If the people had been told the truth about the Civil War (on both sides), they would not have been so gung-ho about having 600,000 of their young men slaughtered over an issue that every other country in the world settled without violence.

And will Doris Kearns Goodwin, Obama, and most of all the original thinkers who read DailySpec, please some day have some slight recognition that Lincoln's was in fact a failed presidency (far bloodier and more bungling than George W. Bush), not to be emulated in any way. While Lincoln was a wonderful speaker, writer and politician, he failed to follow the advice of even his abolitionist cabinet members like Seward not to provoke the South into fullscale war. And most importantly, even after the crazy states like South Carolina had seceded, [his mistake was] not to negotiate to keep in the Union the far more important moderate states like Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, as most citizens there (including Robert E. Lee) fervently desired.

Stefan Jovanovich responds:

After people had seen the true costs of the war, they became less enthusiastic; but both sides were as excited and thrilled as a Super Bowl crowd when the thing started. As one State Senator from Georgia said, after it was all over, "After Fort Sumter I promised you that we could whip those Yankees with broomsticks. And we would have. But the nasty so-and-sos refused my choice of weapons." The few temperate-minded people — like Sam Houston and Ulysses Grant — who pointed out that wars were nasty, expensive and stupid and that there was no Constitutional right to secession were either ignored or actively reviled.

The "Lost Cause" school (diLorenzo et. al.) of historians who blame Lincoln for "starting the war" are like the America First diehards who [blame FDR] for conspiring to allow Pearl Harbor to be bombed so we Americans could aid the British. (What I have never understood is how they can be so mad at Roosevelt but have nothing but admiration for MacArthur, who allowed his B-19s and B-24s to be blown up on the runways a day after Pearl.) I can understand the appeal of these dandy conspiracy theories. Blaming the American President absolves the Southern secessionists and Japanese war party from their clear moral responsibility for starting the damn things for truly vile reasons. (Footnote: There is only one substantive difference between the American and Confederate Constitutions; the Confederate one makes slavery a "right"; the WW II Japanese record of violent racism towards everyone else is still so astounding that it does not need to be covered up. Even after you read the record, you have trouble believing the facts. They are that awful.)

Neither indictment will stick. Lincoln had to skulk into Washington on the train because the people in Baltimore were literally mad for secession. After Fort Sumter there were so many volunteers for the Union that potential recruits were turned away on the grounds that they would not be needed. Robert E. Lee did not "fervently desire Virginia to remain in the Union". He resigned his commission and immediately accepted another one from Jefferson Davis himself. As much as Grant respected Lee as a soldier (and threatened to resign his own commission when President Johnson tried to have Lee tried as a traitor), Grant remained convinced that, if Lee had honored his soldier's oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and had said so before the Virginia House of Delegates, the war could have been avoided because the vote would have gone against seccession. As it was, it barely passed. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for North Carolina. Tennessee did have a serious debate, but the vote was never in doubt; and once it was over, the citizens rushed to the recruiting offices. (That is why Peyton Manning's alma mater are called the "Vols ".) The anecdote about Seward is a complete canard. Seward thought he should have been President, and he assumed, as Easterners have done to this day, that a bumpkin from west of the Appalachians like Lincoln would defer to him in Cabinet meetings. When Lincoln had the gall to insist that, as Chief Executive, he would determine policy, Seward began a lifelong campaign to prove that the lawyer from Illinois had been nothing but a "Great Ape" and a bumbler. If Lincoln deserves any blame, it is for his timidity, not his provocative behavior. There is a good deal of reason to believe that if he had followed Jackson's example in the Nullification controversy and immediately sent troops and warships to Sumter (he only sent supplies in a commercial steamer, without even an armed escort), Beauregard and the other nuts in Charleston would have backed down.

But all this is speculation. What is certain is that, once the war started, both sides — being Americans — were not about to back down; and that is a reason to honor all of the people who fought, even those who chose the wrong side. It was their free choice. They were not dragooned or drafted. That is the main reason it lasted so long and was so terribly bloody.





Speak your mind

4 Comments so far

  1. John on February 6, 2009 4:34 pm

    Thank you Mr. Jovanovich.

  2. jim smith on February 6, 2009 7:51 pm

    Actually both sides used conscription :-

    “Under the Union draft act men faced the possibility of conscription in July 1863 and in Mar., July, and Dec. 1864. Draft riots ensued, notably in New York in 1863. Of the 249,259 18-to-35-year-old men whose names were drawn, only about 6% served, the rest paying commutation or hiring a substitute.
    The first Confederate conscription law also applied to men between 18 and 35, providing for substitution (repealed Dec. 1863) and exemptions. A revision, approved 27 Sept. 1862, raised the age to 45; 5 days later the legislators passed the expanded Exemption Act. The Conscription Act of Feb. 1864 called all men between 1 7 and 50. Conscripts accounted for one-fourth to one-third of the Confederate armies east of the Mississippi between Apr. 1864 and early 1865.” from http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h249.html

    There were many reasons the American Civil War was protracted and bloody (most civil wars tend this way) - nobility and freedom of both sides as Americans may not be one of the most notable.

  3. spooz2 on February 7, 2009 12:18 pm

    “And most importantly, even after the crazy states like South Carolina had seceded, not to negotiate to keep in the Union the far more important moderate states like Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, as most citizens there (including Robert E. Lee) fervently desired.”

    It might help your argument if your sentence makes sense. Please complete the thought of “not to” blah-blah-blah!

    Also, you state, “And most importantly…” What is the adverbial intent?

    How you write reveals how you think!

  4. Craig Bowles on February 10, 2009 4:28 pm

    No countries have gone unchanged as long as the U.S. has, so we're overdue. Also, civil wars have cycles our date is around 2011. We're certainly seeing the pressures that make countries split up. The Pacific northwest and Vancouver have more in common than sending money to support NYC. Even northern California has nothing in common with southern. Iben Browning said pressures will probably break the country into four parts.


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