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Was the American Civil War Worth It?

Civil_War_graves

Yes, it ended slavery. But at a huge cost.

Tony Horwitz, The Atlantic (“150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil War“):

The Civil War today is generally seen as a necessary and ennobling sacrifice, redeemed by the liberation of four million slaves.

But cracks in this consensus are appearing with growing frequency, for example in studies like America Aflame, by historian David Goldfield. Goldfield states on the first page that the war was “America’s greatest failure.” He goes on to impeach politicians, extremists, and the influence of evangelical Christianity for polarizing the nation to the point where compromise or reasoned debate became impossible.

Unlike the revisionists of old, Goldfield sees slavery as the bedrock of the Southern cause and abolition as the war’s great achievement. But he argues that white supremacy was so entrenched, North and South, that war and Reconstruction could never deliver true racial justice to freed slaves, who soon became subject to economic peonage, Black Codes, Jim Crow, and rampant lynching.

Nor did the war knit the nation back together. Instead, the South became a stagnant backwater, a resentful region that lagged and resisted the nation’s progress. It would take a century and the Civil Rights struggle for blacks to achieve legal equality, and for the South to emerge from poverty and isolation. “Emancipation and reunion, the two great results of this war, were badly compromised,” Goldfield says. Given these equivocal gains, and the immense toll in blood and treasure, he asks: “Was the war worth it? No.

[...]

Soldiers in the 1860s didn’t wear dog tags, the burial site of most was unknown, and casualty records were sketchy and often lost. Those tallying the dead in the late 19th century relied on estimates and assumptions to arrive at a figure of 618,000, a toll that seemed etched in stone until just a few years ago.

But J. David Hacker, a demographic historian, has used sophisticated analysis of census records to revise the toll upward by 20%, to an estimated 750,000, a figure that has won wide acceptance from Civil War scholars. If correct, the Civil War claimed more lives than all other American wars combined, and the increase in population since 1860 means that a comparable war today would cost 7.5 million lives.

This horrific toll doesn’t include the more than half million soldiers who were wounded and often permanently disabled by amputation, lingering disease, psychological trauma and other afflictions.

Consider that the United States is today considering intervening in someone else’s civil war because 90,000 people have been killed in two years of fighting. We lost more than eight times that number fighting our own. (Syria’s population at the outset of war was roughly 21 million; America’s, 31 million.)

On the other side of the ledger is the hastened demise of slavery, which surely would have persisted for some time to come otherwise.

Most historians believe that without the Civil War, slavery would have endured for decades, possibly generations. Though emancipation was a byproduct of the war, not its aim, and white Americans clearly failed during Reconstruction to protect and guarantee the rights of freed slaves, the post-war amendments enshrined the promise of full citizenship and equality in the Constitution for later generations to fulfill.

“Generations” seems a bit much; it ended elsewhere in the civilized world much faster than that and the United States had long ceased to be an agrarian economy within decades. Presumably, and independent South, cut off from the manufacturing of the North, would have been forced to industrialize even more quickly.

Though Confederate armies surrendered in 1865, white Southerners fought on by other means, wearing down a war-weary North that was ambivalent about if not hostile to black equality. Looking backwards, and hitting the pause button at the Gettysburg Address or the passage of the 13thamendment, we see a “good” and successful war for freedom. If we focus instead on the run-up to war, when Lincoln pledged to not interfere with slavery in the South, or pan out to include the 1870s, when the nation abandoned Reconstruction, the story of the Civil War isn’t quite so uplifting.

But that also is an arbitrary and insufficient frame. In 1963, a century after Gettysburg, Martin Luther King Jr. invoked Lincoln’s words and the legacy of the Civil War in calling on the nation to pay its “promissory note” to black Americans, which it finally did, in part, by passing Civil Rights legislation that affirmed and enforced the amendments of the 1860s. In some respects, the struggle for racial justice, and for national cohesion, continues still.

No doubt. The question, ultimately, is whether anything is worth that kind of slaughter. The only other war in which Americans participated with a cause comparably just was the Second World War, in which we lost 418,500 dead.  The Soviets lost some 22 million.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Rafer Janders says:

    Instead, the South became a stagnant backwater,

    Became a stagnant backwater? It was ever thus. It would be far more accurate to say that the South remained a stagnant backwater — which was, pretty much, just like the white Southerners liked it.

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  2. michael reynolds says:

    It’s a mistake to assume that economics alone would have led to an end of slavery. Fifty years after the end of the war the south was still agricultural, still raising cotton and using stoop labor. The degree of rabid animosity toward African-Americans in the South means rational responses to economic stimuli are unlikely to dominate. People who castrate and lynch other human beings over skin color are not always economic realists.

    Also, the US was still expanding into new states. We’re assuming we (the rump USA) would have been able to take and hold those new territories. This in fact is what the war was about, not an end to slavery, but plans to expand it into new territories, including even plans to push further into Mexico and the Caribbean.

    We’re also assuming that only the South would wish to secede. Why not the West at some point? Why not New England? Indissolubility was vital to the survival of the US.

    So, yeah, basically a facile exercise in alternative history from an author who presumably needed to make a buck (and no condemnation from me) and recycled earlier research to do so.

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  3. Rob in CT says:

    I don’t know if it was “worth it” but I have come to see it as an inevitable conflict. I just plain don’t see any way around it. No alternative scenario seems plausible to me. Lincoln and others proposed gradual, compensated emancipation. That plan went precisely nowhere in the Border & Southern states – slaveholders wanted none of it (that sort of thing did work in many Northern states, though that was likely due to the very small number of slaves). Meanwhile, Firebreathers were not only talking secession but also they were planning takeovers of various Carribean countries. Even in a “let them go” scenario, I see war between the North and South (over Western territories, most likely). There had been multiple compromises before the war finally broke out, and each time the compromises only held for a time. Douglas thought that having territories vote on whether to be free or slave was a great compromise (I have no doubt it was well-intentioned – hell, it sounds smart at first) and look what happened: Bleeding Kansas.

    It’s entirely true that the aftermath of the war is a huge letdown, so you can’t just say “yay!” and be done. Despite freeing the slaves and promising them something like equality, this was denied for roughly a century afterwards, to greater or lesser degrees around the country but always to some extent (even after the 60s, if you consider the impact of Red Lining).

    So of course it wasn’t “worth it”! It would’ve been much, much better if the slavocrats had been willing to accept gradual, compensated emacipation, and if White Americans in general had accepted the idea of “Negro Equality” without violence. But come on! That’s a pipe dream.

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  4. Fog says:

    I wonder how things would have turned out if Lincoln had not been assassinated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  5. Mr. Prosser says:

    I think a summer review of Ta-Nehisi Coate’s and Chauncey DeVega’s writings on the Civil War, slavery, Reconstruction and white privilege would be in order here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  6. Rob in CT says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    Coates has an excellent blog post up in response to this very article, in fact. Definitely worth people’s time, IMO.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    “Generations” seems a bit much; it ended elsewhere in the civilized world much faster than that and the United States had long ceased to be an agrarian economy within decades.

    One generation is about 30 years. You don’t think slavery could have lasted in the South until the 20th century? I wouldn’t be so sure about that — after all, they managed to keep a lot of de facto if not de jure slavery going until well into the 1960s. And, if you look at the school to prison pipeline that still exists in the South for lots of young black kids, possibly well beyond that.

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  8. Dave Schuler says:

    Of my great-great-grandfathers, to the best of my knowledge three served in the Union Army. None, fortunately for me, lost their lives in the conflict although one of my great-great-grandfathers, who served with an Illinois regiment from 1863 through the end of the war, probably had his life cut short by it.

    Yes, it was worth it, not just for bringing an end to slavery but for preserving the Union and establishing the primacy of the federal government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  9. The Confederacy was founded on the preservation and expansion of slavery.

