Category Archives: Ask Dr. Harris

American Civil War Web-Course

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 8.04.38 PMGreetings all! I have been posting updates on Twitter of late chronicling the progress of my next web-course: The American Civil War. I am very pleased to announce that the launch date is May 14, 2016. The course includes nearly forty video lectures and other projects covering military, social, political, and economic aspects of the conflict.

I am most excited to offer this course to my founding web-students for a 50% discount off the already reasonable price. You won’t find this deal anywhere but through this site – and the offer goes away on launch day. So you had better get on the stick. Here’s what you need to do:

ONE – be a current student or enroll now in either my Gettysburg or Reconstruction Era web-course for the regular discounted price available only from Keith Harris History.

TWO – sign up to be part of the Keith Harris History CREW so I can be sure to get you the info you need.

Get that all squared away and on launch day you will receive your discount code via email. And that’s it. Easy right?

With compliments,



Was the Battle of Gettysburg the Turning Point of the Civil War?

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.48.41 AMI got an email recently from a Battle of Gettysburg  student (Mike B.) asking me to clarify something I said about the battle on the Interwebs.

I mentioned something along the lines of “Gettysburg is not as important as you might think it is.” Thanks for the note, Mike – lets see if I can clear things up a bit.

When analyzing history from the vantage point of the present (as I have warned people not to do), one could surmise that the battle was indeed the turning point. The Confederates never again could claim a decisive victory along the lines of Chancellorsville or Fredericksburg. But the Union victory here was not by any means the stepping off point towards guaranteed victory.

The participants and citizens of their respective countries certainly didn’t think so. Just read a newspaper from the period. The Confederates, with Lee at the helm the Army of Northern Virginia, still firmly believed that victory was within their grasp – Gettysburg or not. The Union Army was bogged down in Virginia, the northern civilian population was growing increasingly weary of the war, and even Abraham Lincoln thought he was going to lose the election of 1864 and perhaps the war along with it.

Sure as shit – the letters home from the Confederate Army indicated that morale was up. I have read them myself…tons of these letters are housed at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Go there yourself and check them out if you don’t believe me.

So all this “High Tide of the Confederacy” stuff is a postwar creation. Sure, the citizens of the North and South thought the battle was important to be sure, but perhaps for different reasons than many Americans believe today.

And…if you read all the way to the end of this post I have a got a surprise for you – you can get the super-uber-deep- discount on my Gettysburg web-course HERE. You’re welcome 🙂

With compliments,


Racism in Reconstruction Politics

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 4.47.54 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.24.11 AMI often show images such as these to my APUSH students when we discuss the racism embedded in Reconstruction Era political discourse. While nearly all white Americans (from both sides of the political spectrum) endorsed what we, from a twenty-first century perspective,  would consider racist assumptions and stereotypes, the conservative Democrats (especially in the former Confederacy)  did so with a particular zeal. This does not seem to surprise my students at all. It makes sense that the people who had fought to preserve slavery would be racists.  What they have trouble with is the notion that white Republicans – those who championed emancipation and eventually equality before the law for all Americans – could just as readily embrace the shared racist proclivities of white America. For example, they might support civil,  but not social equality; suffrage, but not political determinism.

One of the greatest challenges for students is to distance historical actors from neat and tidy categories. Though we have have a tendency to compartmentalize things for the sake of simplification and easy explanation – seldom does history unfold with clean edges. I am working on a web-course right now that will address the complexities of this era – tailored specifically for APUSH and college students. Expect the launch this month….just in time for test prep. See how that works out?

With compliments,


I’ll Have the Stewed Kidneys and Minced Codfish

FullSizeRenderI have recently developed a fascination for nineteenth-century food and eating: when, where, what…and for reasons I can barely fathom (in some cases), why. I will say this, though some of the menu selections I’ve encountered seem pretty gross and not particularly compatible with my twenty-first century tastes, most of what I see sounds damn tasty. What do you think? Fire off a comment below or TWEET me to let me know.  And be sure to use the hashtag #harristorian.

