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The American Civil War 150 Years On

On the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, we’ll look at the unfinished examination of the American Civil War.

A reenactor fires a mortar at Fort Johnson, near Fort Sumter, to commemorate the moment the first shots of the Civil War were fired 150 years ago in Charleston, S.C. (AP)

Pre-dawn cannon fire this morning over Charleston Harbor in South Carolina this morning, re-enacting the 1861 firing on Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War, 150 years ago today.

The sesquicentennial of the War Between the States is reviving again the country’s unending meditation on what happened in that devastating war, and why.

More than 600,000 Americans dead. America’s deadliest war. My guest today, historian David Goldfield, says the passions that drove the country then are still with us today.

This hour On Point: the Civil War’s beginning, at one hundred and fifty.

- Tom Ashbrook


David Goldfield, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  His new book is “America Aflame: How The Civil War Created A Nation.”

America Aflame: How The Civil War Created a Nation
By David Goldfield

Can anyone saying anything new about the Civil War?  In this book, the outcome of the conflict will be the same as in every other book on the war.  That goes for the battles, too.  My main concerns are how we got into the war, how the war transformed the men who fought, and how America came out of the war.  These are also the itineraries of countless other authors.  I hope, however, that my treatment of the war’s origins, the conflict itself, and its aftermath will enable readers to view the Civil War from a new perspective.  After the Revolutionary War, the Civil War is the defining event of American history.  The Civil War not only tells us a great deal about Americans at that time, but it offers numerous insights of our nation today.

The Civil War was both the completion of the American Revolution and the beginning of a modern nation.  The war proved America’s resilience.  If nothing else, holding a presidential election in the midst of the Civil War, as the Union did in 1864, was a testament to that strength.  The war also transformed America in ways prefigured in the antebellum years, but recognizable only after the nation went through the fire.

The Civil War is also America’s greatest failure.  The political system could not contain the passions stoked by the infusion of evangelical Christianity into the political process.  Westward expansion, sectarian conflict, and above all slavery assumed moral dimensions that confounded political solutions. Violence became an acceptable alternative because it worked.  It put the Catholics in their proper place and away from Protestant girls.  It worked against the Native Americans and against the Mexicans.  And it worked against the slaveholders.  Antebellum America was a turbulent place – in cities, on the frontier, and at the ballot box.  The violence took its toll.  Gradually, the bonds of Union fell away: the national church polities, the national political parties, and the moderate politicians disappeared.

War was not inevitable.  But the prevailing political culture made it difficult to solve issues peaceably.  The failure is evident in the deaths of over 650,000 young men, the misery of their families and friends left to mourn their loss, the destruction of homes and personal property, the uprooting of households, and the scenes of war haunting those who managed to live through it.  Without gainsaying the individual heroism of those who fought and died, it would have been a greater tribute to our nation had they lived.

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  • Keith & Charlotte Otterbein

    To: Tom Ashbrook
    From: Keith and Charlotte Otterbein
    RE: Reenactment of Ft. Sumpter

    We live near Folly Beach, SC, about 2 miles from Ft. Johnson. Although the opening shots were supposedly fired from two seacoast mortars at 4:30 am on April 12, 1861, by Lt. Henry Saxon Farley, the commemoration will take place this morning with a 10-inch mortar cannon fired at 6:45 a.m. from the fort. A friend, who is a descendent of several veterans of the Civil War, tells us that this is a ticket event, restricted to descendants and dignitaries. (As Yankees we didn’t qualify for tickets.) There will be two 45-minute barrages from at least six other locations around Charleston Harbor.

    The ceremony for the surrender of Ft. Sumpter will take place at four different times on Thursday. Confederates take over later in the afternoon.

    We look forward to your program.

  • Tina

    Did you see “Civil Warriors”, the National Geographic TV series that just began? A descendent of a southern slave-owning woman is one of the modern-day people who is featured. Her ancestor penned a rather viciously-toned diary about Confederate losses and about the consequences of the Emancipation Proclamation on her own town, including that African Americans “can tussle ladies off the sidewalk.” The descendent still has so little grasp of the concept of Liberty that she opines about the slaves her ancestor owned in this way: “to her, they were family” — even though she learned that the slaves tried to escape by joining up with the Union Army. The descendant is proud that her ancestor did not sign the oath of allegiance to the Union, even though that meant that the woman was not entitled to get any food for her six or seven children. The descendent expressed happiness that her ancestor was passionate about her southern cause; and she seemed not at all bothered when she learned that when one escaped slave had to return to the plantation due to starvation, that the slave owner gloated about being right about the treatment of Blacks by Northerners. I was hoping to see insight from this interviewee; to see an epiphany; or compassion for the lives of those held in slavery for so long in this country’s history. Instead, the themes held dear by this descendant seemed to be that the nasty old northerners wrecked life for southerners; or, as the ancestor said in her diaries, ” we are oppressed; the Negroes are the only people with any freedom and liberty (around here).”

