On April 12 1861, at 4:30 AM, Confederate troops in and around Charleston harbor fired on Fort Sumter, beginning a war that would last four years and take over half a million lives. Establishing the true cause of the Civil War is an American obsession. Was it slavery, states rights, trade, or something else entirely? So much time is spent on these questions because without a good answer, it would seem that 620,000 men died over a fort.
The Civil War was ultimately about slavery but few actually fought for or against the "peculiar institution."
The first seven states to secede from the union did so primarily because of the election of Abraham Lincoln, whom they feared would prevent the spread of slavery into the territories or even work towards total emancipation. These fears were not well founded. The Dred Scott decision meant that Southerners could have brought their slaves into the territories and even the northern states with impunity. Although Abraham Lincoln was opposed to slavery, he knew that it would be futile to attempt nationwide emancipation. Southern paranoia resulted in a foolish break from the Union and the bloody Civil War. It is important to note however, that Southerners believed that they had the right to secede independent of the slavery issue. Considering the power granted to the states in the 10th Amendment, this belief was not wholly unjustified. The last four states to secede, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee did so after President Lincoln called for the raising of state militias to put down the nascent rebellion. The residents of the these states refused to attack their southern countrymen and joined them instead. Thus the battle lines were drawn for the War Between the States.
The majority of southern soldiers did not own slaves and fought for the supposed sovereignty of their states. Northern troops, fought primarily to preserve the Union, some making a point of denying any interest in abolition. Though Lincoln privately abhorred slavery, he publicly declared that saving the Union was his only concern, writing, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery." Slavery was a great sin and its abolition was worth its price in blood. But was the preservation of the Union worth the modern day equivalent of 6 Million casualties? I am not sure.
I am glad that the North won the Civil War but my sympathies lie with both sides, albeit unequally. It is important to remember that the South initiated hostilities and defended slavery. Even so, I can just as easily see myself defending my hometown of Tallahassee against invading Yankees as serving in the Union army. If I had been alive at the time, the side I chose may very well have depended on where I lived. In many conflicts, it can be said that there are no "good guys". In the American Civil War, though the causes were not of equal worth, there were no bad guys.