Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The War Between the States

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.


  1. Not surprized to see a history major do 2 posts on the start of the Civil War. Was expecting no less from you.

    If you read my post, you know where I come down about the right to secede.

    I left the quote out of my post for some reason, but there is an interesting quote about slavery & not dealing with it made by Sam Adams, & with a slight adaptation, put in John Adams mouth in the musical 1776. Sam Adams said that if they didn't deal with slavery now (1776) that we'd pay for 100 years hence. He wasn't off by far.

  2. Glad I could meet expectations! A great quote.

  3. Patrick: here is an article from today's DBQ TH. It quotes from a book by William Wilke, actually Fr. Wilke. Sharing it with you because of a little secret I know about how Fr. Wilke wrote his books. He taught at Loras in the history department & had the majors do all the work for him for their thesis projects. & I know of at least 1 major who inserted a few inaccuracies that he never caught. & when an error was pointed out, he would go through the roof rather than admit he was wrong.


  4. There may not be "good guys" or "bad guys" completely. But there was a war. There must have been a lot of social pressure and rising tensions, but they don't change the ultimate morality. The North and the South should have talked it out instead of killing each other.

  5. That was a great overview of the start of the Civil War, Patrick. How about a meme? http://tunecedemalissedcontraaudentiorito.blogspot.com/2011/04/faith-filled-tag-why-do-i-love-jesus.html

  6. Teresa: Thanks! I'll try out that meme in a bit.