    I KNOW that I have heard attitudes like this a lot in our contemporary times. Sadly, I even think it drives a lot of our politics.

  • Cory

    I love historical “what ifs”. What if the north had simply let the south go on it’s merry way, unimpeded? What might north america look like today?

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard


    • Joseph

      The South would have become a Third World country like Mexico. Which is what the Republicans/Tea Party people who are so predominate in the South apparently still want.

  • Cory

    A nation so hyper partisan and hopelessly divided that many believed the only viable solution was dissolution.


    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      Angry people on both sides, guns, racism… sounds familiar.

    • twenty-niner

      If the country divided into a low-tax libertarian republic and a high-tax welfare state, the high-tax welfare state would soon go bankrupt.

      • Cory

        Are those the only two choices?

        • twenty-niner

          Those are the two ends of the spectrum in terms of free societies. Somewhere in between is basically what you have now. I guess there’s authoritarian crony capitalism as practiced by the Chinese as a third option.

          • Tina

            NPR reported within the past month or so that Norway has only about 3% (maybe 3/25%) unemployment; most citizens earn about $40,000/year; they have more, AND more successful, start-up companies than the U.S.; and, of course, they have that security of cradle to grave safety net. Altho they pay high taxes, Norwegians express great happiness personally & with their system of government and of taxation. Don’t we have ANY economists who could study how the Scandinavian countries make statistics like these so “inevitable” with their forms of government? We seem to never have solid comparisons of their systems with ours. And I’m not speaking about a snarky comparison. What IS it about the vested interests in our country that seems to make honest investigation into Scandinavian systems in general or into any one of them specifically SO threatening that a true comparison never gets done?

      • Angelique

        Except that now, the high-tax states are net givers to the nation’s wealth, while low-tax states are net takers.

  • smart guy

    “The Civil War is also America’s greatest failure” (David Goldfield).

    The Civil War ended slavery and ushered in the Industrial Revolution in America, how is that a failure?

    It sounds like professor Goldfield has got his Birkenstock sandals strapped on to tight, the flow of blood to his brain is clearly being restricted.

    • Cory

      Perhaps it was a failure because the political disagreement could not be solved without the loss of 650,000 lives. And you call youreself smart guy! I’m not smart and even I could figure that one out!

      Your Birkenstock comment also reveals your political “bent”. It has that “I didn’t have to go to college to know that” sort of anti-intellectual feel to it.

      • http://twitter.com/Thinknaboutit Derobos Wontonyhw

        So all wars are failures, I can go along with that.

    • Anonymous

      It was a failure because if we lost, we would be rid of a backward region of the country.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Quoting Goldfield above: “The political system could not contain the passions stoked by the infusion of evangelical Christianity into the political process. Westward expansion, sectarian conflict, and above all slavery assumed moral dimensions that confounded political solutions.” … “But the prevailing political culture made it difficult to solve issues peaceably.”
    “Violence became an acceptable solution.”
    You’d think evangelical Christianity would sing peace, not “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war,” which was (still?) a favorite hymn in the Yankee church I was raised in, in the 1950s.
    I think the American idea of exceptionalism and the original “city on a hill” concepts meant that righteousness was awfully important, at least in the north.
    And stringent righteousness seems to me almost always to mean hypocrisy and some degree of delusion and denial. Catholics have more forgiving approach to human life; being that no perfect person would have a use for penance. Where were they on slavery?
    But what did Lincoln think were the economic forces and effects going into the war and the possibilities down the road? Did he plan for a future beyond the immediate crisis?

  • miro

    The war never ended – it was continued through other means.

    The Tea Party is the contemporary descendent of Fire Eaters and Know Nothings.

    • geri

      Miro – you are a moron!

      • Dan

        No, he/she’s really not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Bedford_Forrest

        Boston, MA

      • Dan

        No, he/she’s really not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Bedford_Forrest

        Boston, MA

      • Mike W.