    Are we really so stupid that if the Confederacy had built a couple factories, that they wouldn’t have used slave labor in them too?

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  10. Rob in CT says:

    Actually, two posts now. The 2nd one deals with compensated emancipation specifically.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. I’m not sure that the question “Was the American Civil War Worth It?” is really the right question for historians to ask.

    The correct question should be “Was the American Civil War Preventable?” Well, without delving into some long alternate history speculation about what might have been the one conclusion that one reaches after reading the history of the United States from the Founding to the eve of war itself is that the answer to that question is “probably not.”

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  12. PogueMahone says:

    Presumably, and independent South, cut off from the manufacturing of the North, would have been forced to industrialize even more quickly.

    It’s always fun to play counterfactual, but I’m not so sure this is an easy presumption.
    After the war, the New South Prophets did their very best to bring industrialization to the agrarian South. They failed. Poor white farmers rejected industrialization in favor of agrarian populism.
    If the South had been independent from the North, on what evidence could anyone base an assumption that the South would embrace industrialization more quickly? One could argue that necessity trumps tradition, but even as the South was trying to integrate back into the Union, they rejected northern industrialization in favor of agrarian tradition – even when New South Prophets like Henry Grady brought his message of industrialization along with white supremacy, it was still rejected.

    Was the slaughter worth it?
    Yes.
    The South needed a good ass-whippin’. And parts of it still do.

    Cheers.

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  13. Rob in CT says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    There were tinkering around with slaves in factories by the time of the war, in fact (IIRC, Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, VA used slaves, just to name one factory). They had been using them on railroads for some time. The whole “slaves are only useful in farming” thing is silly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  14. Rob in CT says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    My thoughts as well. The question is basically pointless. How the hell can you say any war was worth it? You can say a war had to be fought, given the facts on the ground at the time (e.g. when the Germans invaded Poland, and so forth). But worth it? WWII was a human catastrophy. It also had to be fought…

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  15. Donald Sensing says:

    One way to look at the question is, “If the political and military leaders, both of the South and North, had estimated in advance of the conflict that it would cost 750,000 lives, would they have proceeded anyway?”

    (That perspective reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld kicking the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, to the curb before the Iraq invasion because Shinseki told him that beating Iraq’s army would not be difficult, but that the occupation would require two times the number of troops Bush & Rumsfeld wanted to use. So they ignored Shinseki and did what they wanted. Shinseki was right, surprise.)

    But of course, neither side thought the war would last long at all. Even Lincoln called for volunteers for only 90 days’ service at first.

    James McPherson, probably the greatest living historian of the war, wrote in Battle Cry of Freedom that slavery was the necessary but not sufficient cause of the war, that the South would not have seceded solely over slavery, but that absent slavery the South would never have tried to secede over the other issues combined. I am not so sure – South Carolina’s secession enactment makes it clear it was seceding because of slavery, pure and simple.

    Nonetheless, had the South never seceded or having done so begun the war, I agree that slavery in the South had no future. It simply was becoming to expensive to maintain as an institution, especially as industrial capacity and capability increased.

    Horwitz seems to blame “evangelical Christians” for “polarizing the nation,” but doesn’t seem to get that evangelical Christian is a recent term of description that cannot be very cleanly applied to any religious denomination either North or South. Christian fundamentalism had not even been formulated yet and what we call today social justice was a very prominent feature of most any American denomination. The strongest voices thereof were ardently anti-slavery. Is this what Horwitz means by “polarizing?”

    So, not having seen the whole work of course, I would perhaps fault Horwitz for failing to recognize the vigorous anti-slavery positions of many American denominations, especially the Methodists (prewar, the largest denomination in America), who had always denounced slavery. And these voices need to be weighed when thinking about when slavery would have ended in the South without the war being fought. Diminishing economic advantage of slavery coupled with threats of righteous judgment by God (taken quite seriously by Christians back then, not so much now) would have made powerful incentive to abandon the practice sooner rather than later.

    My own guess is that slavery would have dwindled away in practice, if not in law, by 1900 and perhaps somewhat earlier. But granting citizen rights to blacks would not necessarily have followed and their condition would have been little improved (well, that was true during Reconstruction, too).

    So, was three-quarter million dead, thousands of square miles devastated, cities burned, hundred of thousands crippled, worth it to end slavery in 1865 rather than (say) 1900? It is imponderable, perhaps (I had ancestors who on both sides).

    Perhaps it is best left to Lincoln in his second inaugural address,

    Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’

    But Americans don’t believe any more that God’s judgments are worked through the events of history.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    Reconstruction was too soft.

    The slaves were freed into poverty, and the wealthy white plantation owners were allowed to keep their fortunes that were built on slave labor — we did nothing to replace the upper class in the south who caused all the problems in the first place.

    But, the war was a significant step in the right direction.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  17. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Lots of other totalitarian systems have used slaves in factories, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Hell, China and North Korea still do it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  18. @Rob in CT:

    “i’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.

    Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!”

    — William T. Sherman, speaking in 1879

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  19. Dave Schuler says:

    From one of the quotes in your post:

    Goldfield states on the first page that the war was “America’s greatest failure.”

    Every war is a failure. Human beings are not potatoes and attempting to rank wars based on casualty count is treating them as though they were. Let’s not lose track of that. There’s no such thing as a good war. There are, however, such things as bad peaces.

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  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Indeed. Apparently slavery made sense well into the 20th century, depending on circumstances.

    The economic argument fails as does so much STEMfolk thinking because it begins with the proposition, “Suppose we exclude human nature?” People enjoy lording it over other people. That has never changed. People enjoy treating other people like crap — viz the entire history of modern American conservatism.

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  21. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    People enjoy lording it over other people. That has never changed.

    “Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently…..We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.” — George Orwell, “1984.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  22. Matt Bernius says:

    @Rob in CT:
    Agreed on TNC’s reactions. Both are must reads.

    But, for the TLDR crowd, TNC FTW :

    TNC: It should always be remembered that America did not “go to war” in 1860. America was attacked in 1860 by a formidable rebel faction seeking to protect the expansion of slavery. That faction did not simply want slavery to continue in America; they dreamed of a tropical empire of slavery encompassing Cuba, Nicaragua, and perhaps the whole of South America. This faction was not only explicitly pro-slavery but explicitly anti-democratic. The newly declared Confederacy attacked America not because it was being persecuted, but because it was unable to win a democratic election.

    [...]

    We are united in our hatred of war and our abhorrence of violence. But a hatred of war is not enough, and when employed to conjure away history, it is a cynical vanity which posits that one is, somehow, in possession of a prophetic insight and supernatural morality which evaded our forefathers. It is all fine to speak of how history “should have been.” It takes something more to ask why it wasn’t, and then to confront what it actually was.

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  23. stonetools says:

    Speaking as an African American, I’m sure the war was worth it.
    Harry Turledove wrote a whole alternate history in which the South won, with the help of Britain and France.

    TL 191

    It had the USA and the CSA fighting three more wars in the next 80 years, with USA finally prevailing. I think such wars would have been quite likely, as well as other secession attempts.

    It would have been better if the USA had figured out to work out a peaceful emancipation plan, a la the British Empire. But hey, the South wanted no compromise and eventually, war came.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  24. John says:

    There are more people in slavery today, economic, social, and otherwise than prior to the Civil War. Yay War! (sarcasm for those who can’t think)

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  25. al-Ameda says:

    We could hardly have done worse by letting the South go.

    Given that following the Civil War: (1) America lapsed into 100 years of apartheid, segregation and Jim Crow laws; (2) the South came to dominate 20th century congressional politics, and; (3) we did not have the political will to tear down most of our discriminatory laws until the mid 20th century – I’d say it’s hard to conclude that, apart from legally abolishing slavery, the Civil War was worth it.

