Daniel Arnold / The New York Times

Gettysburg, pictured above on July 7 at the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, will be one of the stops on a Civil War tour to be held next fall.

October 23, 2018

Cornell Historian to Lead New Civil War Tour Next Fall

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A Cornell historian will lead a Washington, D.C., tour next fall covering the conflict that was concluding at the time of the University’s founding — the Civil War.

Led by Prof. David Silbey ’90, history, associate director of Cornell in Washington, in conjunction with Cornell’s Adult University, the CAU Study Tour: Winning and Losing the Civil War will show the typical lives of soldiers from both sides and how “one of the reasons Cornell University is here is because of the Civil War,” Silbey said.

“Cornell University was organized during the Civil War and founded at the end of it, at least partly as a way of training officers for the army because Congress had gotten suspicious of all those West Pointers going to the South,” Silbey told The Sun.

The tour will take place in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 21 to 25, 2019 and is open to Cornell alumni, families and children, according to the CAU’s online description.

By busing participants to various battlefields and including a lecture each day by Silbey, the tour aims to bring “understanding [of] the battle at the ground level,” Silbey told The Sun.

The idea originated after Silbey’s multiple tours with CAU of the Civil War’s “western front” and battlefields like Gettysburg. This upcoming Civil War tour “seemed like a natural thing to do,” Silbey said.

The subject of the war remains relevant to current issues, according to Silbey. He said there has been “controversy over confederate monuments over the last couple of years.”

Beyond just understanding what happened on the battlefields and how battles were won and lost, it is “even more important [to try to understand] what the experience of the ordinary soldier was,” Silbey said.

Cornell’s founding history is connected with the Civil War despite the geographical distance between the University and the battlefields, he noted.

“We might think that we’re not directly connected to the Civil War because no battles had been fought up here, but men from this area fought in the union army and participated in all three of these battles,” Silbey told The Sun, referring to the battles of Antietam, Gettysburg and Petersburg that will each be stops on the tour.

In addition, Cornell has deep ties with Civil War military education, as students at the University wore uniforms for the first few years because of the “connection to military training,” Silbey said.

Silbey said the College of Engineering was also founded as a way of “training for people in the military.”

“That’s why engineering was such a big school at the beginning, because that’s what they were training military officers in,” he added.

The Civil War is not only a “massively important part of American history,” Silbey noted, but also “something that Cornell alumni find very interesting and important to understand.”