        Calling someone a moron is a weak-minded argument that has no worth. Contribute a valid argument to rebuff his/her assertion…or don’t reply at all.

      • Anonymous

        miro has a point. A lot of the Tea Party seems to be into states rights, which was one of the reasons reason the Civil War happened.

        In my view the seeds of the Civil War were planted in the first Continental Congress.

    • Gregg

      I don’t know what’s worse, your comment or the 9 likes.

  • Joseph

    “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood.” -John Brown

    The failure started at the Constitutional Convention when slavery was retained. Despite the hopes of some of the Founding Fathers that slavery would wither away that opposite happened. It became more and more entrenched in economy and whole society of the South and took on increasingly racial aspects. Ending slavery and retaining the Union required that bloody war.

    The failure was in the aftermath when historical revision almost immediately appeared, i.e. the war was not about slavery and the myth of the noble cause. And of course blacks in the South were put back into slavery in all but name and this would last almost another 100 years.

    • Tina

      Thank you! Your piece paints a picture of important aspects of the overview of moral failure! I am NOT fond of the Founders for these reasons, and because my family may have been owned by the relative of a Founder.

      I would like to add that the economy that had slavery “entrenched” in it (as you properly point out) was the same economy that was shared with the North. and perhaps you meant that. Please look for my other comment on this page about “slave cloth or Negro cloth”.

      Also, when you say, “took on increasingly racial aspects”. I have been studying this quite a bit, and the increase in racism began in the Seventeenth Century when landowners were still using a mix of indentured servants and African-American slaves. Some of the race-based preference for African-Americans began in the English colony of Barbados, and those slave owners had cousins in the Norfolk/Suffolk region of Virginia. Mainly, white indentured servants were mating with African slaves in Barbados, and their children needed to be either under contract OR owned, according to English law. But, as those children were walking around, land owners couldn’t TELL, visually, what status these children had, especially since each generation of mulattos became lighter in skin tone. Were these individuals who were walking around doing work for their master, or were they actually in the act of running away?! THis got SO confounding to these creepy land owners, that they decided that only having Black slaves, who would be identifiable by their color, was the simpler solution. They suggested this to their Big Guy cousins on the Virginia coast, who then told their other cousins in the Carolinas, and so it went. And, demeaning the race of those they had enslaved seemed to go along with the act of enslaving others. (I’d love to know the psychological term for that kind of assbackwards thinking!) This demeaning was often backed up by … the Bible!

      I am interested, though. Perhaps you were speaking about an additional period of increased racism. Can you tell us more about that aspect of your comment? Thanks!

      • Joseph

        Thanks for your comments Tina. I was in fact referring to how slavery became racial over the course of the years from when the first slaves were brought into the colonies until the Civil War. I recall a program that I saw on PBS a few years back that recounted the story of an African American family over several generations. The earliest generation became free farmers in South Carolina I believe and over a couple of generations became quite prosperous. However, by the 1840s I believe laws were passed forbidding blacks to own property; the handwriting was on the wall that freeman and black as an oxymoron and the family was forced to abandon all that had been built up over generations and flee north.

        • Tina

          Thanks, Joseph. Yes! In fact, that is why I find that reading history is so much more interesting than reading essays, let’s say, about “race”. You may have seen me say before that I have been reading lots of scholarly books to try to find out what my ancestors lives were like (we were mulatto and Black; free and enslaved, on my father’s side.). One of my own thoughts I’ve come away with from this reading is that when race relations changed, those relations followed a pattern that represented what was happening in history rather than what our contemporary logic would suggest. Two of the main areas where I see contemporary ideas blinding people to a perhaps more accurate sense of history concerns Free Blacks and mulattos. I’m gathering from what I read elsewhere that both are equated with historic “privilege” nowadays, when, from reading a lot of history about a few specific places (Virginia, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Barbados), starting pretty much in the early Seventeenth Century, I can see both proof and rebuttals to that position. In fact, I can see so many variations on that theme and others, that I’d have to write a history book to spell it all out.

