William D. Carrigan is a professor of history and the chair of the history department at Rowan University where, since 1999, he has taught over one hundred courses and thousands of students on such topics as the Civil War and Reconstruction, the American West, and the history of New Jersey. A native Texan, he is the author or editor of four books, including The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836–1916 (2004). In collaboration with Clive Webb over the past decade, he has been studying the lynching of Mexicans in the United States. With the support of grants and fellowships from numerous institutions, including the Huntington Library, the National Science Foundation, and the Clements Center, they have published four essays on the subject as well as Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928 (2013). Carrigan's research has been cited widely in the news media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, and the Houston Chronicle.
This lecture and discussion explores the importance of the Reconstruction era for understanding the American Civil War. Once firmly linked in the public’s imagination, the Civil War has been divorced from Reconstruction over the past half-century in popular culture. The public has become comfortable ending the story of the Civil War at Appomattox with the Union secured and slavery destroyed. They have been much less comfortable with the story of Reconstruction, which is now understood as a tragic era without a happy ending. Yet, it can be argued that Reconstruction shaped the United States far more deeply than did the Civil War. It was Reconstruction that gave meaning to the Civil War. Reconstruction determined what kind of Union had been preserved, what the end of slavery meant, and what types of violence would and would not continue in the former Confederacy. In sum, Reconstruction determined exactly what the deaths of so many had actually accomplished. In exploring the significance of Reconstruction, the session will deconstruct some of the myths about the period that have emerged among the general public, myths that make students disinterested in studying this critical era in American history.