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The University during the Civil War and Reconstruction

Scholarly Essay:
"Civil War and Reconstruction" by James L. Leloudis

Primary Documents Arranged by Subtopic:
The University during the War
The Occupation of Chapel Hill
The Aftermath of War
The Closing of the University
The Reopening

On the eve of the Civil War, the university was flourishing with enrollment at 456, making it the largest institution, after the University of Virginia, of higher learning in the South. But the advent of war had an immediate and dramatic impact on enrollment, and by September 1861 only ninety-one students remained. Yet President Swain remained determined to keep the university open.

When the Conscription Laws of 1862 threatened to deplete the remaining student body, Swain petitioned President Jefferson Davis to create an exemption for students. Davis heeded Swain's plea, but in 1864 Secretary of War James Seddon eliminated the exemption for freshmen and sophomores. Despite protests by Swain and the trustees, students were taken by force to Raleigh and enrolled in the Confederate Army. On 16 April 1865 the town and university were occupied by Union troops. That the soldiers spared them serious harm was due in large part to negotiations that Swain and William A. Graham pursued with General Sherman as representatives from Governor Vance.

The adversities of war quickly paled before the challenges of Reconstruction. Ex-Confederates fought to retain control of the state and the university, and many of them actively opposed Swain's administration, viewing his role as peacemaker as a betrayal of the Confederate cause. Also, the university had invested heavily in Confederate securities and bank stocks and found itself over $100,000 in debt at war's end. Students did not return in the numbers expected, and without tuition receipts, the university was in serious financial trouble.

The trustees realized that, to regain support and attract students, they must reform the curriculum. To facilitate this process, Swain and the faculty tendered their resignations and were asked by the trustees to remain until the new curriculum was rolled out. Before this could be done, however, a new state constitution was adopted. The Constitution of 1868 changed the method of selecting the trustees, necessitating the appointment of a new board. The new, Republican-leaning Board of Trustees accepted the resignations previously tendered and appointed a new president and five faculty members, all of whom were Republicans.

Yet President Solomon Pool and his faculty experienced many of the same difficulties that Swain had. With few students, little financial support, and the increasing opposition of anti-Republicans, the university was forced to close its doors on 1 February 1871. It remained closed until September 1875. In the interim, while the campus stood empty and neglected, former faculty, trustees, and other friends of the university sought a means to revive the institution.

Included in this section of the project are documents that reflect the experiences of the university, its students, and the village of Chapel Hill during the Civil War and its aftermath.

The documents in this section are arranged chronologically within the subtopics.

The University during the War | Top of Page
The Occupation of Chapel Hill | Top of Page
The Aftermath of War | Top of Page
The Closing of the University | Top of Page
The Reopening | Top of Page