Tuesday, April 12, 2011

150 Year Anniversary of the U.S. Civil War - Something to Remember

Today is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in the United States. You'll probably see some media coverage about this on CNN and other cable news outlets and other places. I've also seen that PBS is running the Ken Burns documentary on the conflict this week too.

But as you read, listen or watch about this war, there is one thing to remember - the South started it, did so to preserve their slave-based economy and they lost the war.

All of these may seem obvious to the casual observer, but it's not so obvious to some - especially in the South.

For example, you will hear some people say things like:
  • Able Lincoln started the war by "forcing" the South to take up hostilities
  • The war was not about slavery...it was about state's rights and the control of the Federal government
  • The South didn't really lose the war more than they just stopped fighting

I have heard each of these positions articulated in the U.S. South within the last two years. All of this is simple ignorance at best and revisionist history at worst. And, according to recent research, nearly one quarter of American sympathize with the Southern states that were part of the Confederacy and more than 4-in-10 say slavery was not the reason for the Civil War.

But, let the facts speak to the history:

The South started the war. They did. It's a fact. Look it up. The. South. Started. The. War. Period. Upon Lincoln's election in Nov. 1860, South Carolina left the Union. Within three months six other Southern states followed and formed The Confederate States of America. At his inauguration, Lincoln called the Southern secession as "legally void,"but he did not threaten hostilities nor did he advocate eliminating slavery where it already existed. None the less, on April 12, 1861 Confederate forces fired cannons on the U.S. Army garrison holed up in Fort Sumter out in Charleston bay. And from then, the war was on. Claims that somehow Lincoln was to blame are simply bogus. The South wanted out of the Union and would not hear of any other solution...to the degree of starting the war over it. (Above: Fort Sumter. Photo by Marc Osborn)

It was about slavery. The South seceded from the Union and started the war because leaders and wealthy in the southern states felt the very foundation of their economy - slave labor - was under threat by the growing abolitionist movement, emerging Federal law and issues over slavery in new states admitted to the Union. No matter what other issue bitter Southerners can conjure up as the "real" reason for the start of the war - sectionalism, tariffs, state's rights, etc. - the are all are based on the fear of losing slave labor in the Southern economy. It's that simple people. (Right: Slave market building in Charleston, SC. Photo by Marc Osborn) 

The South lost the war. They were beaten and surrendered. Southern Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender to Union forces under Gen. U.S. Grant in Virginia gets the most play in history, but the South's surrender was actually a series of surrenders by defeated Confederate armies all across the South. While the South initially put up a good fight and had the North on the ropes early in the war, ultimately the industrial power of the North combined with its greater population and economic power overcame Southern successes with the U.S. Army and Navy defeat the South on the field of battle. Based on their inability to sustain their forces and win battles, the Southern armies surrendered in 1865. After nearly four years of war and more than 600,000 dead or wounded, the war was over.

So why care about this today on the 150th anniversary of the start of the war? Why clarify it? Two main reasons:

1) These issues continued to plague the U.S. after the war in the form of civil rights issues and economic development. And, race to this day is still an issue in our country, and prior to the 1960s and civil rights legislation, the status quo down South - while not slavery - was extremely prejudice against people of color. To understand our race issues today, you need to understand why the Civil War started and ended at least at a basic level. Otherwise, you're just spouting off without knowing what you are talking about.

2) Because today a lot of people don't know the above and/or refuse to acknowledge it. This fuels their fantasies about "nullification" or "states rights." Think about those stats I referenced earlier in this post. Right now, we've got a quarter of our population sympathizing with the Confederacy and nearly half thinking slavery was not the primary reason for the war. Hey, if you believe the South was "forced" into the Civil War, was fighting to defend "state's rights," and that they didn't lose as much as stop fighting...then you might be someone who today hates the Federal government and regulation of any kind, still harbor racist attitudes and resents the rest of the nation that is economically better off. Sound familiar?

NOTE: Photos in this article are taken by Marc Osborn and are not authorized for any use without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

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