    On it’s own the South might have gone the way of South Africa, where eventually the oppressive system of apartheid and racism would have fallen. As it was we fought the war to preserve the Union, and we still had oppressive racism for another 100 years after the war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  26. john personna says:

    I have difficulty accepting “are things which happened 100 years before I was born ‘worth it’” as a framing.

    We don’t have any idea what we’d have thought in say 1859, having been raised in [pick your location, race, religion].

    (My ancestors didn’t immigrate until 1885 anyway. They only briefly stopped in the Dakota Territories before deciding that Vancouver Canada might be nicer.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s a mistake to assume that economics alone would have led to an end of slavery. Fifty years after the end of the war the south was still agricultural, still raising cotton and using stoop labor.

    By the way, Southern Landowners loved slavery so much that many of them emigrated to Latin America, where slavery was still legal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americana,_S%C3%A3o_Paulo

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederados

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  28. Matt Bernius says:

    @al-Ameda:

    On it’s own the South might have gone the way of South Africa, where eventually the oppressive system of apartheid and racism would have fallen. As it was we fought the war to preserve the Union, and we still had oppressive racism for another 100 years after the war.

    Two points…

    1. Things have not been particularly rosie for black south african’s post apartheid either. It’s going to take a while to see if “going the long way” will pay dividends for them in the future.

    2. This entire line of thought seems pretty similiar to Jenos’ claim that “if only the Supreme Court hadn’t ruled on Abortion it wouldn’t be a big issue now” — which is, in itself, pretty similar to a conservative law scholar who once suggested in a lecture I attended that “if only the Supreme Court hadn’t ruled on Segregation it wouldn’t be a big issue now.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Was the American Civil War Worth It?

    Ya know…. Right about now I can hear a black man in Atlanta, GA saying, “Yes.”
    I can hear a black woman in Durham, NC saying, “YES!”
    I hear another black man in Montgomery, AL saying, “GODDAMN YES!”
    A black woman in New Orleans, LA saying “PRAISE THE LORD, YES!!!!

    I also hear a black man in Washington DC calmly saying, “What the fwck…. Were you dropped on your head as a baby?”

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  30. Andre Kenji says:

    @al-Ameda:

    we did not have the political will to tear down most of our discriminatory laws until the mid 20th century –

    I might be wrong, but my impression is that segregation was a constant in the British colonies while miscegenation was much more common in the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies. In Brazil slavery was a bigger and much horrible institution, but you don´t see White leaders fearing that Blacks would revolt and kill everyone. It´s easier to spot Indians with Portuguese sounding surnames than British surnames, for instance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Donald Sensing: Iwould give you a dozen thumbs up for that if I could.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. TastyBits says:

    Without the US Civil War, it is doubtful the 13th & 14th Amendments would have been ratified, and the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision would not have been overturned. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision made segregation legal, and black folks were de facto second class citizens. The Jim Crow laws were designed to ensure this status legally, and without the “separate but equal” ruling, government enforced segregation would not have occurred.

    The shame of the Plessy decision is shared by all the US states. It was not restricted to the Southern states.

    The post-war occupation needed to last much longer, but the US does not like doing occupations. Reconstruction should have lasted at least two generations, but it was always going to be messy. A post-WW2 level occupation was necessary, but the geographical area was substantial.

    Cotton, sugar cane, and rice fields were never going to be turned into factories. Until the mechanical harvester, cotton picking was done manually, and this was not until the 1950′s. It is highly unlikely that the South would have ended slavery prior to this, and without it being illegal, it would probably still be around.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  33. john personna says:

    The big problem here is using your 20th/21st century, American, upbringing and outlook and applying it to *any* problem outside your time.

    Unless you have a time machine handy, all it is, is an opportunity to preen on the advancement of your age and the wisdom of your parents.

    Do you want to make normative statements, back in time? Tear it up. “Tell them” what they should have done. (In that framework, I think the right moment to jump in would have been around 1775. Just give them all free iPads, and buy all slaves free with that.)

    Or, make it a profit deal, and get into the alternative history business.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  34. JKB says:

    @michael reynolds: People enjoy lording it over other people. That has never changed. People enjoy treating other people like crap — viz the entire history of modern American conservatism.

    So you are saying the Democrats are modern American conservatism?

    You know, the Democrats who supported slavery as opposed to the Republican party that was formed to promote abolition? Or Lincoln, the first Republican President.

    Or perhaps the Democrats who controlled Jim Crow South? Or the Democrats who watered down the 1957 Civil Rights act supported by Republican President Eisenhower? Or the segregation imposed on the federal employees by Democrat Woodrow Wilson?

    Perhaps you should read up on your history…

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  35. PD Shaw says:

    Let me think about it . . .

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  36. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB:

    You know, the Democrats who supported slavery as opposed to the Republican party that was formed to promote abolition?

    You know, as much as you want to pretend that the unpleasant parts of history are a Tabula rasa, 1968 still happened and you own it. We liberals weren’t always Democrats, but you were always racist.

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  37. Donald Sensing says:

    @al-Ameda:
    “(2) the South came to dominate 20th century congressional politics, and; (3) we did not have the political will to tear down most of our discriminatory laws until the mid 20th century”

    You do know that the post-CW South was absolutely controlled by the Democrat party until well more than 100 years after the war ended. yes? You do know that Jim Crow was emplaced and enforced by Democrat politicians, yes?

    Just sayin’ . . .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  38. al-Ameda says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    1. Things have not been particularly rosie for black south african’s post apartheid either. It’s going to take a while to see if “going the long way” will pay dividends for them in the future.

    I did not intend to imply that post-apartheid South Africa is a bucolic paradise. Nor would I characterize post-Civil Rights Mississippi or Alabama are free of serious racial problems. What I was saying is that we fought the Civil War only to put racial justice on hold for 100 years, which seems to me to beg the question “Was the Civil War Worth It?”

    2. This entire line of thought seems pretty similiar to Jenos’ claim that “if only the Supreme Court hadn’t ruled on Abortion it wouldn’t be a big issue now” — which is, in itself, pretty similar to a conservative law scholar who once suggested in a lecture I attended that “if only the Supreme Court hadn’t ruled on Segregation it wouldn’t be a big issue now.”

    I did not say that letting the South go would clear the decks of toxic issues. Obviously, if the South had gone its own way we would have faced a different set of problems as a nation, one of which being how do we deal with a significant “Slave” Nation on our border, and the other being just how aggressively the “Slave” South would have pursued acquisition of nearby territories.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    Or perhaps the Democrats who controlled Jim Crow South? Or the Democrats who watered down the 1957 Civil Rights act supported by Republican President Eisenhower? Or the segregation imposed on the federal employees by Democrat Woodrow Wilson?

    Perhaps you should read up on your history…

    Or perhaps you can read up on the history of electoral politics post-passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act? You know, the part where Republicans ran one successful presidential campaign after another for 40 years, based on race resentment of Southern White voters. This effort even had a catchy name, “Southern Strategy.” Unfortunately, modern Republican racial politics didn’t end in 1963.

    For the record, Woodrow Wilson is one of my LEAST favorite presidents; he was extremely racist, even by the standards of the day.

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  40. @JKB: You mean the modern Republicans that routinely attack Lincoln, who signed the first income tax into law? Or the ones that don’t consider Eisenhower, the person who warned about the military-industrial complex, to be a Republican?

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  41. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    You’re such a tedious sub-species of ignoramus. You’re just a pathetic old racist wheeling out the same bullsh!t we’ve all seen a thousand times since the first redneck thought to say, “I’m not a racist, but…”

    Can’t you at least gin up something new? Come on, man, it’s boring.

