Tuesday, September 7, 2010

American Cival War or America Insanity of the 1860's

The American Civil War: Cause, Calamity and Results

Picture from Wikipedia: American Civil War

There was nothing glorious about the American Civil War. The Southern image of valor and patriotism dissolves when you realize that the war was fought solely on the issue of the continuation and spread of slavery. Like all wars, the Civil War was perpetrated by politicians with political aspirations; executed by ambitious military officers who considered war a valiant chess game; and, fought by middle and lower class young men who could be easily manipulated and were considered expendable.

The carnage of the Civil War  was on an unprecedented scale. Weaponry had advanced from the inaccurate, smooth bore muskets of the Revolutionary War to more effective weapons with increased accuracy and more rapid loading capabilities. Yet, the war was fought with Revolutionary War tactics where armies lined up against each other at point blank range and opened fire. It was a slaughter.

In 1860 the U.S. population was thirty-one million. As a result of the Civil War over a half-million young men (600,000+) died. To place this in to some kind of perspective we can compare it to a U.S. death toll of 58,000 after seven years of war in Viet Nam:

• In the single Battle of Gettysburg – 51,000 died

• Chickamaga – 34,000

• Chancellorsville – 30,000

• Spotsylvania – 30,000

And the list goes on. Approximately one out of every 30 living males listed in the 1860 census died as a result of the Civil War.

Timeline to the Civil War

We can trace events leading to the Civil War back to 1818. At that time there was a balance of 11 free states and 11 slave states, but Missouri wanted to enter the union as a slave state. In 1820 Henry Clay proposed the Missouri Compromise allowing Missouri to enter as a slave state and Maine to enter as a free state, keeping a balance of slave and free states. The Compromise, however, carried a rider that slavery would be prohibited north of 36-30 latitude (then the Kansas/Nebraska territory.)

Between 1821 and 1850 six more states were admitted to The Union: Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin as free states, and Arkansas, Florida and Texas as slave states.

1848 was a busy year: the Mexican War added new land; The Wilmont Proviso asked Congress to outlaw slavery (it was defeated); The Free Soil Party was formed - advocating freedom for slaves; President Zachary Taylor, a pro-slavery southerner, won the Presidency.

In 1850 California wanted to enter the Union as a free state. Fighting broke out on the floor of the Senate and Senator Foote threatened to shoot Senator Benton. Senator Calhoun of South Carolina threatened secession. Daniel Webster warned of civil war. President Taylor died that year and was replaced by Filmore. In an attempt to placate both sides Clay and Douglas proposed the Compromise of 1850. In the Compromise, California would enter as a free state; lands gained from Mexico would be divided into New Mexico and Utah, and would be allowed to decide the slave issue by vote; slave trade in Washington D.C. would end, but a tough fugitive slave law would be enacted.

In 1852 Harriet Beacher Stow ignited northern sympathy with her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Douglas proposed the Kansas Nebraska Act, which divided the Kansas/Nebraska territory into two states with the slave issue left up to a vote. This act was contrary to the Missouri Compromise, which had already designated the Nebraska/Kansas territory as slave free. When elections were held in Kansas, border ruffians from Missouri tried to fix the vote and Kansas exploded into violence (Bleeding Kansas.) To further exasperate the situation the Republican Party formed with a main platform of anti-slavery. In 1855 two governments exist in Kansas.

One-year later (1856) pro-slavery raiders sacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas. John Brown struck back killing and burning. Two hundred people were killed in Kansas that year.

In 1857 Dred Scott sued for freedom but the Supreme Court decided for the South, finding that slaves were property and not citizens and therefore had no rights. The Court also stated that Congress did not have the authority to outlaw slavery, which in effect made all states open to slavery.

In 1859 John Brown went east and attacked Harper’s Ferry Arsenal hoping to spark a slave rebellion. Brown was captured by Robert E. Lee and later hanged, creating a martyr for the anti-slavery cause.

In 1860 The South threatened to secede if Lincoln was elected president. Lincoln’s election was followed by the secession of South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

In 1861 Lincoln took the oath of office. Confederates seize Federal forts in the south and attack Fort Sumter. The Civil War had begun.

The result of the Civil War was the abolition of slavery. But the Civil War itself should not be celebrated. It should be looked at as a grave lesson on the futility and savagery of using war to settle disputes between men.

Why has the South relived the Civil War for so many years? It’s because they lost. Winners pick up their guns and move on to the next war, but losers carry the hurt and resentment forever.

So where does this leave the North and the South? At first glance it seems the North had “the moral high ground” and the South was relegated to the position of decadent bigots. However, judging “human moral high ground” is like deciding between syphilis and gonorrhea. In reality, had slavery been as economically profitable for the north as it was for the south, it is likely that slavery would have continued into the twentieth-century.

Young people, with their lack of life experience, see things in black or white; right and wrong seem obvious. They can’t understand why the world is the way it is when they are capable of straightening out the ills of the worlds in one sentence – probably beginning with the word Like.

If you live to reach my age you realize that all human endeavors are not black or white but exist in shades of gray.

Back to me: it is all about me.

As a teenager I had only three goals: (1) To get laid. (2) To graduate from high school. (3) To get out of Mississippi.

I wasn’t particularly aware of the history developing around me. I was living in the decline of a segregated south, but my obsessions were tits, ass and motorcycles. However, looking back on these times, I realize that I witnessed not only a nation defining social change, but also a defining political transposition.

In my next Blog I will relate my memories of the South’s fight to retain segregation and the transposition of the Democratic and Republican parties.

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COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."