Turning Points of the Civil War

Turning Points of the Civil War

Turning Points of the Civil War

Turning Points of the Civil War

Excerpt

The Civil War was a turning point in American history. On its outcome hinged the perpetuation of the nation, the maintenance of majority rule, and the success of the American experiment in liberty and equality. The war originated--in no simple sense--in slavery, and by the war slavery was extinguished in the nation, thereby not merely preserving but extending the American commitment to liberty and equality. These results are well known, but the outcome might have been different had the war, at one place or another, taken a different course.

At first sight, believers in historical determinism might think the North was bound to win. Its manpower and economic strength far exceeded that of the South. The nineteenth century seemed pitted against the eighteenth: industry against agriculture, nationalism against state particularism, freedom against slavery. How futile, in this view, was a cause so weak in material and so flawed in moral resources!

But there was another side to the matter. Subjugation might be impossible, for the South occupied an area almost as large as western Europe; and it was the North's strategic assignment to invade and conquer the Confederacy. "The task of suppressing so great a rebellion was herculean. All the world except the Americans of the northern states--and some even of these--believed it to be impossible," exclaimed the historian John Fiske. One side, then, must use its superiority in the costly business of taking the war to the enemy, while the other side need only defend itself.

Nor was idealism or morality all with one party in the strife. Southerners were fighting for self-determination, independence, self-government, the preservation of a distinctive way of life. Nobility and sentiment filled the minds and hearts of Southerners as they fought for Dixie--the land of chivalry and cotton. In his message of April 29, 1861, to his Congress, Jefferson Davis expressed the sincerity of the Southern purpose: "We feel that our cause is just and holy. . . . In independence we seek no conquest, no . . .

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