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  42. al-Ameda says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    You do know that the post-CW South was absolutely controlled by the Democrat party until well more than 100 years after the war ended. yes? You do know that Jim Crow was emplaced and enforced by Democrat politicians, yes?

    You do know that there is no “Democrat Party” in America, yes?
    You do know that with passage of the Civil Rights Act many Southern Democrats left the Democratic Party (unlike the “Democrat Party,” it actually exists) and became Republicans, right?

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  43. john personna says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Just feel sorry for anyone who thinks “Democrat Party” is a solid hit.

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  44. Woody says:

    @JKB:

    First off, you might have noticed the word “conservatism,” not “Democratic.”

    Secondly, the southern Democrats eventually became Dixiecrats, and handed the election to Nixon when they chose to support George Wallace, an open segregationist. The Dixiecrats have since become the intellectual and cultural identity of the Republican Party.

    Finally, judging by their actions and words, the aristocratic elite of the South would have never relinquished slavery. This is the dark half of southern exceptionalism.

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  45. Rafer Janders says:

    @al-Ameda:

    As it was we fought the war to preserve the Union, and we still had oppressive racism for another 100 years after the war.

    As bad as oppressive racism is, slavery is a thousand times worse.

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  46. Rafer Janders says:

    It’s such a stupid question. Once the Southern traitors started the war by firing on a US Army fort, what was America supposed to do? Let them get away with armed insurrection? Any government that did that wouldn’t be around very long.

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  47. Rafer Janders says:

    Given what we know of the emotional maturity level of conservatives, they would have kept slavery running for decades after it was no longer profitable for them – just because it pissed off liberals.

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  48. Mikey says:

    Not much to add after some really fine comments above. I do think had Lincoln simply allowed secession, we’d have ended up at war with the Confederacy at some point anyway, as both sides vied for the lands and resources of westward expansion. We could have seen the Colorado War, or the War of the Nebraska Territory. I can imagine Union outposts in the New Mexico Territory, trying to keep Texas from invading California.

    And I agree with those who say slavery would have continued for a long time. Slaves can work in factories as well as in fields. What incentive would the Confederacy have to end it?

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  49. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    You do know that the post-CW South was absolutely controlled by the Democrat party until well more than 100 years after the war ended. yes? You do know that Jim Crow was emplaced and enforced by Democrat politicians, yes?

    OK, well, that didn’t last long.

    You do know that Jim Crow was embraced whole heartedly by the GOP in 1968? You can beat us up for all of our repudiated sins as much as you like. Just know that we will beat you up for all the sins your party embraced after we repudiated them.

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  50. Tyrell says:

    One of the problems was that the so called “Reconstruction” was a well planned takeover of the south by an international financial organization that sent down corrupt northern opportunists (carpetbaggers)that kept the south in subjugation. It took the south close to a hundred years to recover. The south could have won that war if that Sherman had not come down here tearing up everyone’s farms, homes, and businesses. Sherman was a great general, but he had no call to carry on like that.
    “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (J. Boaz)

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  51. steve says:

    People who castrate and lynch other human beings over skin color are not always economic realists.

    I love good writing.

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  52. Moosebreath says:

    @Tyrell:

    “The south could have won that war if that Sherman had not come down here tearing up everyone’s farms, homes, and businesses.”

    Umm, no. By the time of Sherman’s March to the Sea (which started after he took Atlanta in September 1864, and ended when he reached Savannah in December 1864), the war was effectively over.

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  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tyrell:

    The south could have won that war if that Sherman had not come down here tearing up everyone’s farms, homes, and businesses.

    No. The South lagged industrially and logistically (railroads, etc). It simply didn’t have the military materiel infrastructure to fight that war to a winning outcome.

    Sherman may have sped things up a bit, by destroying what degree of production infrastructure the South was able to develop in Georgia, but the South lost the Civil War at Shiloh and Vicksburg. Once those two happened, the outcome was a given IMO.

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  54. Moderate Mom says:

    The war effectively ended on November 30, 1864, with the Battle of Franklin, outside of Nashville. 9,200 men died or were horribly injured (2,500 Union and 6,700 Confederate casualties) in only five hours of fighting. More men died in those five hours than in the nineteen hours of fighting in the D-Day battle in World War II. One third of the Confederate infantry was lost in Franklin and it has been said that Franklin paved the road to Appomattox and “dug the grave of the Confederacy”.

    If you’re interested in the Battle of Franklin, I highly recommend reading The Widow of the South, by Robert Hicks. The novel is set at Carnton Plantation, the home of the largest private military cemetery in the country, with almost 1,500 Confederate soldiers buried on the grounds.

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  55. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The economic argument fails as does so much STEMfolk thinking because it begins with the proposition, “Suppose we exclude human nature?” People enjoy lording it over other people. That has never changed. People enjoy treating other people like crap — viz the entire history of modern American conservatism.

    Not sure excluding human nature is particularly STEMfolk thinking. STEM enterprises are almost always team enterprises, and the recognition of human nature is a huge part of them. One of the main criteria for hiring new engineers, for instance, is their ability to work well as a team (trust me on this, I’ve been responsible for hiring quite a few). As I said in an earlier post, you can write a novel by yourself. No one can design, let alone build, any significant engineering product without a team. Human nature, as we say, a given in engineering and other STEM fields. Its why science profs tend to treat their grad students better than most other fields (ask around if you doubt this) – they know they need to create a team atmosphere to get results in the lab, since science research is team based, whereas a lot of other research is much more individualistic.

    The exception is math, which like writing and art, still has individuals working alone making major contributions. But that’s research mathematicians, and they tend not to be particularly involved in military decisions (as in whether to fight a war or not, as opposed to the trajectory of a projectile fired in such a war).

    In fact, I don’t think many STEM folks are involved in the declaration of wars – its typically lawyers, business folk, and economists making those decisions. Carter is the only President I can think of who’s background was STEM.

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  56. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Interesting premise, in that Franklin (and more to the point Nashville, which happened shortly thereafter) did decimate the Army of Tennessee, but Vicksburg (and to a lesser extent Gettybsurg, which happened a day earlier) spelled the end of the Confederacy’s ability to finance itself and cut it off almost entirely from resupply originating from Texas and Arkansas.

    The Confederacy was heavily dependent on debt financing, mostly obtained from Europe, in order to continue to prosecute the war. Europe did so because it needed raw materials from the South in order to feed its industrial sector.

    While it had already been depressed to an extent prior to Gettysburg/Vicksburg, post those two battles the market for Confederate war bonds pretty much ceased to exist. European bankers had at that point made the determination that the South was going to lose the war and stopped buying its bonds. Once the external funding stopped, the defeat of the South was an inevitable conclusion IMO.

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  57. michael reynolds says:

    @george:

    Excellent defense of the STEMfolk and you make some compelling (because they’re true) points.

    But STEMfolk love systems, rules and logic as well, which often leads them to misunderestimate the sheer stubborn stupidity, or alternately the sheer romantic irrationality, of humans. For example, for a long time engineers thought personal computers were tools, so they built them square and dull and tool-like. They are of course tools. But they are also, as STEMmies Steve Jobs and Jony Ive realized, fashion statements, emblems of status, objets d’art and toys.

    Rational folk, like STEM types, will tend to believe that because a thing makes sense (slavery is inefficient) that people will sort of automatically default to the reasonable position. But people aren’t reasonable. People will shoot you in the face for fun, or jump in front of a train to save a stranger’s life. People are unpredictable, and unpredictable is not something engineers love. We have about ten thousand years of recorded history and it is not a story about people doing sensible things.

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  58. aFloridian says:

    Of course the Civil War was worth it. It was necessary on a number of levels, and in my mind really delineated the beginnings of the modern era from the previous era of America’s childhood. Yankee racism and white liberal condescension continues to hold blacks and other minorities down today in many ways, so while I know all you northerners and westerners like to hold yourselves out as somehow more enlightened than we Southerners, your understanding of our history, our evolving identity, and our race-relations are truly lacking and you really are doing nothing more than throwing stones in glass houses.

