Why the Civil War Came

Why the Civil War Came

Why the Civil War Came

Why the Civil War Came

Synopsis

In the early morning of April 12, 1861, Captain George S. James ordered the bombardment of Fort Sumter, beginning a war that would last four horrific years and claim a staggering number of lives. Since that fateful day, the debate over the causes of the American Civil War has never ceased. What events were instrumental in bringing it about? How did individuals and institutions function? What did Northerners and Southerners believe in the decades of strife preceding the war? What steps did they take to avoid war? Indeed, was the great armed conflict avoidable at all? Why the Civil War Came brings a talented chorus of voices together to recapture the feel of a very different time and place, helping the reader to grasp more fully the commencement of our bloodiest war. From William W. Freehling's discussion of the peculiarities of North American slavery to Charles Royster's disturbing piece on the combatants' savage readiness to fight, the contributors bring to life the climate of a country on the brink of disaster. Mark Summers, for instance, depicts the tragically jubilant first weeks of Northern recruitment, when Americans on both sides were as yet unaware of the hellish slaughter that awaited them. Glenna Matthews underscores the important war-catalyzing role played by extraordinary public women, who proved that neither side of the Mason-Dixon line was as patriarchal as is thought. David Blight reveals an African-American world that "knew what time it was," and welcomed war. And Gabor Boritt examines the struggle's central figure, Lincoln himself, illuminating in the years leading up to the war a blindness on the future president's part, an unwillingness to confront the looming calamity that was about to smash the nation asunder. William E. Gienapp notes perhaps the most unsettling fact about the Civil War, that democratic institutions could not resolve the slavery issue without resorting to violence on an epic scale. With gripping detail, Why the Civil War Came takes readers back to a country fraught with bitterness, confusion, and hatred--a country ripe for a war of unprecedented bloodshed--to show why democracy failed, and violence reigned.

Excerpt

The boom of the guns took on their own rhythm. "Load," came the command again. The number one man of the artillery crew, anonymous as most soldiers ever remain, quickly swabbed the barbette gun to get it ready for the next shot. Another soldier, whose name lives in history, private Daniel Hough, number two of the crew, picked up the cartridge to place it in the muzzle of the gun. Burnt and broken battle refuse trimmed the parapet. All eyes-elated and bitter, Southern and Northern-focused on the guns. Hough inserted the cartridge. In a split second, before the commands "ready" and "fire" could begin to be uttered, the explosion came. It took off Hough's right arm. Within moments he was dead. Probably the number one man had failed to sponge the gun sufficiently, leaving a flame in the barrel. The premature burst followed and with it the first casualty of what would become the American Civil War. Some one and a half million came after.

Fort Sumter, April 14, 1861. The Union's farewell salute that Hough's death interrupted had to be cut short, though the private received his burial with honors on the Sumter parade. Why this moment of history came is surely one of the most important questions students can ask about the Civil War and (together with the examination of the results the war wrought) the most important moral question.

IT WAS ASKED from the first. Participants in the war and the generation after spoke partisan and, with rare exceptions, blamed . . .

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