          It sounds like the PBS special you saw found just the right example to portray that time period around 1619 when the English in Jamestown weren’t quite sure yet what status to give the Africans who arrived on a Dutch ship. There was a brief period before race relations hardened; and before slavery began to be preferred over the use of indentured servants; and before slavery became exclusively associated with those of African descent. (Some scholars say that the English assumed, at first, that they would enslave the Native Americans and find gold and go home rich, as they thought they’d learned the Spanish had been able to do. Some Native Americans did wind up indentured — maybe even enslaved, tho I don’t remember well enough to say for sure — often because to get any of their land back once they sometimes realized that many English treaties and land deals were not worth the paper they were written on, they sometimes wound up with debts they could not pay and wound up indentured.).

          If there is an overall historical sequencing to race relations that can be followed, it seems to follow trajectories like settlement patterns and events in Europe and the success of various cash crops, or the over-farming of the land by the planters, etc., etc. The main constant that I think I’ve seen thru my reading is the increasing hardening of racism. In fact, whenever there was a softening somewhere, the laws hardened up somewhere else, or just a little later. The other thing that I’ve seen thru my reading is that America’s racism (and here I include colonial America as well as the U.S.A., the nation) was not JUST a social construct, altho it was that, for sure. No, the mind-boggling thing for me has been to see how MANY laws AND court cases lay the foundation for the social racism, even ensuring its perpetuation. Saying, “it’s a chicken or egg question” does NOT indict the depth of this legal depravity enough! And many of the laws weren’t just about slavery, they were about the consequences of being People of Color. And, as you say, the term Free Black does not mean what most contemporary Americans think it does. Just one example: my relatives on the Eastern Shore of VA had to register as Free Blacks, in part because Free Blacks were so distrusted by the ruling class. They were thought to be too capable of aiding in slave insurrections which were NOT seen as expressions of the human desire for Freedom — not at all! ( But, actually … because my ancestors had to register — and because of the wonderful scholarship of Francis Bibbins Latimer! — I know a lot about what my relatives looked like!) Not only was their freedom legally truncated, but it was also incredibly fragile: there were a number of ways in which Free Blacks could be brought into OR brought back into slavery; and the times of the two Fugitive Slave Acts were most distressing in this regard. (BTW, the First Fugitive Slave Act was enacted just about a YEAR after we became a democratic nation!) I sometimes think that for those contemporary Americans who are still not impressed about how depraved the institution of slavery was, that, for them, perhaps a course in what happened to Free People of Color might astound them more in regard to the fragility of Liberty!

          Thanks for the discussion!

      • Spectacular

        The US bought slaves their own country, Liberia. Get on over there if you hate it here so much. Over half a million died; bought a nation ; Civil Rights; Black President; it’s never enough.

  • John of Medford

    Seems like we are experiencing a new “Cold” Civil War in our country today.

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t compromise and moderation just delay the inevitable?

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t compromise and moderation just delay the inevitable?

  • Anonymous

    War might have been averted? I wonder what the guest’s opinion of Neville Chamberlain is.

  • Tom

    I do not think you understand this. The tea party peaple see this as real, that they are doing the same thing as their ansesters. Sen Glen McConnel who represents me in Columbia SC read the articals of seccession on the 150th annaversery and he believes them as real today. Those people chearing this AM, some who are tea party folks, would like to use real cannon on OBama, demicrats and the federal government. It is real to them

  • Tina

    Is your guest SKIPPING OVER THE INITIAL PART OF RECONSTRUCTION WHEN AFRICAN-AMERICANS ACHIEVED GREAT THINGS? True, by 1888, the second part of Reconstruction had plummeted them back into the depths of the American caste system. But, WHY is he skipping over the period of Radical Reconstruction when African-Americans had so much access to political success thru their own agency (learning to read & write; running for office; voting; getting elected to office; serving in office)

  • Michael

    Poor southern racist, if only the North would have given into the south. Not like those slaves had it rough there……

    • guest

      northern workers had it just as bad many were locked into their homes at night and look at how many children were mamed and killed working in those factories. It was bad everywhere, but it seems that its the south that gets the brunt of all criticism. Its a shame history is so bias.

  • Anonymous

    I hardly think that we can label Lincoln an evangelical. He used Biblical language as a rhetorical device, but his thinking on the conflict was rational.

  • Dh001g

    It was radicalism which brought us the 14th amendment which is one of the great achievements in human history. We wouldn’t have gotten their without the civil war. Extremism in the name of liberty is no vice?

  • Anonymous

    We were the only nation to abolish slavery by a civil war? Russia ended serfdom legally in the nineteenth century, but really their form of slavery didn’t end until the revolution in 1917.