    My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and it always chafes to hear the Rafer Janders out there refer to them as traitors. I will never accept that. I see them as the ultimate patriots, truly willing to live out Jefferson’s adage about the “blood of patriots and tyrants” and willing to put their lives on the lives to defend their home states of Alabama and Mississippi.

    That being said, while the idea of the Confederacy carries with it a lot of romance to many of us Southerners, anyone with any education in the South rejects the apologist lie that the war had nothing to do with slavery. Similarly, my yeoman farmer ancestors, while they fought for something they believed in, were in my belief fighting for an elitist oligarchy that really didn’t have the interests of non-slaveholders in mind.

    Other unfortunate events followed and continued to stymie progress: Lincoln’s assassination, the boondoggle of Reconstruction, and a solid century in which elite conservative and liberal whites from North and South came together in a veritable gentleman’s agreement to perpetuate a system which economically oppressed the poor of all colors and focused a particularly brutal campaign of terror and intimidation against blacks.

    So the short answer might be that the Civil War hardly solved any problems, other than moving slavery from the plantation to the tenant farm, but in the long run it was absolutely necessary and, indeed, was a critical part of our “free” country coming to terms with one of its greatest shames, a process which still requires our efforts today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 6

  59. Andre Kenji says:

    @Mikey:

    And I agree with those who say slavery would have continued for a long time. Slaves can work in factories as well as in fields. What incentive would the Confederacy have to end it?

    That´s more complicated. In Brazil free labor would prove to be more economically efficient than slave labor. That does not mean that people that owned slaves would automatically free them to replace them with free labor.

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  60. al-Ameda says:

    @aFloridian:

    Yankee racism and white liberal condescension continues to hold blacks and other minorities down today in many ways, so while I know all you northerners and westerners like to hold yourselves out as somehow more enlightened than we Southerners, your understanding of our history, our evolving identity, and our race-relations are truly lacking and you really are doing nothing more than throwing stones in glass houses.

    Yes, Lincoln made a big mistake when he did not let the South go.

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  61. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @PogueMahone: It wasn’t purely an economic proposition. Here in South Carolina the Industrial Revolution is relatively recent (except for textile manufacturing). Wealthy Southerners before 1861 preferred to reinvest their wealth in more land and more slaves rather than in factories or railroads.

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  62. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Doug Mataconis: He said it more than once. One quotation from 1884 or thereabouts, IIRC: “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have never fired a shot or heard the shrieks of the wounded who can cry out for more bloodshed and devastation. War is hell.”

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  63. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @al-Ameda: I agree. Wilson even reversed some halting first steps that TR and Taft put into place.

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  64. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Tyrell: The South could have won the war if Lee hadn’t disregarded Longstreet’s advice and decided to fight it out at Gettysburg.

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  65. Mikey says:

    @Andre Kenji: By the time of the American Civil War, the question of slavery had long ceased to have anything to do with economics.

    (Off-topic question–how are things down your way? I’ve been seeing news about huge protests all over Brazil.)

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  66. gVOR08 says:

    @Donald Sensing: Yes. If they were told, they would have seceded anyway. And they were told.

    Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South – Sam Houston

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  67. Rafer Janders says:

    @aFloridian:

    My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and it always chafes to hear the Rafer Janders out there refer to them as traitors.

    Traitors don’t like being called traitors, of course. It doesn’t change the fact that they were. They engaged in armed insurrection against the government of the United States of America. They killed soldiers of the United States Army and the United States Navy. They shot at the Stars and Stripes. If that doesn’t make them traitors, then the word has no meaning.

    I will never accept that.

    Again, it doesn’t matter. People don’t want to believe terrible things about their families, but that doesn’t change objective fact.

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  68. PD Shaw says:

    @PD Shaw: “Let me think about it . . .”

    The answer is yes.

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  69. Anjin-San says:

    @ Tyrell

    “The night they drove old dixie down” was written by Robbie Robertson & Levon Helm, and first recorded by The Band. Joan Baez did a cover of it. Do you not understand how a writers credit works?

    So you don’t know history OR music. Well, today’s GOP has a place for you.

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  70. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    The South could have won the war if Lee hadn’t disregarded Longstreet’s advice and decided to fight it out at Gettysburg.

    No, the South would have lost anyway. A Gettysburg was inevitable (Lee’s hubris made it so), it just didn’t have to happen at Gettysburg. Lee had been winning all the battles while losing the war for quite some time by the middle of 1863. Their losses were simply unsustainable. They did not have the men nor the munitions to beat the North. Grant knew this and it was exactly this advantage the North had that Grant pressed in battle after battle. They called him a butcher for the losses of his troops, but he knew he could afford them. Lee could not.

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  71. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I agree that STEM folk tend to like systems (even exceptionally creative ones like Jobs or Feynman); the belief that the universe is ordered is often what keeps even the best going through the inevitable failures (Einstein spent a lot of time going through false leads before he came up with General Relativity, and then spent a lot of time without any results going for a unified theory).

    And you’re (unfortunately) correct that there is a real tendency among STEM folks to think that just explaining a reasonable solution is enough to get people to follow it. But there’s also a countervailing cynical tendency (there’s a reason that ‘Dilbert’ is so popular among STEM folk), and actually a surprising (or not) number of extremely irrational STEM people … my experience is that the system (science, engineering etc) is what is rational, most STEM individuals are as unsensible as everyone else. As a writer you probably mainly see STEM people when they’re representing a company or university (and on their most reasonable behavior); working as an engineer you see the day to day irrationalities. The system tends to filter out the irrational noise (my amazing perpetual motion machine involving squirrels and acorns doesn’t make it to the news, nor do my somewhat crazy alternative theories for Einsteins’ Relativity), but the noise is still there, you just don’t hear it externally.

    As an aside, this is the thing creationists never seem to understand – finding a few biologists or physicists who think the world is only 6000 years old doesn’t mean much, you can probably find STEM Phd’s who think the world is flat. Its the overall filtering by the community that provides the rationality and meaningful testing; individually we’re as flakey as any other group.

    But as I said, I’m not sure that the belief in rationality among STEM folks that you point out has much influence in discussions of war, civil or otherwise, because its rare for people with STEM backgrounds to make decisions on that level. The decision to start the Civil War (and I think it would have been great if slavery could have been ended without it, but I doubt it would have happened, making the Civil War worth it in the end) wasn’t made by STEM people. Nor were many other major wars (and off hand I can’t think of any that was). Part of that is a result of what I said earlier – while technology plays a huge role in our world, the contribution of any individual scientist or engineer (with a very few exceptions like Einstein or Planck) tends to be small – most of us are replaceable in a way a great artist or writer isn’t (its both our strength and our weakness). The influence of technology doesn’t imply influence of technologists.

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  72. Rob in CT says:

    Grant executed what Sam Houston warned of: an avalanche.

    Agreed with those who point to Vicksburg as pivotal. I’ll throw in the (fairly early) capture of New Orleans, and the general strength of the Union Navy.

    As for European assistance, the CSA’s hope was predicated on the idea that Britain and France (especially Britain) would get so desperate for Southern cotton that they’d intervene. As it turned out, there were countervailing factors. For one thing, Britain had become somewhat dependent on Northern grain. For another, they figured out they could grow lots of cotton in India. Finally, it turned out that, while the textile workers in the North of England were not happy about unemployment, they loathed slavery and the lordly airs of the Southern psuedo aristocracy even more. This meant ginning up political support in the UK for intervention was harder than the CSA supposed. They did get some covert (wink wink) help. But no more. That was a death sentence. On their own, they couldn’t possibly beat the Union.

