I love history, especially Civil War history. Reading and learning about how our nation was shaped by that most horrible practice, slavery, and the terrible consequences it wrought in war, makes me feel more American. Somehow.
And so, I recommend two pieces at the Atlantic. The first is by Tony Horwitz: 150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil War. Horwitz writes: “Very few Northerners went to war seeking or anticipating the destruction of slavery. They fought for Union, and the Emancipation Proclamation was a means to that end: a desperate measure to undermine the South and save a democratic nation that Lincoln called “the last best, hope of earth.”
And, discussing historian David Goldfield’s book America Aflame, Howritz writes: “”Emancipation and reunion, the two great results of this war, were badly compromised,” Goldfield says. Given these equivocal gains, and the immense toll in blood and treasure, he asks: “Was the war worth it? No.”
The second piece, The Unromantic Slaughter of the Civil War from Ta-Nehisi Coates responds, and elaborates. Coates writes: “It should always be remembered that America did not “go to war” in 1860. America was attacked in 1860 by a formidable rebel faction seeking to protectthe expansion of slavery. That faction did not simply want slavery to continue in America; they dreamed of a tropical empire of slavery encompassing Cuba, Nicaragua, and perhaps the whole of South America. This faction was not only explicitly pro-slavery but explicitly anti-democratic. The newly declared Confederacy attacked America not because it was being persecuted, but because it was unable to win a democratic election.”
And, “I am very sorry that white people began experiencing great violence in 1860. But for some of us, war did not begin 1860, but in 1660. The brutal culmination of that war may not have allowed us to ascend into a post-racial heaven. But here is something I always come back to: In 1859 legally selling someone’s five-year-old child was big business. In 1866, it was not.”
The blanket of the Civil War still covers great swaths of this nation. I forget this at times, living in the most northern of the North. What the Civil War meant, why it was fought, and whether it was worth it are heavy subjects, important today as ever. It is not wise to forget what violence we suffered, and why.