Exactly 150 years ago today, April 12, 1861, the first shots were fired in the U.S. Civil War, when confederate forces in Charleston, South Carolina fired on Union forces holding Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston Harbor.
The bombardment lasted 34 hours and resulted in Union evacuation of the Fort. One Union soldier died after the battle while firing a cannon salute as part of the evacuation. One Confederate soldier bled to death after being wounded by a misfiring cannon during the battle.
The Deadliest War In American History
The U.S. Civil War, also known as the War Between the States and the War of Secession, remains the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties.
It ended after four years on April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his ragged army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Is The Civil War Really Over? Or Are The Same Issues Still Alive?
But has it really ended? Some historians say we’re still fighting over some of the same issues that fueled the Civil War.
“There are all of these weird parallels,” says Stephanie McCurry, author of “Confederate Reckoning,” a new book that examines why Southerners seceded and its effect on Southern women and slaves.
“When you hear charges today that the federal government is overreaching, and the idea that the Constitution recognized us as a league of sovereign states — these were all part of the secessionist charges in 1860,” she says.
Four Parallels Between Then And Now
The article goes on to point out four parallels between the Civil War and our situation today:
The disappearance of the political center
If you think the culture wars are heated now, check out mid-19th century America. The Civil War took place during a period of pervasive piety when both North and South demonized one another with self-righteous, biblical language, one historian says.
How much power should the federal government have?
Nullification, states’ rights and secession. Those terms might sound like they’re lifted from a Civil War history book, but they’re actually making a comeback on the national stage today.
Since the rise of the Tea Party and debate over the new health care law, more Republican lawmakers have brandished those terms. Republican lawmakers in at least 11 states invoked nullification to thwart the new health care law, according to a recent USA Today article.
It was the kind of talk that led to the Civil War, historians say.
Unleashing the dogs of war
During the run-up to the Iraq War, former Vice President Dick Cheney famously declared that American troops would be welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq.
Cheney made the mistake that political leaders have been making for ages — he didn’t know the enemy, says Emory Thomas, author of “The Dogs of War,” which examines how ignorance on both sides led to the Civil War.
“Cheney thought it was going to be France in 1944, but it ended up Georgia in 1864,” Thomas says.
Civil War leaders made the same mistake, Thomas says. Northern leaders like Lincoln didn’t really think ordinary Southerners who had no slaves would fight in defense of slavery. Southerners didn’t think Northerners were willing to go to war to preserve the Union, he says.
The president as dictator
Barack Obama isn’t the first black president, according to some Southern secessionists. That would be Abraham Lincoln. He was called a “black Republican” and the “Great Dictator.”
There was a reason a large number of Americans despised Lincoln during the war. Think of the nation’s recent “War on Terror.” Some Americans thought Lincoln used the war to ignore the Constitution and expand the powers of the presidency.
Souls Of The Dead Live On At Antietam
The Civil War is still alive in a other ways too. Driving to Shepherdstown in West Virginia a few years ago, I knew that the Antietam Battlefield was nearby, but was unsure of its exact location. But as I drew closer, I couldn’t escape the strange and compelling atmosphere exuded by that empty field. There was a sadness, a gloom that seemed to just take over.
It was only later when I read that the Battle of Antietam is known as the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, with 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat, that I understood why I was feeling so depressed.
The Civil War Is Still Alive
And there are plenty of other reminders that the War of Secession lives on in people’s day-to-day experiences: driving through Virginia for the first time, I was astonished to it’s impossible to see many buildings sporting the Confederate flag; hiking along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, lost in beautiful nature, I suddenly found myself face to face with the War Correspondents Arch, a monument which stands fifty feet high and forty feet broad, erected to honor Civil War journalists. It is, to say the least, a disturbing sight.
The states of Virginia and West Virginia also feature annual re-enactments of Civil War battles, with enthusiastic participation by the local residents.
No Federal Funding For This Sesquicentennial
To no one’s surprise, in spite of the ongoing popularity of the War of the States, there will be no federal funding or a national commission to commemorate this sesquicentennial.
The Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., died in committee last year.
Can Blacks And Whites Mark The Civil War With Reverence?
Yet there is a postive side. From postcrescent.com:
A broadening in the study of history has led to a better understanding of the war and those involved, including the 186,000 blacks who enlisted in Union armies, says James Robertson, a professor who teaches Civil War history at Virginia Tech.
“We’ve come a long, long way in civil rights, and I think it’s possible for blacks and whites to mark the Civil War with the reverence it deserves,” he says.
Let’s hope Mr. Robertson’s prediction turns out to be true.
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