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2021 Symposium: The Most Pivotal Decisions of the War

Recurring Event see all

February 20, 2021 @ 11:00 am February 21, 2021 @ 4:30 pm EST

$40 $40 General Admission / $30 ACWM Members & Students


When the American Civil War started, no one could anticipate how long it would last or what the outcomes would be. Both unexpected events and deliberate choices altered the course of the war throughout its four years. From enslaved people seeking freedom, to the actions of military commanders on the field, and the choices of politicians on the home front, explore significant decisions that changed the course of history.

Featuring: Rachel Shelden, Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Gary Gallagher, Terry Winschel, Jonathan White, Megan Kate Nelson

Reserve your tickets online before February 1st, and receive a recording of the Symposium!

If you are an ACWM Member, educator, or student, email [email protected] for a promo code to receive your discount!

The 2021 Symposium is presented with support by the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History.

Symposium Schedule

Saturday, February 20, 2021
11:00 AM–3:30 PM (EST)

Rachel Shelden, Ph.D., director, George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center and Associate Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University

11:15 Rachel Shelden, Ph.D.–A Winter of Fateful Decisions
The Civil War often feels inevitable in retrospect. But it hardly felt that way to Americans who lived through the Secession Winter. Those five months, lasting from Lincoln’s election in November 1860 to his call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in April 1861, included decisions both big and small that affected how secession unfolded. What Lincoln and his fellow politicians did in these months helped shape the conflict that would come.

Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Ph.D., Norfolk State University

12:30 Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Ph.D.Promises Retracted:  Emancipation, the Constitution, and the Realities of Race in America
The first glimmer of hope that America would adhere to its promises of freedom began during the early months of the Civil War when African Americans insisted they were more than pawns in America’s war games.  Determined to leverage their labor and bodies for their own benefit, African Americans pushed the U.S. government to recognize their value with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.  That document initiated a national transformation that eventually delegitimized slavery and legislative inequality through federal legislation and Constitutional Amendments.

Gary Gallagher, Ph.D., John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War Emeritus, Director, John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History

2:30 Gary Gallagher, Ph.D.Consequential Decisions: George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee during the Seven Days
Crucial decisions during the Seven Days Campaign were made by George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee between June 1 and early July 1862. The results of these decisions yielded far-reaching implications for the military and political trajectory of the Civil War.

Sunday, February 21, 2021
12:30 AM–4:30 PM (EST)

Terrence Winschel, former Chief Historian of Vicksburg National Military Park

12:45 Terrence WinschelThe Most Decisive Campaign Ever Waged on American Soil:  Grant at Vicksburg
Grant’s campaign to take Vicksburg was made up of a sequence of politically and militarily risky decisions opposed by some of Grant’s most trusted subordinates. The campaign highlighted Grant’s determination and perseverance and revealed the flexibility that made him one of the great battle captains in history. It also identified him as the general who could win the war and led a grateful president to declare, “Grant is my man and I am his the rest of the war.”

Jonathan White, Ph.D., Associate Professor of American Studies, Christopher Newport University

2:00 Jonathan White, Ph.D.The Election that Saved America: Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the Election of 1864
November 8, 1864, stands out as one of the most remarkable days in American history. Never before—nor since—had the nation held a presidential election in the midst of a terrible civil war. From Lincoln’s perspective holding the election was a “necessity.”  Momentous steps and decisions took place in the lead-up to this pivotal election, ranging from the battlefield to the nominating conventions to Lincoln’s office at the White House.

Megan Kate Nelson, historian, writer

3:15 Megan Kate Nelson, Ph.D.The Pacific Railroad Act and the Homestead Act of 1862
The Homestead Act (May 20, 1862) and the Pacific Railway Act (July 1, 1862) are often discussed separately from the military conflict, but they were in fact reliant on the victories of Union armies—over Confederates and Native peoples—for both their passage and their postwar success. These pivotal decisions, and their larger purpose to conquer the West, are an often overlooked part of the Civil War’s history, and they help us to see that the war was a truly national conflict.