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Civil War And Slavery

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    Posted: 10 Feb 2021 at 01:13
Before we begin, a question. What caused the American Civil War?

For most people that's a no brainer. A one word answer, slavery. A war between slave owners and abolitionists, right? I get the impression that this is the sort of message that schools teach everywhere, especially in America. But this raises another question, why is the American Civil War so easily defined?

My doubts have grown over the years and I want to take the opportunity to explain why. There's no doubting the importance of slavery in the American economy, though this varied considerably between states depending on their stance, with Mississippi exporting cotton on such a scale that they were easily one of America's most profitable states. 

Nonetheless, imports of slaves had already been banned. There were moves to prevent the spread of enslavement into newer territories and states westward as the Missouri Compromise defined the wild west between future free or slave states. A few states, among the northern half, had outlawed slavery outright in the previous century. Whether you were a capitalist, a humanist, or a christian, slavery in the 1850's onward was causing much controversy as activists on either side were working to further their economic or abolitionist agendas.

It would be very easy to assume that the public was behind these agendas, but activism is always the preserve of a motivated minority. Certainly newspaper headlines are informative on this, but care must be observed because they preach the messages of journalists and publishers rather more than their readers. And as we head into the 1860's, debates over slavery are becoming heated, with sporadic actions such as John Brown's attempt to secure arms by raiding a government arsenal, or Jim Beecher smuggling weapons in crates marked 'Bibles'.

So already we have an economic divide between north and south emphasising slavery. But note that this dichotomy in regional identities went further. When it came to the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, without appearing at all in the ballot papers of the south. Lincoln was not abolitionist before the war. Indeed, he had much earlier stated that slavery was necessary and should be preserved. But by 1860, he was being identified with abolition without much overt preaching on the subject. Perhaps it's more accurate to see Lincoln as a man elected president by the north. The South had no real say in it. So we see evidence of a political divide too. it isn't hard to see a cultural divide, regional identities that still persist in modern America.

So did the ACW really start over slavery? There's no doubt that the argument over slavery was raising the political temperature to boiling point, but the North did not declare on slavery, nor set out to free slaves. They went to war because the South seceded from the Union by armed force, taking weapons from government arsenals much as John Brown had. The North saw the Confederacy as traitors to the Union. The South saw the Union as a belligerent threat, even tyrannical given the lack of southern influence, and was prepared to stage an armed revolt and declare independence as a result.

Four states in the Union, Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky remained slave states. Lincoln told them that if they remained in the Union, they could keep slavery. And in the correspondence of the Union soldiers, they don't generally talk about slavery at all. They were fighting traitors. 

However the shocking casualty rates experienced as the war got under way had a negative effect on recruitment, especially in the North (since the South felt they were defending their states against northern aggression). Lincoln needed a moral stance, to show the war was just. And so the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which made freedom a Union objective (and also made it more difficult for the Confederacy to win recognition from England and France). The address made at Gettysburg by President Lincoln is now famous, a cornerstone of American history, but what is less well publicised is that when Lincoln saw the casualties from the battle and the large scale graves, he responded "This war has to be about something more than the Union and the right to navigate the Mississippi".

So the war became about slavery. It resulted in the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, and slavery was officially ended in the United States of America (although in the south, poverty stricken blacks would find unscrupulous businessmen enforcing a more subtle form of slavery, and for that matter, racial segregation would feature in American history for at least a century to come).

Revisionist? Perhaps. It is politically correct to see the ACW in terms of a war on slavery because it has an element of justice, a moral purpose, and more controversially, something to offset public guilt. But the question will raise as many passions as it once did in todays moral climate. So ultimately, how would you see the American Civil War?


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Novosedoff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Feb 2021 at 12:20
Quote However the shocking casualty rates experienced as the war got under way had a negative effect on recruitment, especially in the North (since the South felt they were defending their states against northern aggression). 

Were the casualty rates in the North actually lower than in the South?


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Novosedoff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Feb 2021 at 12:26
Quote Whether you were a capitalist, a humanist, or a christian, slavery in the 1850's onward was causing much controversy as activists on either side were working to further their economic or abolitionist agendas.

I find the stance of the church towards slavery particularly risible Smile

https://thumbsnap.com/f/EFtQY6Dr




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Novosedoff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Feb 2021 at 12:44
Quote It resulted in the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, and slavery was officially ended in the United States of America (although in the south, poverty stricken blacks would find unscrupulous businessmen enforcing a more subtle form of slavery, and for that matter, racial segregation would feature in American history for at least a century to come).