    • Anonymous

      and then came the Gulags, and Stalin.

  • Michael

    Good old Religious southern values, always something jesus would do.

  • Tina

    NO! THERE COULD NEVER HAVE BEEN A COMPROMISE THAT WOULD HAVE HALTED SLAVERY because …. the industrial revolution in the North ALSO benefitted from slavery. In fact, many of the SAME FAMILIES who were successful northern industrialists were related to successful southern slave owning families.

    In fact, Brown University has scholars who have discovered that a large basis of the northern industrial revolution was the making of SLAVE CLOTH, also called NEGRO CLOTH. The southern cousins needed clothing that would let the slaves know of their “inferior position”. The northern mills were unable to successfully compete with the quality of ENGLISH textile manufacturing. So, a very tight-knit economic solution was achieved, AND those cousins, north and south, would NOT have compromised about slavery because they were BOTH living off the labor of African-American slaves!

    • Anonymous

      The Industrial Revolution was the transition from manual labor to mechanical. What held the South back was a dependence on human beings working, while the North tended toward finding machines to do the work. The end of slavery was what allowed the South to develop its current economy.

      • Tina

        Not exactly true. The invention of the cotton gin INCREASED the “need” for slavery. Slavery was starting to die out on the Eastern seaboard; some landowners had to pay more to keep their slaves fed and clothed than they could make from their exhausted farmland, so some scholars think that slavery might have petered out at that point. At that time, many owners were manumitting their slaves, in part due to the financial factors I just described, but also due to religious insights that were spreading thruout the country. However, then the cotton gin was invented, and suddenly, slaves were needed in what would become the Cotton Belt region. That meant that slave owners on the seaboard could make a lot of money selling their slaves. Slave families experienced more trauma as they were broken up, and as a migration of hundreds to thousands of miles began. Ira Berlin’s book, The Making of African America describes the transatlantic slave trade as the first great migration; this seaboard to Cotton Belt migration as the second one; what is known as the Great Migration, he names the third great migration; and Africans coming to the U.S. nowadays is his fourth great migration.

        And, you have probably heard about Douglas Blackmon’s book, Slavery By ANother Name. A sinister system of peonage existed, that in some terms was even worse than slavery, lasted until World War II. Many people, southerners and nationally-based industrialists made fortunes off the labor of Blacks trapped in this system that still remains pretty much unknown to most Americans, even tho the author received a deserved Pulitzer Prize for its writing. I think that perhaps you are writing from a theoretical point of view. That is why I enjoy reading history so much — the peculiarities of history almost always confound the soundest of theories, including economic theories. And, when new evidence is found, there is more history to read!

  • Dan

    This country’s tolerance of the continued lionization of a racist, secessionist army is somewhat unique. If a Roman province rebelled and lost, and then 150 years later, that province’s governor ran up the defeated army’s flag at the capitol, how do you think Caesar would have responded?

    Boston, MA

    • Spectacular

      In this case Caesar almost lost, and was knocking at the knees to have to have a rematch. The South had far less to work with than the North, and the North came very close to losing anyway. The North couldn’t afford to tempt fate again. In fact, if it were held again today, the North would lose in a landslide defeat. Fear, Dan, the South was a deadly opponent, and back then the North was darn glad to have it over with.

      • serendipity

        Losing is losing. Facts are facts. History is history. “If yesterday happened today” is the battle cry of chest-thumping revisionists (who happened to lose yesterday).

      • Tw025

        No contest to if a remach was held, The South will always wind up on the bottom.

  • Dennis

    Kevin Phillips in The Cousins’ Wars addresses many of these same themes. His thesis was that the issues of the English Civil War carried through the American revolution and the American Civil War. Those issues were driven largely by, but not solely, by religion – and on to today. The Roundheads, the Puritans, the Christian Right, and the Tea Party just keep marching on in blissful, selfish, ignorance.

  • Dennis

    Kevin Phillips in The Cousins’ Wars addresses many of these same themes. His thesis was that the issues of the English Civil War carried through the American revolution and the American Civil War. Those issues were driven largely by, but not solely, by religion – and on to today. The Roundheads, the Puritans, the Christian Right, and the Tea Party just keep marching on in blissful, selfish, ignorance.