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  73. Rob in CT says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Yes, things absolutely could have been worse. Slavery could have persisted for another century, for instance. Jim Crow was a terrible thing. But it pales in comparison to slavery. There were four million slaves in 1860, and the trajectory was a bit like a hockey stick. The number and value of slaves was skyrocketting. This was not a system on the wane.

    And again, I don’t see the USA & CSA managing to be peaceful for long. They’d have been in competition over who got to f*ck over the remaining Native Americans from the git go.

    “We shoulda let them go” is a lazy, selfish answer. Why selfish? Because the fantasy is that if we (not really we, but the Union of 1860) had let them go, we wouldn’t have to deal with those crazy Southerners today. Nevermind the human suffering that would have been involved, the distinct possibility that the Union would have cracked up further (having accepted the idea of secession in response to a lost election as valid), and so on. It’s all about wanting to have your cake (21st century USA in all its glory) and eat it too (excise the modern GOP’s power base).

    No.

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  74. Rob in CT says:

    Also, too: there are millions of liberals in the modern day American South. What are they, chopped liver? When you wish the South removed from the nation, what are you wishing for them, eh?

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  75. Tyrell says:

    One hundred + years and it still attracts discussion, debate, fussing, opinions, books, and tv programs. This is a major influence on the psyche, culture, and politics. I wonder how the social studies teachers are handling this today. I had a soc teacher in the 7th grade that was a Civil War buff. We spent the year studying all the battles and generals. That guy knew his stuff and we hung on every word and could not get enough. He had been to all of the battlefields and could describe them by heart. We begged for his account of Pickett’s Charge: it made all of us want to be there. He also had two uniforms that he would wear: southern and northern. He also brought in authentic sabres and rifles. Today he would probably be arrested. We actually learned and we scavenged the library for every thing we could find about the Civil War. My favorite generals were Stonewall Jackson and Burnside.
    The schools now adays probably barely mention it. Too afraid of offending someone someone or worrying about being politically correct.. Too bad: the students could really learn something.

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  76. Rob in CT says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Upon reflection, I shouldn’t have said liberals (that’s true, but besides the point). What I should have said are “people who would clearly be harmed by Conservative policies.” Many of whom are not liberals, of course. The general point stands. A desire to “let go” of certain regions of the US is the political equivalent of “screw you, I’ve got mine.” No.

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  77. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rob in CT:

    As for European assistance, the CSA’s hope was predicated on the idea that Britain and France (especially Britain) would get so desperate for Southern cotton that they’d intervene.

    This raises a great point re the treason issue – the South actively tried to persuade Britain and France to declare war on the United States of America. If colluding with your country’s rivals to attack your country is not treason, then what is?

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  78. Surreal American says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    If colluding with your country’s rivals to attack your country is not treason, then what is?

    To be fair, France provided assistance to American colonists during the Revolutionary War. Since the colonists won, they never had to face charges of treason.

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  79. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT: @al-Ameda:

    While I agree with you about the South, I can understand al-Ameda’s sentiment. It would be lot easier to govern the USA in a rational way without the heirs of the Confederacy trying to drag us back into the past.
    I am struck by the parallels between Lincoln and Obama. Lincoln too was a centrist who was willing to compromise with Southern-based conservatives who were passionately concerned with preserving institutions and a way of life that were unjust and outdated. The difference was that in Lincoln’s case the Southerners decided on armed revolt against the system , rather than to fight within the system.

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  80. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Tyrell:

    The schools now adays probably barely mention it. Too afraid of offending someone someone or worrying about being politically correct.. Too bad: the students could really learn something.

    Interesting. By “interesting,” I mean complete horseshit, of course, but interesting horseshit nonetheless.

    Five years ago I was a student teacher in a history classroom. For the four prior years before that I was an aide in countless high schools (a lot of work for ultimately deciding to never go into teaching), and fascinatingly every one of those schools spent massive amount of time on the civil war.

    But it’s fun to make up facts, so please don’t let me stop you.

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  81. Andre Kenji says:

    @Mikey:

    By the time of the American Civil War, the question of slavery had long ceased to have anything to do with economics.

    In some sense, it was. Slave labor competed with free labor, and the White Working class had no reasons to support slaves. And people that spent money buying and keeping slaves would lose capital when slave was abolished.

    It´s true that unlike the elites in the South America, Southern elites were pretty uncomfortable with the presence of Blacks, and there was also the matter of political balance, that would be changed if Blacks could manage to vote.

    But in some sense it was still about economics.

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  82. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Yes, Lincoln made a big mistake when he did not let the South go.

    While I agree that it would make governance today (and indeed would have for the entirety of the 20th century as well) a tad less complicated without all of those Southern bombthrowers determined to create chaos until they get their way, I don’t think we had any realistic choice but to preserve the Union by forcing the South to remain.

    Lincoln’s greatest mistake, in hindsight, was to not have vigorously worked the party to prevent Johnson’s nomination as its VP candidate. His gutting of Reconstruction and leniency towards the South IMO set the stage for the following hundred years of economic stagnation and deplorable human rights violations under Jim Crow. Lincoln, in retrospect, should have vigorously supported Hamlin continuing as VP. It would have changed our history for the better.

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  83. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Grant didn’t take command overall until 1864. At the time of Gettyburg, as you no doubt remember, he was otherwise occupied at Vicksburg. The South really couldn’t hope to win a military victory by July 1863, but a victory at Gettysburg might have been the last straw for Lincoln’s ability to persevere in the struggle.

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  84. Andre Kenji says:

    @Mikey:

    (Off-topic question–how are things down your way? I’ve been seeing news about huge protests all over Brazil.)

    1-) The Brazilian Media is heavily promoting these demonstrations, including Globo(That was supported by the Military Regime and that has an unhealthy concentration of the media market) and Record(A TV station that´s owned by an Evangelical Chuch).

    There are several instances of vandalism and violence coming from the demonstrators. Kinda, it´s not like people fighting the police, but people destroying windows of public buildings.

    2-) There was a banner on one of these demonstrations that read “I don´t have a Party. My country is my party”. I immediatelly thought: “What is this s***? Did they hire John McCain to write these slogans?“.

    There is a lack of message and leadership in these demonstrations.

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  85. Rob in CT says:

    While I agree with you about the South, I can understand al-Ameda’s sentiment

    Sure, so do I. Part of the reason I rail against it is that I know how seductive it is.

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  86. stonetools says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    The South really couldn’t hope to win a military victory by July 1863, but a victory at Gettysburg might have been the last straw for Lincoln’s ability to persevere in the struggle.

    The South still had a chance to win politically till the fall of Atlanta in September 1864. That was when the Lost Cause was truly lost.
    This thread is like the Alternate History Forum is all the time. The number one topic there is the American Civil War-was it worth it, could it have been avoided, could the South have won, what would happen if the South won. I predict that next year this time we will be discussing the number two topic-World War One( was it worth it, could it have been avoided, etc.)

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  87. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    but a victory at Gettysburg might have been the last straw for Lincoln’s ability to persevere in the struggle.

    On that one I’ll have to disagree. Even if the South had somehow been able to have won Gettysburg, it still would have come at a cost of materiel and personnel that it could no longer afford to sustain. The North’s losses, while severe, weren’t nearly the body blow to its overall ability to continue to prosecute the war that Gettysburg represented to the South.

    Public opinion in the North remained very much in support of continuing the war leading up to Gettysburg. I don’t think that a Union loss there would have torpedoed that support, certainly not enough to have been a political concern for Lincoln going into the election cycle in 1864. He would have pushed on.

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  88. Mikey says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    But in some sense it was still about economics.

    Perhaps. But I still think it’s correct to say slavery would have persisted for a long time despite economic factors, because it was much more than a purely economics-oriented institution.