Absolutely. +1. Black folks were given voting rights only in 1965 if my memory doesn't fail me

See below a couple more interesting screenshots that I've found in my database (the first one is from Harari's book "Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind")




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Feb 2021 at 19:45
Okay. The casualties suffered by the Confederacy may have been at a higher rate, but as I described, they felt they were fighting for survival against Northern domination. The Union on the other hand were technically the aggressors and had less motivation. Certainly many thought the South were traitors but it is a matter of record that after the initial rush to volunteer and serve, recruitment proved more difficult. Remember that this was a war in the early days of documentation. I've seen a photograph outside a northern hospital, a well built brick building, showing a great pile of amputated limbs. It's shocking to modern eyes, never mind to an age that had romanticised war in ignorance.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Feb 2021 at 07:57
Lincoln said early on that slavery was unacceptable (or some equivalent statement), he did not say that he was going to do anything about it, and in fact it was the South's actions in response to Lincoln that lead to the war.  So, in the big print the war was about that "peculiar institution" of the South: slavery, in the fine print it was about succession.  When Fort Sumnter was attacked by South Carolina (??), instead of withdrawing by sea the troops there (and thus tacitly recognizing SC right to it), he made them contest it, thus making SC and the South the aggressor.  But, yes, you are correct that the Emancipation Proclamation was quite a big later, but slavery was an open sore long before that.  Look at the Dred Scott decision.

In learning to kick a soccer ball (European football), one is taught to follow through.  The follow through of reconstruction was abbreviated and bungled, to a great extent because the North was exhausted.  Grant wanted to do more, but his administration was wracked with scandal.  He was a little naive about Friends and businessmen with greedy motives (from my understanding).

In the Russo-Japanese War they used high velocity rifles that drilled nice holes in the body, as opposed to the shot in the Civil War that smashed its way through.  That meant in the Russo-Japanese War. amputation of limbs was less necessary, and nice holes were drilled through the brain which aided our understanding of the areas of the brain.  Who says that war is not good for anything!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Feb 2021 at 21:20
I did not state that slavery wasn't an issue, merely that it wasn't the reason the Union went to war.

Neat drilled holes? I seriously doubt that. Bullets tumble when they hit (assuming they haven't tumbled in flight) and leave larger exit holes. Particularly for a war fought over a century ago. Modern bullets cause the same issues. The problem with ACW arms is the larger calibre.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Feb 2021 at 12:09
specific areas of the brain were destroyed by the high velocity rifles thus leading to advances in understanding brain functions.  You can argue about semantics if you want.

The South made the first (and second) step, by succeding and attacking Fort Sumter.  This was a propaganda victory for the North, they could say that they were attacked first.  Why were they attacked?  Because the Southern idea of freedom included the freedom to own another man and they wanted to preemptively strike to protect that "freedom."  They also wanted to have the freedom to disassociate themselves with the Union, something for which there was no precedent either way.  You might say that Lincoln was just holding them to their previous agreement.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Feb 2021 at 21:27
Concerning ballistics...


The ACW bullet was typically between .5 and .7 calibre with a slower velocity than modern bullets. Round shot was falling out of favour against minie bullets (Short bullets with a concave rear, designed for easy breech loading of rifled muskets then in popular use). The following site has info on these and their effects in the ACW....



Edited by caldrail - 21 Feb 2021 at 21:28
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Feb 2021 at 02:47
Right, I agree regarding the American Civil War, that is the extent of my poor understanding.  Also, from my poor understanding, that changes with the Russo-Japanese War Port Arthur.  You would actually get a lot of people surviving direct head wounds, which led to physicians learning about the anatomy of the brain.  Who says that war is good for nothing!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2021 at 23:26
After a recent exchange on another forum regarding the civil war, I began to realise something concerning behaviour that I think is relevant. I made a point that when interviewed late in life, civil war veterans were at pains to point out that they weren't fighting over slaves. Doesn't matter, my opponent argued, they weren't making decisions. 

No, they weren't, but they they all made one important decision and that was to volunteer. If you were a slave owner in the South whose livelihood depended on slave labour, I guess you had a strong motive to take up arms against the North. But a common soldier? He didn't have any slaves. Didn't depend on them. By and large white supremacist viewpoints would prevail, but would such a man bother to risk his life for people he despised and didn't contribute to his personal prosperity? The concept is ridiculous. If you look through history, nations go to war for all sorts of reasons but for a downtrodden people? Complaints, diplomacy, sanctions even, but open warfare? 

I know the popular perspective is that the South were defending their economy. I agree. But I don't agree on why. The idea that slavery was the cause of the war doesn't fit all the evidence. To me it seems the divide between north and south was established and slavery just another cause to argue over. But despite the actions of activists and moralists the war only begins when politics raises unacceptable conditions, and whatever the Confederate government wrote in their policy/constitutional documents, it does seem that they were keeping the slave owning businessmen on-side rather than taking up the cudgel for them. In other words, the Confederates were keeping their wealthy slave owners sweet whilst engaging in a political independence movement against what they saw as northern domination, though I would have to agree they would have shared many of the same principles as those they sought to lead.

So the ACW was due to political opportunism, not slaves. After all, when the war was done and the dust settled, were the slaves free? In a strictly legal sense perhaps. But they were just as downtrodden afterward and the North lifted not a single finger about that.




Edited by caldrail - 17 Oct 2021 at 23:30
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