Research and Impact

New history book examines U.S. Civil War as part of a wider North American crisis

A new book co-edited by Brian Schoen examines the Civil War and Reconstruction era by looking well beyond the battlefields of the eastern United States to show that while the new republic was in crisis, its North American neighbors had crises of their own.

Schoen's book with co-editors Jewel Spangler and Frank Towers, "Continent in Crisis: The U.S. Civil War in North America," sheds light on what was happening in the rest of North America, particularly Mexico, British Canada, and sovereign indigenous states in the West.

While the United States was descending toward civil war, Mexico was embattled in its own civil war from 1858 to 1861 to separate church and state, followed by a four-year campaign to expel a French-imposed monarch.

Meanwhile, Britain’s North American colonies — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada — were in contested negotiations to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

In the West, settlers and soldiers pushed onto lands already inhabited by indigenous nations, and conflict and casualties followed.

"If you watch the History Channel or read mainstream histories of the Civil War, you'll see a lot of discussion about what was happening in the eastern United States and relationships with Europe and the Caribbean, but we wanted to dive into the often-ignored political upheaval occurring elsewhere in North America — and how it related to the war between the North and the South," said Schoen, chair of the History Department and the James Richard Hamilton/Baker and Hostetler Professor of Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Continent in Crisis: The US Civil War in North America

"We show how battles over sovereignty throughout North America created some complex entanglements for North American governments and inhabitants. Our contributors explore history from African Americans fleeing U.S. slavery by emigrating to Mexico to Confederate privateers finding allies in Halifax, Nova Scotia," he said.

Across its chapters, "Continent in Crisis" (Fordham University Press) examines a time when the North American continent was reconsidering ties with Europe, forming new governments despite conflict, but also struggling as inhabitants from the East moved into lands that had been home to indigenous peoples for more than 10,000 years.

In addition to cowriting the introduction and conclusion to the volume, Schoen’s own chapter examines how the build up to the secession crisis of 1860-1861 was informed by developments in Mexico and the British North American provinces, including a civil war and the Prince of Wales' celebrated North American tour.

February 7, 2023
Staff reports