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1860s

Courthouse Square, Dr. Tappan announces Fort Sumpter fired upon

Courthouse Square in Ann Arbor on Sunday April 15, 1861 where Dr. Tappan announced the news that Fort Sumter had been fired upon.

Few Americans think of this decade without the dominating presence of the Civil War. The rapidly growing town of Ann Arbor and its University life certainly was not removed from its effects. It was also a decade that saw important developments in postsecondary education across the nation.

At the start of the decade the population of Ann Arbor numbered around 5,000. Political opinions on campus and in the community ran the spectrum. But in 1861 at news about Fort Sumter, President Tappan urged students to stand by Lincoln and support the Union cause. Ann Arbor had a militia company that was called to service in April. University students quickly formed three more companies and from there involvement grew as increasing numbers left campus to join in the war effort. By the end of 1865 the number of alumni and students who served for the Union was more than 1,800. Only 61 were killed in action; a notable 431 served as surgeons.

The marks of the war were evident in other ways. For example, a professor began lecturing on military engineering and tactics in 1861 and a Chair of Military Engineering was established that year. Mining engineering was first offered in 1864 and Mechanical Engineering in 1868. The study of pharmacy began in the Literary Department in 1868 and was so successful it became a separate department in 1876. These changes indicate that education at Michigan was moving from rote learning or an apprentice model to an advanced curriculum centered on research, with a more immediate focus on applied research.

Mason Hall, South College, and Haven Hall

The State Street side of campus, showing Mason Hall, South College, and Haven Hall.

This interest in the practical component of education was behind the passage in Congress of the act which allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges across the nation. As the Act of July 2, 1862 (Morrill Act), Public Law 37-108, states the purpose was “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” Here in Michigan this institution was the State Agricultural College which later became known as Michigan State University.

During this decade few students who attended the University were involved in graduate studies. Rather, its significance is that Michigan’s leadership focused on expanding the resources that contributed to the University’s popularity with researchers in later decades. The Medical Building was enlarged; the first university hospital in the country was established here; major improvements were made to the Observatory; President Haven sought endowments for professorships, the museum and library. By the end of the decade the Legislature granted increased support and though later this was limited, it marked acceptance of the principle that state aid should be a given.

The size of the student body increased as expected in 1865-1866 with the end of the war. Enrollment was 1,205—making the University of Michigan the largest university in the country. By the end of the decade the Literary Department offered more courses of study than almost any other university in nation. The options included classics, science, civil engineering, mining engineering, and pharmacy. Two-thirds of the student body were from other states, forty-one students were from Canada and four from other nations.

Last updated: December 6, 2016 - 11:14am