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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The War of the Union - Document Overview

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Rebellion—Civil War—War between the States—War of Northern Aggression: the words referred to the same event, but as seen from different perspectives. These titles at first simply gave a name to the climax of the nation's crisis, but later they came to define and be defined by the terrible toll of four years of bloody conflict. Although often talked about as a war between North and South and a war between brothers, this cataclysm engulfed all of America's regions and peoples as it devastated farms and families, strained resources, killed millions, and even scorched the nation's connections with other countries.

The war began with declarations and proclamations as adversaries justified their stands and toed lines in the sand. Then they called in their friends to stand with them as they dared their opponents to step over those lines. The southern states challenged the federal government with their declarations of secession and by arming and drilling their swelling militias. The new president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, first responded with requests for dialogue and calm deliberation, but when South Carolina, taking the initiative again, fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor on 12 April 1861, Lincoln fired back. On the 15th he issued a call for military volunteers from the loyal states, and then on the 19th, "with a view . . . to the protection of the public peace, and the lives and property of quiet and orderly citizens pursuing their lawful occupations," he proclaimed a blockade against the southern ports. Lincoln hoped that the use of such a naval blanket would suffocate the flames of rebellion; instead, it fanned them.

More southern states seceded and joined the compact that had been formalized between their sister states in March. The government of the Confederate States of America raised armies for defense and appointed ministers to pursue its interests abroad. The Confederacy wanted foreign powers to recognize its independence, for that acknowledgment would undermine the Union's contention that the war was an internal insurrection—a civil war—not a war between states or nations. Recognition was also a prerequisite to indispensable trade connections and perhaps military alliances. The United States government, by employing the diplomatic connections it had established over the years, wielding its economic might, and threatening war against those who intervened, countered the Confederacy abroad by warning other nations away from recognition and intervention. Foreign nations deliberated upon the enticements of the South and demands of the North, and then made their decisions based on their own best interests, not America's. The fact that some nations, especially Britain, contemplated recognition instead of dismissing the southern suit, was another powerful lesson on vulnerability for the United States.

While United States and Confederate ministers skirmished abroad, their governments and citizens focused on the vital, vicious battles being waged on American soil. Initially, many men (and a few women in disguise) flocked to enlist in their state regiments. They were eager to fight in what they were sure would be a short but glorious war. As the war lengthened and its toll—human casualties, property destruction, social disruption—mounted, however, Americans everywhere began to question the causes and costs. The war, a time of extermination, began a period of self-examination.

Southerners said that they fought so that they, using the words of 1776, would not be slaves. They, even less so than the founders, failed to see the irony in that. Charles T. O'Ferrall, a cavalry officer in the Army of Northern Virginia who later became a congressman for and then governor of the state of Virginia, reflected back on southerners' justifications when he published his memoirs in 1904. O'Ferrall wrote, "in spite of charters, compacts, and constitutions, a people who conscientiously believe they have been oppressed and wronged and can secure no redress have the inborn right to throw off the yoke that galls and strike for their liberties." While he declared, years after the war, that there was "no longer a spirit of revolt or rebellion" in his "bosom," he also said that he was proud to have been a rebel who stood "upon the eternal principles of the Declaration of Independence." If George Washington and his compatriots gloried in the term rebel, then O'Ferrall thought, so should the followers of Davis and Lee.

Northerners also declared that they fought for the ideas and fruits of the Revolution. As Lincoln intoned on 19 November 1863 at Gettysburg:

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . . .

    . . . It is for us the living, . . . to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


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