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  89. Moosebreath says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    “Lincoln’s greatest mistake, in hindsight, was to not have vigorously worked the party to prevent Johnson’s nomination as its VP candidate.”

    Putting Johnson on the ticket was Lincoln’s idea, not the party’s. The party would have preferred someone like Ben Butler, who supported the more radical positions against slaveholders. Lincoln at the time of the nominating convention felt he needed a more conciliatory VP nominee to show he was willing to accept reasonable peace terms, rather than prolong the war to destroy Southern society.

    @HarvardLaw92:

    “Public opinion in the North remained very much in support of continuing the war leading up to Gettysburg. I don’t think that a Union loss there would have torpedoed that support, certainly not enough to have been a political concern for Lincoln going into the election cycle in 1864. He would have pushed on.”

    Given that there were anti-war riots in New York City immediately after the victory at Gettysburg, I don’t think this is correct.

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  90. PD Shaw says:

    @Neil Hudelson: James W. Loewen has written that in the South the history curiculum in public schools is often purposely arranged so that the Civil War is at the end of the school year, which means that its often not reached. He claims that this is by design.

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  91. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    Grant didn’t take command overall until 1864. At the time of Gettyburg, as you no doubt remember, he was otherwise occupied at Vicksburg.

    Correct. He was pounding Vicksburg into dust, starving the population into submission. It was these tactics that won the day at Vicksburg and these tactics that ensured the South’s defeat once he took over the Army of the Potomac.

    The South really couldn’t hope to win a military victory by July 1863, but a victory at Gettysburg might have been the last straw for Lincoln’s ability to persevere in the struggle.

    Ahhhh, I see your point. The politics of another loss could well have destroyed the Lincoln Presidency. I have to disagree to some extent though.

    #1: Lee could not ever have won at Gettysburg. Longstreet knew it. That is why he argued for withdrawal. Pickett’s Charge was suicidal. That Lee could not see that was due entirely to his hubris. For so many years he had asked his soldiers to perform almost superhuman feats, and time and again, they did. Lee had begun to think they could do anything he asked of them. In the end tho, they were simply men.

    #2: It is hard (in some ways) to call Gettysburg a victory for the North. At best, I would call it a draw. The North had the Army of Virginia on the verge of defeat and retreating but Meade let them go. The losses on both sides were about equal, but again, the North could afford it, the South could not.

    #3: Gettysburg had very little political effect for Lincoln. It was the fall of Atlanta that ensured his reelection.

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  92. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    If you are going to bring up Joan Baez, you might want to do a little reading about her life (and learn how to spell her name).

    Baez is an icon of the civil rights movement. She was often called on to take MLK’s place in marches and demonstrations when he was in jail, overbooked, or otherwise unavailable. Granted, her celebrity shielded her to some extent, but she marched into some dangerous places without hesitation. She also worked tirelessly against the war in Viet Nam, and did not cut out when the cops showed up to arrest people.

    If anyone lived and breathed the liberal ideals of the sixties, it was Baez. She could have spent the decade kicking it in Laurel Canyon, Woodstock, and the Village, but she chose to be on the front lines.

    On a side note, I waited on her in a club I worked at many years ago, she was very pleasant and had a nice smile.

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  93. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Several years ago one of the big name Brit military historians, I think Keegan, observed that every century seems to produce one great military leader. That unfortunately for the US, in the 20th century it was Vo Nguyen Giap. But the nineteenth century produced two giants, Grant and Lee. And that of the two, Grant was the better general because he had a plan for winning the war and Lee did not.

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  94. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: While Lee may have been more creative, Grant was more successful. But Grant certainly had the better hand: the Union was richer, had the manufacturing facilities, and had a larger population and a steady stream of immigrants to use as cannon fodder. Lee essentially had to convince the Union that the price of victory was too high but that was difficult when the fighting was almost exclusively in Confederate territory.

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  95. sherparick says:

    @JKB: In 1964, after an epic struggle, the Liberal Northern Democrats finally stopped kowtowing to you Bourbon Confederates, who then promptly started leaving the Democratic Party and Movement Conservatism drew them into the Republican Party where Goldwater won five of the original 7 secession states: LA, Miss., Ala., GA, and South Carolina (to small for a Republic, to large for an insane asylum).

    I don’t think the question whether “a war is worth it” makes much sense. Given the interests involved and the long term threat to its ascendancy that the planter class viewed the expanding, free soil North, they had basically decided it was rule or leave by 1861. When you read the stories of the young men and women who died, whether in1861-65, or in Afghanistan 2001-2013, the whole thing is immeasurably sad.

    However, if a war had an outcome that left a better world, or the possibility of a better world, the American Civil War met that test. As the “The Last Invasion” documents, Lee’s Army received vital logistic support from close to 20,000 African American men and women slaves, held to their tasks and masters by the threat of death and/or torture. Further, Lee’s Army kidnapped for slavery every Black man or woman they ran across in Pennsylvania and Western Maryland, whether born free or escaped.

    In my opinion, if no initial Civil War had been fought, or if the South had won its independence as a “Slave Republic,” in 1862, 63, or 64, the the two states would have been mortal enemies and friction, particularly the friction over escaped slaves, western territories, and expanding slavery into Mexico and the Caribbean, would have led to future wars between the CSA and USA.

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  96. PD Shaw says:

    @sherparick:

    In my opinion, if no initial Civil War had been fought, or if the South had won its independence as a “Slave Republic,” in 1862, 63, or 64, the the two states would have been mortal enemies and friction, particularly the friction over escaped slaves, western territories, and expanding slavery into Mexico and the Caribbean, would have led to future wars between the CSA and USA.

    That would be my opinion as well. There is no such thing as a massive slave system that can exist where there is free territory for slaves to flee to. Two things could have occurred: (a) slaves fleeing to the North, creating border conflicts and perhaps encouraging further import of slaves from Africa, creating naval conflicts with the British. Or Northern accommodation of slavery by which Northerners sent blacks back south (free or escaped) to maintain a white Republic based upon free labor/free soil ideology.

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  97. Kari Q says:

    @Moosebreath:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    “Public opinion in the North remained very much in support of continuing the war leading up to Gettysburg. I don’t think that a Union loss there would have torpedoed that support, certainly not enough to have been a political concern for Lincoln going into the election cycle in 1864. He would have pushed on.”

    Given that there were anti-war riots in New York City immediately after the victory at Gettysburg, I don’t think this is correct.

    New York City was a center of copperhead anti-war opinion, so I don’t know that it’s really correct to believe that New York City was a strong indicator of Northern opinion as a whole. Also, those riots were at least as much in opposition to the draft as the war.

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  98. Rob in CT says:

    Seriously, without a tame Supreme Court to provide decisions like Dred Scott and the political power to push through the Fugitive Slave law, what would the CSA have done about slave escapees? Railed and railed at the perfidious Yankees, and quite probably end up fighting them (in defense of their Property Rights, dontchaknow).

    Throw in compeition over land in the West, trade issues, international relations (including with territories to the South that CSA Firebreathers wanted to take over via “Fillibustering”)… how does it not come to war?

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  99. Mikey says:

    @Rob in CT: Not war, wars. Multiple wars over years. Everything from border skirmishes to full-on frontier battles and invasions of Union California.

    Eventually there would have been a full-scale war between the two nations, but decades later, perhaps with World War 1 weaponry.

    Imagine the battle of Gettysburg with mustard gas.

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  100. Moosebreath says:

    @Kari Q:

    “New York City was a center of copperhead anti-war opinion, so I don’t know that it’s really correct to believe that New York City was a strong indicator of Northern opinion as a whole.”

    Considering that I was responding to a statement that said that popular opinion in the North was “very much in support of continuing the war”, pointing out that the largest city was a center of anti-war activity is not much of a response. I could also point out the huge losses in the 1862 election, where the Democrats gained 28 seats (out of 185).