  • Ellen Dibble

    We read (I read) about the way northern industry and trade depended on the products of slave labor in the South. I heard Goldfield say he addressed this, and that the industrial revolution was NOT launched by the Civil War. I think he must mean industry was getting started all on its own.
    But I do wonder what the big traders in Providence, and ports nearby, what stance they took to the Republican idea that slavery was wrong. Didn’t they see their interests threatened? Or the lawyers who defended those merchants, or the cotton mills…

    • Tina

      Hi, Ellen! I wrote a comment on here somewhere that explains some of what you ask about. (when you see your own comment timed as “25 minutes ago”, for instance, it is harder to tell people where to look for things until days later when actual times appear! Ugh!). Try Edit/Find and type in “slave cloth”, “negro cloth”. Or, maybe my “name”.

      You are SO right to mention that lots of ancillary professions and jobs benefitted from the economic system called Slavery. Once again, I will mention Brown University’s Slavery and Justice Report which IS available in pdf form on the internet. It is fascinating reading, really well done! Because RI was more significant as a slave TRADING colony/state than as a slave-owning state, though there WERE large plantations, especially in South County and an amount of urban slavery, especially in Newport and Providence, where many of the slaves were apprenticed out and became major craftspeople. Much of the architectural work that tourists to RI still marvel at was done by slaves. That is only recently getting more deserved attention. But, yes, Brown University’s studies found that the entire nation existed under a Slave Economy. This is such a major shift from how our generation was taught to think about this (if one were a history major, was it any different for someone in our generation? I do not think so.).

      You are really on the mark with your questions! My problem is that sometimes I can type and listen at the same time, but other times, I have to listen to the podcast to get to the full meaning of the show. Today, I must have been in deep concentration so that I didn’t hear the guest speaking about the industrial revolution.

      • Ellen Dibble

        Hi, Tina. Glad to see you weighing in on this. By the way, I heard Goldfield on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air today too, unless it was a rebroadcast. It was from WBUR but kept getting net-blocked.
        I know what you mean about trouble searching the thread with the new system. I try to use distinctive words in a post so I can search it and responses to it quick. Voila. (Try that.)
        It seems important for a critical mass of us to move from the mythology that children learn to a broader understanding of history, especially since so many Americans are selectively relying on history to justify questionable approaches to what is in fact a complex current situation. I was glad to hear Tom say that he hoped Goldfield will be on OnPoint again as further commemorations hit the calendar. Meanwhile I plan to buy this book.

      • Guest

        The Brown University report is emblematic of what is wrong with history studies. I am trained as a physicist. We have a theory and try to falsify it to make sure that our theory can explain all the facts not just some of the facts. History has become like arguments in legal cases. Start with your story and then selectively groom certain facts that support your story and ignore the facts that would falsify your story. To suggest, as that report does, that the North was a slave based economy is a very selective, at best, reading of the totality of facts. Further, to suggest, as that report does, that slavery was also widely established in the North is statistically unsustainable as a argument, unless one incorporates indentured servitude and even then it is a wild stretch. Then to listen to this idiot this morning ….
        I have to avoid historians they give me heartburn.

  • Pat

    I find it very strange that if I burned an American flag to protest our involvement in the Middle East just about anywhere in South Carolina today I would be risking arrest or bodily injury, while at the same time they celebrate firing cannons at it. The celebration of the rebel battle flag, aside from its effect on African Americans, is an insult to the Constitution and every US soldier who has died since the Civil War.

    • Tina

      Well said! And, yes, the mere fact that so many southerners still have NO REGARD for the effect of their remarks on African-Americans is STUNNING: hit-yourself-on-the-side-of-your-head stunning!

    • Incarau

      That the reason why the one’s that incite to go to war, instead of diplomacy and talking like gentlemen, will have to repent of their crimes. And finally stop glorifying and celebration of War, for once and all.

    • Spectacular

      The South was pulled back into the Union against their will. What do you expect them to feel? Gratitude? They wanted to leave the Union. They didn’t like the Constitution. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Why is it that you expect an unwilling participant to give a darn?

  • Ellen Dibble

    If whites wanted slave-free states out west where settlers were going because they didn’t want the competition for jobs — oh, shades of immigration arguments today — how did that play in the north?

  • Alan Shulman, NH

    Bible or not, slavery was and is an unmitigated evil. But what about just letting the South go its way. I think a lot has been lost, and a great deal of cost paid, when we took the South back into the Union.

