Monday, October 12, 2009

The Civil War

For the last several months, I've been reading a book called "The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts." (The reason it took me so long is because it's a "bathroom book", not because I'm a slow reader :)) For those of you who know me well, you know that I love American history and I especially love the Civil War and the Old West.
I think that one of the most fascinating things about the Civil War is how much the Confederates believed in their cause. In fact, I'm convinced that if the South had as many soldiers as the North was able to supply, the South would have won the war. The South believed much more strongly in their cause than the North did. The South was fighting for one thing and one thing only: they wanted the right to decide, to choose, for themselves. Despite what a lot of people will say, the war wasn't about slavery, at least not for the South. The war was about whether or not a state could decide for itself if it wanted to have slavery. Southerners were fiercely independent. Unlike today, states, not the federal government, had the most power. And the people in the Southern states wanted the states, not the federal government, to decide about slavery. Many Southerners had decided that, if Lincoln was elected, they would secede. They knew that Lincoln would try to abolish slavery (whether or not he actually would have will never be known). The South was united behind The Cause.
However, it was a different story in the Northern states. Many people in the North were disconnected from what was going on. Men and women got up each day, went to work in the fields or factories, went home at night, ate supper and went to bed. Yes, many of them didn't want slavery and believed it was wrong, but they also had more important things to worry about. After all, it wasn't their way of life that was being threatened. In fact, in the North at that time, there were many people who had never even seen a black person. These men and women would go to church on Sunday and their preacher might expound on the evils of slavery and many of the men knew that, if it came to war, they would fight. "But... what exactly would I be fighting for? To end slavery? Well, sure, that's a noble cause, I suppose. But if I go to war, who will take care of my family? With seven children under the age of fourteen, I need to be here at home."
Granted, not all Northerners thought this way. In fact, many of the youth who signed up were looking forward to fighting those "Johnny Rebs". But why were they fighting? The adventure, of course. And then there were those Northerners who would fight forever if it would mean the end of slavery. However, if the Northerners were fighting to end slavery, than they were fighting for something that was different than what the South was fighting for. The South was fighting for the right to choose, to decide for themselves. The North was fighting to end slavery.
However, when Lincoln declared war on the South, it wasn't to end slavery! He declared war because he didn't think the Southern states had the right to secede. It wasn't until the end of 1862 and beginning of 1863 that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Which, if you really think about it, was a mildly ridiculous thing to do. At that point, the war was only half over and the North was certainly not decisively winning. In fact, until the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), the South seemed to be winning. Sure, Lincoln said that all the slaves were free... and who in the South was going to listen to him or carry out his orders?
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm glad Lincoln put an end to slavery. I think it's morally reprehensible that one race of people thinks they can treat another race of people like they're animals. But the sequence of events seems confusing. If the only cause that the Northerners would unite behind was an end to slavery (which, by and large, is why they were fighting), why would Lincoln wait so long to issue the Emancipation Proclamation? Because Lincoln himself didn't declare war to end slavery. He declared war to bring the Southern states back into the Union.
The Southern states wanted the right to choose, so they seceded when they thought that right would be threatened. Lincoln declared war because he didn't think that the Southern states had the right to just leave the Union. However, in the North, the widespread reason for the war was to end slavery.
Ironically, the very way of life that the South was fighting to defend was their downfall. The South produced cotton, not guns or ammunition or powder or uniforms or ships or men. Plus, because of the large number of slaves, the white population was extremely small compared to the white population in the North. The South was fighting to defend a way of life that couldn't even support their fight to defend it.
Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts on the Civil War.

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