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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Recent Unpleasantness

In response to my first post on “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” A. P.’s comment about the War being the War of NORTHERN Aggression prompted me to write this entry. When I taught high school U.S. Civil War I initiated a discussion about why this horrendous bloodletting went by so many names.   While many of these are very well known by the avid Civil War students, I also realize that, for the most part, Civil War history – military history, in general - gets very little attention in the classroom.  My granddaughter, an academic student, did not know that our state song, Maryland My Maryland, originated during the War and that it was a Confederate song.  She did not know who Confederates were; did not know which side represented what issues; did not know who won the War.  Shocked but not really surprised, I realized that the CORE curriculum does not emphasize or value our heritage.  History teaches us about who we have been and who we are.  The present cannot separate itself from the past. For instance, I cannot help but notice the unnerving similarities between the political and social divisiveness of the 1860’s with those of today.
How do the names associated with the Civil War reflect those divisions?  I will present the list with my explanations of them and you can draw your own conclusions.
1.      The Civil War – In a lot of my readings, both North and South, this appears as one of the most common names for the conflict.  Lincoln said it best when he said that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.”  From the very beginning, both sides recognized that the war tore the very fiber of this country apart.  It went beyond sectionalism, beyond the states’ rights argument, beyond the slavery issue.  

2.      The Brothers’ War – A civil war is a war between and among families which transcends racial and gender differences.  Southerners fought for the North.  General George Thomas, and Col. Benjamin F. “Grimes” Davis, haling respectively from Virginia, and Mississippi served with distinction in the Union Army.  Northerners joined the Confederacy.  Generals Bushrod Johnson (OH), John C. Pemberton (PA), and Daniel Ruggles (MA) served with the Confederacy.   John Gibbon had relatives in the Confederate army as did Mary Lincoln. 

3.      The War of Northern Aggression – This name implies that the South had the right to secede and be left alone, and that the North instigated the conflict by sending troops south to subjugate the Southern people.  One of those “uncomfortable” interpretations of the cause of the war, it is often associated with individuals, past and present, who still hear the guns quite loudly.  It still generates loud and sometimes vitriolic exchanges between modern day proponents on both sides of the issue.  Wars do not end just because the shooting stops.

4.      The War Between the States – This traditional Southern title implies that two confederacies were at war rather than a Federalist central government against an anti-Federalist confederacy of independent, sovereign states.  

5.      The War to Preserve the Union (or Constitution) – Succinct, and to the point, many Union regimental histories have this in their subtitles.  While it hardly seems provocative today, it assumes that the Federalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution was and it the right interpretation.  The Confederacy had its own constitution. Also.

6.      The War for Southern Independence  (The Second War for Independence) – George Washington adorned the Confederate government’s seal, in recognition that the South was following the example of the Founding Fathers in declaring its independence from a tyrannical government which had refused to recognize its innate rights.  Confederates tended to identify more with the Declaration of Independence which justified rebellion from the established government rather than the U.S. Constitution, which some scholars argued (still argue) did not allow rebellion. 

7.      The War Between the Blue and the Gray – Created postwar, during an era when the veterans were trying to mollify the lingering division created by the conflict, it symbolizes, for me, the beginning of an over simplification of the War.

8.      The War to End Slavery – Having been raised Southern during the beginnings of the Centennial, I was taught, quite wrongfully, that slavery had little to do with causing the conflict.  Very few regimentals even mention slavery as the underlying root of the killing.  While the Emancipation Proclamation and  the active recruitment of Black soldiers into the Union army changed the focus of the war, it has taken a terribly long time for people to deal honestly with the importance slavery and freedmen played in the war.

9.      The War of the Rebellion – Definitely a Union title, it seems to be one of the more prevalent ones assigned to the war, ranking right up there with the Civil war, and the War to Preserve the Union.  From a Federal perspective this bluntly says why many Northerners went to war – to put down a rebellion.

10.  The War of Secession – Self explanatory, it reflects the ultimate reason to dissolve the Union – States’ Rights.

While not all-inclusive, this list reflects some topics worth objective evaluation and discussion.   The causes of the Civil War are neither simple or easy to accept.   Maybe that is good.  That uneasiness should compel us to question and ask “Why?”  It saddens me these mean little or nothing to so many students today because history is not considered an important subject.  

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