This year we celebrate (maybe not a good word choice) memorialize, no, commemorate, maybe, no, observe the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The start of the war, not the end. On April 12, 1861, provisional Confederate forces fired on Ft. Sumter, South Carolina. The Union forces surrendered the fort the next day as they were unprepared to defend it. There were no casualties during the bombardment, but one Union soldier did die the day following the surrender when a cannon he was firing to salute the evacuation of the fort, exploded. Three other soldiers were injured.
It began the darkest and bloodiest period in our history. More Americans perished during the Civil War than in any other war since then, including the “war to end all wars” and World War II. Over 620,000 died, almost 400,000 of that number by disease. Many civilians in the South were killed. The Union suffered more casualties but ultimately “won” the war.
The observance is called a sesquicentennial, 150 years since our ancestors fought and killed each other over a strong difference in belief. But what was the belief, was it slavery or was it states rights? Some historians believe that we haven’t learned much or really solved anything since the Civil War. The current political situation is not very different from the way it was in 1861, they say. The Federal Government was forcing its will on the States then and it’s still doing it now. Back then, it was a matter of a cheap labor force in the way of slaves some of the states didn’t want to give up. Today it’s a matter of national health care that the states say will bankrupt them, or enforcement of immigration laws in Arizona, or Federal regulations and tax.
Abolition of slavery, obviously, isn’t even a close comparison to the issue of national health insurance being forced on the States. The point I’m making is that the Civil War was fought as much over States rights, the right of the States to govern independent of the Federal Government, as it was over the condition of slavery. The United States Constitution guaranteed that all men were created equal and had certain rights. Freedom being one of them. The North interpreted the Constitution to mean all men including slaves and the South, mostly from an economic standpoint, did not. It sounds callous and racist, but it was a labor force that was used in both the North and the South. You can even draw some comparisons to the “cheap” labor force of illegal immigrants in the Southwest United States in recent US history.
It might interest you to know that Union General Ulysses S. Grant owned slaves, but Confederate General Robert E. Lee did not. Also, during the Civil War, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus which meant that the Union could imprison anyone they wanted for whatever reason they chose.
I’m not a Civil War historian, in fact I haven’t done very much of my own research on the Civil War at all. I’ve seen the movies and the mini-series, but that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge. It is all portrayed as a gallant fight for a noble cause.
I find it bizarre that people would ride out in their carriages and watch the battles from the hillsides, bringing their picnic lunches. That battles occurred as far away as Nevada and New Mexico for example, that seem to have no purpose to any overall war strategy. All the battlefields are silent now, and peaceful. We visit them and read markers that explain what happened on this spot and why, but the why rarely makes sense. If it was the war fought to end slavery, it ultimately succeeded. If it was a war to protect states rights, then it was a dismal failure.