“For all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.”
—Robert E. Lee
Gunfire breeds fear. When brothers start firing muskets and cannons at each other, danger fills the air. For human beings the sense of impending death has a positive or negative valence. The violence comes in shades and hues. Mass killing typically has a purpose, sometimes good, sometimes bad. We learn to see differences. Killing in self-defense differs fundamentally from killing for profit. Executing a murderer is not the same as an act of coldblooded murder (though it may look that way to some). All of us think, in effect, like lawyers: we seek to confer meaning on violence, to distinguish good from bad, civilized from uncivilized, the battles of armies from the self-interested actions of criminals.
The problem of understanding the violence inflicted between blue and gray became one of the enduring legal and philosophical problems of the Civil War. The range of possibilities is wide. The simplest response would have been to see the assault of each against the other as simple criminal homicide. Union boys killing two thousand of their Southern brothers in the first battle of Bull Run could be understood simply as two thousand individual acts of criminal homicide. The same would be true of the three thousand Union deaths wrought at the hands