Sesquicentennial Of The American Civil War – But Is It Still With Us?

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

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.


Photo Credit: iStock


Paul Diamond
Paul Diamond7 years ago

I currently live in Alabama. I can assure you, the civil war is alive and well.
However, what is reall ironic is watching teabaggers w/ the stars and bars on their t-shirts carrying signs saying,"Don't mess with my Constitution!" That same Constitution that begins,"WE THE PEOPLE in order to form a more perfect union..."

Jami Winn
Jami Winn7 years ago

i can see how there are still problems today but we have come along way give us southern rednecks a little credit

Larry W.
Larry W7 years ago

Mike wrote: "Sometimes they would escape and my friend was only a child but recalled seeing his father go out in the field with a rifle and simply shoot them.."

Even today escaped criminals are sometimes shot.

Larry W.
Larry W7 years ago

Mike wroge: "Sometimes they would escape and my friend was only a child but recalled seeing his father go out in the field with a rifle and simply shoot them.."

Even today escaped criminals are sometimes shot.

Charles Temm JR
Charles Temm JR7 years ago

While some lessons may be learned from the Civil War/War Between the States, what have you; one thing that isn't relevant is a comparison of the times/political atmosphere.

While for both periods you saw a significant number of people with vehement dislike of a president, the differences are that a) this is not geographically limited today, b) Federal power that supposedly was oppressive/everywhere then really is so today, and c) the duties/responsibilities of the Federal government were clearly understood by virtually all.

Today, a majority of Americans across the nation are concerned about Federal overreach and a looming fiscal disaster. That unlike a geographically located issue like slavery impacts us all. The import taxation side issue in 1860/61 was also geographical if no less real though.

Sadly, the media is more interested in trying to demonize current arguments about the overreach of the Feds, it's ignoring of constitutional limits, and deliberate destruction of nation's fisc to support it's choice of political causes. This Care2 post, more than most here, takes a stab at trying to be middle of the road on this issue but fails utterly to connect to its base.

The similarities are trivial people, and pretending otherwise to try and score some cheap points does no credit to either the average liberal's thought process or the overtly partisan media. It also distances our chances of actually addressing the problems that are pushing so many Americans to

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y7 years ago

Of course the Civil War and Secession and Slavery their social and psychic repercussions are all still with us, they're in the fabric of our unconscious, they're in the air we breathe and the streets we walk. Whether you study history or not, whether you read Faulkner or Whitman or not. It's part of who we are as Americans.

Many irregular soldiers never demobilized in the South, they formed the Bushwhacker brigades and the KKK later on - they felt justified in fighting Northern tyranny by every means possible. There was a backlash after Lincoln's murder called Radical Reconstruction, which produced its own backlash of Jim Crow and then the Civil Rights struggle, all with us to this day.

Every time you hear prejudice or racial resentment or hatred you hear echoes of that struggle, either from white Americans towards black Americans or the other way. Nor does it justify negative behavior by either towards the other, but just recognize the reality of that terrible crucible of suffering and struggle. To acknowledge that is not PC but just the facts. We have to accept all that came from our past - the good, the bad and the ugly.

What we make of it now of course, is a different story. We should study the past, but not be its victims.

Mike N.
Mike N7 years ago

"The hatred that some seem to think existed on the part of white (and black, and indian) slave owners was a true rarity."

Larry W. your ignorance is compelling. I live in the south and I had a good friend who used to tell me all about how it was in the "Old Days." He said they would have the blacks in the nearby prison because they did some stupid little thing to anger their masters. Sometimes they would escape and my friend was only a child but recalled seeing his father go out in the field with a rifle and simply shoot them as if they were nothing more than an animal. IF THIS IS NOT HATRED; WHAT IS??!!!!!!

Larry W.
Larry W7 years ago

The Other Robert O. wrote:"and the Civil War was usually referred to as 'The War of Northern Aggression'..

You might know that the American War of 1861-1865 had many names. The official U.S. government name for it during the war was 'The War of the Rebellion.' It also went by the names 'The War of Insurrection,' 'The Civil War,' 'The War for Southern Independence,' 'The War of Northern Aggression,' and 'The War Between the States.'
Of those 'The War for Southern Independence' is the most accurate. It could also have, and maybe should have, been called 'The War to Preserve the Union,' for that was President Lincoln's stated purpose, not the freeing of the slaves as is taught in PC history classes these days.

Sorry you ran into some rednecks. My experience has been that they are just as rude as those yankee rednecks.

Larry W.
Larry W7 years ago

Nic F. wrote:"it just took 100 years for most of those of the racist, redneck, slave owning mentality to die out and the granting of full rights to be more acceptable"

Of course, the racist, redneck slaveowners never constituted a majority of anything. You might also note that all the political power lay in the north. Had equality been desired by them, it could have easily occurred. Don't believe the 'rednecks' controlled that issue.

The Other Robert O
Robert O7 years ago

I noticed when I was visiting Georgia, that 'ethnic' jokes were all aimed at 'New Yorkers', and the Civil War was usually referred to as 'The War of Northern Aggression'...

I was struck by what a radically different take the southerners had on history, and that they still felt unsettled about it.

I have often felt very uncomfortable with the class system, which is still very much alive in Dixie. And I would have to give a shout out to the many African Americans who went out of their way - showing us great kindness as we traveled.