member of Harvard’s English Department and the chair of the university’s graduate program on the History of American Civilization. Professor Stauffer will speak on the contribution of Massachusetts black and white abolitionists and political leaders to secession, freedom, and equality under the law. He will also discuss briefly how the state responded to the "counter-Revolution" that stripped away these new rights after Reconstruction. The conference keynote and the reception that will follow will be open to the general public, free of charge.

Professor Stauffer’s lecture will open a conference that will consider almost every major aspect of Massachusetts’ participation in the war: reform activities and the origins of the war; military life; the war, politics and the economy; slavery and emancipation; and how the citizens of Massachusetts came to terms with the consequences of the conflict. It will feature established scholars as well as up-and-coming historians who will tackle new areas of emphasis, including the radical intellectual tradition, health and the environment, and the memory of the war.

Conference papers will be made available in advance to those who preregister. In six sessions on Friday and Saturday, panelists and commentators will offer brief remarks; then, a discussion with the audience will follow.

Conference Program 

Thursday, April 4

Keynote address, 6:00-7:00 P.M.

John Stauffer, Harvard University, “Massachusetts and the Civil War in Black and White: The Commonwealth’s Role in Secession, Emancipation, and Reconstruction”

Reception, 7:00-8:00 P.M. This event is also open to the public free of charge. All are welcome to attend the lecture and the reception that follows. RSVP requested. Email

Friday, April 5

Registration: 8:30-9:15 A.M.

Welcome: 9:15 A.M.

Dennis A. Fiori and Conrad Edick Wright, Massachusetts Historical Society

Session I: Radical Reformers and the Civil War, 9:30-11:30 A.M.

*Dean Grodzins,  Massachusetts Historical Society, “‘Constitution or No Constitution, Law or No Law, We Will Not Allow a Fugitive Slave To Be Taken from Massachusetts’: The Boston Vigilance Committees of 1841, 1846, and 1850” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Margot Minardi, Reed  College, “The Power to Die Without the Power to Kill: Nonresistance in Civil War Massachusetts” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Peter Wirzbicki, New York University, “‘Today Abolitionist is Merged in Citizen’: Radical Abolitionists and the Union War” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

Chair and comment: Manisha Sinha, University of Massachusetts—Amherst

Lunch (on your own): 11:30 A.M.-1:00 P.M.

Session II: Massachusetts, Slavery, and Emancipation, 1:00-3:00 P.M.

*Jim Downs,  Connecticut College, “Dying to Be Free: The Health Conditions of Former Slaves During the Civil War and Reconstruction”

*Crystal Feimster, Yale University, “‘Indecent and Obscene’: White Union Officers and Rape in the ‘Contraband Quarters’” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Amy Morsman, Middlebury  College, “Yankee Schoolteachers in the Reconstruction South” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

Chair and comment: Martha Hodes, New York University

Break: 3:00-3:15 P.M.

Session III: Military Life, 3:15-5:15 P.M.

*Ronald and Mary Zboray, University of Pittsburgh, “The Bonds of Print: Reading on Homefront and Battlefield” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Kathryn Shively Meier, University of Scranton, “Death in the Breeze: U.S. Sanitary Commission Workers Interpret Environmental Health in the Civil War” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Megan Kate Nelson, Harvard University, “‘The scenery here is magnificent’: Massachusetts Soldiers and the Landscapes of War” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

Chair and comment: Conevery Bolton Valencius, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Saturday, April 6

Registration: 8:30-9:15 A.M.

Session IV: The Civil War, Politics, and the Economy, 9:15-11:15 A.M.

*Millington Bergeson-Lockwood, Carnegie Mellon University, “‘No Peace until the Suffrage Question is Settled’: African American Politics and Defining Citizenship in Post-War Boston” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

* Richard Newman, Rochester Institute of Technology, “A New City on the Hill? The Rise and Fall of the Abolitionist Republic in Civil War Massachusetts” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Kathryn Tomasek, Wheaton College, “The Wheaton Family and the Atlantic Economy, 1862” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

Chair and comment: Drew R. McCoy, Clark University

Lunch (on your own): 11:15 A.M.-12:45 P.M.

Session V: The Civil War and Memory, 12:45-2:45 P.M.

*Matthew Mason, Brigham  Young University—“The Ladies’ Candidate: Edward Everett, the Constitutional Unionist Party, and the Election of 1860” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Sarah J. Purcell, Grinnell College, “Mourning Charles Sumner” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai, Angelo State  University, “The Union of Gentlemen Restored: College-Educated Northern Veterans, Reconciliation, and the Meaning of the Civil War” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

Chair and comment: Nina Silber, Boston University

Break: 2:45-3:00 P.M.

Session VI: Massachusetts Interprets the Civil War, 3:00-5:00 P.M.

*Carol Bundy, author of The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835-64, “McClellan’s Ten Days in Boston, February 1863: Boston, Its Financiers, and the War for Emancipation” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Barbara Gannon, University of Central Florida, “‘The Lost Cause of Historical Truth’: The Grand Army of the Republic in Massachusetts and the Battle for Civil War Memory” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

*Jordan Watkins, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “‘The Historic Strife’: Massachusetts and the Civil War’s Temporal Valences” {{DOWNLOAD Download this essay.}}

Chair and comment: Donald Yacovone, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University