With compliments,


Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 6.30.49 AMFullSizeRender-2FullSizeRender-1Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 6.33.05 AM

A Response to Mr. Fisher

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 4.07.28 PM
Let’s shake on it!

Yesterday I took an admittedly snarky couple of jabs at Ben Jones, former Georgia state legislator and actor who portrayed Cooter on The Dukes of Hazzard. In it, I questioned Jones’s and the SCV’s vague assertions of state rights and heritage in connection with the Confederate Battle Flag and asked if I might have a few specifics. Really, I just wondered why – though I am certain that Confederate soldiers served under arms for many reasons and that they exhibited any number of virtues – descendants of these soldiers always seem to leave slavery and the the reasons for secession out of the heritage story.

I received two comments from one Mr. Michael Fisher, which I provide below (n.b. grammar and syntax are left in the original)

Wow all that crap you are spewing you must know exactly what happened in the Civil War. Me personally I think you’re freaking full of it. That crap they taught you in school is lies. So what you are saying is this country went to war with itself to stop slavery. Okay then explain to me 1 thing. Why did the North not relinquish there slaves before the war, during the war, but instead wait till somewhere about 3 years after the war. I mean really the North think they can have their way but insist the SOUTH cannot. Or how bout this in the 1800’s the South covered 70 percent of all the income in the United States at that time and the North threw another 40 Percent tariff on the South because the North was greedy and wanted more that’s what we went to war over. You see the South was the first to free all slaves in the South where you yanks kept them till after the war. PROVE ME WRONG I DARE YOU.

A few hours later…

Oh arguments pretty thin huh. Sure don’t see the one I put up there this morning. Got no come back for it nor does it fit your lying ass agenda right. Just one sided history. And you want it to be yours.

I was away from my desk much of the day, so I promised Mr. Fisher that I would respond once I returned to the convenience of my study. I trust he has not grown impatient.

I have never once claimed that the country went to war with itself to stop slavery. Slaves were protected constitutionally as property. Abraham Lincoln knew it and so did most everyone else. What I have said is that people in the slave states perceived a growing threat from elements outside of the South, namely the tiny abolitionist crusade and the much larger free labor movement, championed by the Republican party. Their perception was that a growing anti-slavery (white southerners often conflated free labor and abolition) sentiment in the North aimed to come after slavery eventually. The election of Lincoln suggested this to white southerners in profound ways – and thus they motioned to secede from the Union with the explicitly articulated intention to preserve the institution of slavery. Eleven of those states carried out this motion – and in their secession documents you can read why they did it. Hint: it was to protect slavery. I can’t see how you can dispute this…it’s crystal clear.

The loyal states sent soldiers to war to preserve the Union. They fought, not so much to free slaves (until it became apparent that freedom would help the Union cause) as they did to suppress a rebellion initiated to preserve slavery. I hope you can see the difference here. Suffice it to say: no slavery, no war.

Now on to your points about slavery in the North. In 1861 there were four slave states that remained loyal to the Union. The US Constitution protects citizens’ property in many ways. So there you have it. However, the Republican party did take steps to amend the Constitution to address specifically and be rid of slavery across the whole nation. We call that the 13th amendment. It passed both houses in January 1865 and was ratified by the states in December.

Regarding the tariff you mentioned  – there were a number of protective tariffs that spurred political debate from the nullification crisis in the early 1830s through the Morrill Tariff in March, 1861. I am not sure to which you refer – please be specific and we can talk. I am not really clear on your numbers, however. It would help if you provide citations so we are both working from the same documents.

I am equally confused about the South being the first to free all slaves. I double checked the Confederate constitution and sure enough it says in Article I, section 9: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” Also, in Article IV section 2: “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.” It seems to me that slaves were around for good…so long as the Rebs won the fight, which of course, they didn’t.

Finally, I’m not a Yankee. I’m from Alabama.

So I hope this answered your questions. I am not forwarding any agenda that I can see – just reading from the historical documents.

With compliments,