    “Also, those riots were at least as much in opposition to the draft as the war.”

    Funny, how the opposition to the draft fell off as the tide of the war turned.

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  101. PD Shaw says:

    @Rob in CT: I am reminded of something Jefferson said about the importance of acquiring the Louisiana territory, he said whomever possess New Orleans is “our natural and habitual enemy.” It was the one spot, due to its importance for inland trade routes. While rail and canals may have been reducing its importance by the 1860s, its still possible that issues of trade not directly involving slavery would have also sparked armed conflicts.

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  102. Dazedandconfused says:

    @James Joyner:

    @gVOR08: While Lee may have been more creative, Grant was more successful. But Grant certainly had the better hand: the Union was richer, had the manufacturing facilities, and had a larger population and a steady stream of immigrants to use as cannon fodder. Lee essentially had to convince the Union that the price of victory was too high but that was difficult when the fighting was almost exclusively in Confederate territory.

    There was always the hope the British would step in on the Confederate side. While unlikely they could have gotten enough public support for waging a ground war, the British Navy could have snapped the Union blockade of Southern ports in very short order, and with public support for that “limited” engagement. The textile industry really liked that cotton, and gaining a huge ally in the Western hemisphere on the other side of the Yankees from Canada summons a tempting dream of regaining much that had been lost.

    Here again, slavery doomed the South. Very unpopular among the British people. Had the South freed their slaves as Lee and some others suggested, the South would be an independent country. It was key to both Lincolns ability to wage the war and British inability to help them.

    A slave nation abutting a non-slave nation and competing wildly to spread west would have, IMO, proved an impossible situation to be managed peacefully, barring utter capitulation of one or the other.

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  103. aFloridian says:

    I love how I get all the thumbs down because I won’t badmouth the South like you elitist liberals, even though my analysis of history can’t be that different from yours. How many of the people commenting above are actually (self-loathing) Southerners? I get the sense we are underrepresented on here. Oh, wait, that’s an opening for a comment about how we can’t read. Oops. Curse my public school education.

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  104. rudderpedals says:

    IMO more comments are almost always good. I never thumbs down other than spammers and obvious escapees from str0mfnord. Urge others to refrain from same.

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  105. aFloridian says:

    Traitors don’t like being called traitors, of course. It doesn’t change the fact that they were. They engaged in armed insurrection against the government of the United States of America. They killed soldiers of the United States Army and the United States Navy. They shot at the Stars and Stripes. If that doesn’t make them traitors, then the word has no meaning.

    Well, I could go into some nitpicking argument about how they were fighting for their own country after it had declare independence, but I still maintain my original belief, and make a distinction between Southerners taking up arms and fighting their former countrymen on the battlefield and a a real traitor, like, say, Robert Hanssen, who was passing secrets to another country in betrayal of his own. The Revolutionaries were traitors to the old kingdom, but patriots to the new, so I could adopt that argument too.

    Again, it doesn’t matter. People don’t want to believe terrible things about their families, but that doesn’t change objective fact.

    Well, even if I accepted that they were traitors, I wouldn’t be ashamed of my own ancestors who fought in that conflict. They had interesting stories and noble lives of civic and religious involvement after the war, following their honorable service in the Confederacy. My research suggests that no one had slaves or even lived in major slave agriculture areas (i.e., they were from northern Mississippi and northern Alabama) but I do know of some major slaveholders I’m directly descended from around the time of the American Revolution. I’m not ashamed of them, but I’m certainly not proud either. Besides, when you get that far back, half of OTBs commenters could have the same relative.

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  106. al-Ameda says:

    @aFloridian:

    I love how I get all the thumbs down because I won’t badmouth the South like you elitist liberals, even though my analysis of history can’t be that different from yours.

    And I love how conservatives claim to be constantly victimized by so-called “elitist liberals.”

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  107. Liberty60 says:

    @aFloridian:
    The reason the word “traitor” is so important is that as long as the Confederacy is coated with the warm patina of “honorable gentlemen fighting for a noble cause” then it remains a threat to the American ideal.

    We can be polite, but honesty demands that we look at the Confederacy as it really was; it stood, at its very root, in steadfast opposition to any and all of the principles that we as Americans hold.

    They were traitors- they betrayed the princples of freedom and democracy and the equality of all people. They refused to abide by the outcome of a fair election, and took up arms to destroy the American nation.

    This is the cold truth, and the more apologists try to struggle against it, the more we have to repeat it.

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  108. aFloridian says:

    @Liberty60: If you’d read my earlier comments, you’d see I am no apologist for the Lost Cause, as romantic and tempting as that “warm patina” can be. I am, I suppose, a defender of the poor men who fought in that war, just as much heroes and victims as the poor today, alternatively pitied and demonized.

    @al-Ameda:
    Give me a break. This website is crawling with elitist liberals that show the same urge to pigeonhole people into cute little categories as most Limbaugh-conservatives. My sense is that most of us here are professionals with advanced post-secondary education and often a lot of money./ That’s pretty much who the “elite” in this country is made of, so yeah, most of you are liberal, most of you are elite, hence “elitist liberal.”

    I’m not a conservative. I’m a Moderate/ nominal Republican also influenced by certain concepts in libertarianism. Hell, I voted Obama. Not everybody who disagrees with you is a Tea Bagging Glenn Beck nutjob you know…

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  109. Dave D says:

    @Surreal American: You’ll do well to remember we signed a secret treaty with Britain to end the Revolutionary War which weakened the French peace position. It may have been the aiding of the cause of Liberty or the taxes imposed upon its citizens from two wars fought in or for America that led to the extreme economic hardships in France that led to the Revolution there. However, post-Louisiana Purchase and founding of the new French state by the time of the American Civil War, America and France were no longer allies in the sense that persuaded France to join the American cause during the Revolution. That is why the CSA thought Cotton Diplomacy would propel both France and England to join their cause to end the Union Blockade of the South.
    @aFloridian: Defending poor traitors who were duped into fighting for the rights of the wealthy oligarchy that sought to perpetuate slavery, does not make these soldiers not traitors. Again Secession of the CSA could have happened without the attack on Fort Sumter. Had the Democrats won the election of 1860 would armed insurrection had occurred? Likely not, this was a traitorous event precipitated by the loss of an election. Had the democratic process worked for these people they would have been more than content to stay in the Union and toe the line of the federal government. However, when they took up arms to kill United States soldiers they became traitors, and slave holder or not they were wrong. The thing that differentiates them from the British traitors that founded our country was that they chose to fight for the opposite of liberty, and honorable men or not, that is not an honorable cause.

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  110. al-Ameda says:

    @aFloridian:

    My sense is that most of us here are professionals with advanced post-secondary education and often a lot of money./ That’s pretty much who the “elite” in this country is made of, so yeah, most of you are liberal, most of you are elite, hence “elitist liberal.”

    Give me a break. You know full well the difference between being in an elite (the top 10% of income earners, or having attended elite or prestigious colleges and universities) and being an elitist (or pejoratively, “elitist liberal”).

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  111. anjin-san says:

    @aFloridian:

    Because one is in an elite demographic by way of income, education, or both does not necessarily mean that they are an elitist. Are you ignorant of this fact, or are you just throwing out an emotionally charged buzzword in a rather bogus debate tactic?

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  112. Rob in CT says:

    I love how I get all the thumbs down because I won’t badmouth the South like you elitist liberals

    WTF is this nonsense?

    Badmouthing the Confederate States of America != badmouthing The South. Unless you’re of the opinion that The South is essentially the CSA, and I for one don’t subsribe to that line of thinking.

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  113. Anderson says:

    “Was the American Civil War worth it?”

    As of 10:15 or so on the morning of June 25, 2013, apparently not.

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