  • roymerritt19@gmail.com

    Regrettably I think the nation is now on the verge of a new civil war coming about. A civil war that would make the carnage of the last one look like a romp in the park. This new civil however would be more akin to the Bolshevik Revolution that took place in Russia and led to the creation of the vile form of government they instituted. The Republican Party, rabid right wingers to be sure and possessing a mindset that is reminiscent of the Tsarist have put themselves ironically in the position of the Bolsheviks bent on the destruction of the nation as we know it and intent on legalizing the wretched domination of the citizenry by oligarchs. I have no doubt whatsoever that should they realize such a scenario we would have an American type of Cheka roaming the countryside bent on the elimination of counter revolutionaries. They have however, as far as I see it, miscalculated the true nature of the American people and would never succeed in their desire to turn us all into slaves. I pray my assumption is correct. For if we should ever see such a revolution we and the entire world would sink into the abyss.

    Roy Merritt
    Wilmington, NC

  • George

    It would be interesting to discuss the Civil War within the context of “colonialism” – i.e. the south had a colonial style system within which it created raw materials which were shipped out and returned to the South in finished form to be purchased by the handful of Southerners who could afford them. Thoughts?

    • Anonymous

      Substitute “feudalism” for “colonialism,” and the point is stronger. The Southern economic system was outmoded even before it started here.

  • Anonymous

    Goldfield is right in one sense. Slavery would have died out. The soil of the coastal areas were already exhausted by cotton, and the growing of cotton was moving farther and farther west, but past the Mississippi region of Arkansas, the land isn’t good for growing cotton.

  • Child of the jim crow south.

    The south has a veneer of hypocrisy; and beneath the veneer is the deeper mother-lode of hypocrisy.

  • Ellen Dibble

    There is some irony that we see liberating slaves as the great achievement of the Civil War and yet I can remember quite clearly in the 1950s that northerners viewed black people as “different.” And that attitude of blacks being different was also quite evident in the South. Apparently one can’t back out of that attitude in a few generations. I recall a great grandmother whose father was a captain for the north, out of Illinois, and it shaped her life, and was seen as a moral triumph. But did she therefore view ex-slaves the way 21st century people would condone? I actually don’t think she ever said.

  • Rachel

    I am curious about the role of women in the civil war, specifically Southern women. I wonder how the role of women affected the propaganda of the war and how the civil war affected the role of southern women? How many southern women were killed or raped in the civil war?

    • Guest

      The is a book called “War Crimes against Southern Civilians” by Walter Brian Cisco that you might find helpful in your seach.

  • Steve Lile

    Did the North consider a “buy-out” proposal whereby the North compensates slave owners. it would seem that a buy-out would have been less costly than war.

    • Rolwell

      Spending 4 billion dollars to free 4 million slaves at $1000 each (avg. price in 1860) would certainly have been cheaper than the civil war (which cost > 6 billion) not to mention sparing all the bloodshed. But 4 billion was approximately the entire GDP in 1860, and fifty times the annual federal budget. Moreover, militant pro-slavery, southerners would have certainly refused such an offer as they argued that slavery was “ordained of God.”

  • H Loeffler

    Thanks to your guest. Did not the Emancipation Proclamation an opportunistic political mechanism that Lincoln employeed to help further the North’s involvement in the CW? I mention this as it would seem to be in keeping with your guests treatise that the North’s mind re race and slavery was, while different, wasn’t that far apart.
    Also, I am reminded of Gilpin Faust’s book “This Republic of Suffering” in the residua of the CW. I am from Lexington KY where we had Cheapside Slave market. We are still very much dealing with this residua.

  • victoria

    The political leaders of the South knew and acknowledged at the time that secession and the ensuing war were about slavery – the state’s rights to keep and spread slavery. South Carolinians are now saying it was about states’ rights and wanting to be ‘left in peace’. But Confederate VP Stevens wanted not only the South to remain slave-holding, but to be able to spread slavery throughout the western territories, Mexico, the Carribean, Central and South America. And he felt righteous in saying so, justified by both the Bible and the Founding Fathers. And Justice Taney had upheld the view as law thast slavery could not constitutionally be outlawed anywhere.
    Had the nation reached a compromise early in the Civil War, slavery would have continued. Copperheads in the North wanted peace at any price and would have ceded the lives of four million slaves and their offspring in perpetuity to achieve peace. Instead, we fought and 620 thousand died. It was brutal, ghastly, horrific. But in the course of the war, the North came from fighting secession to fighting slavery. The reconstruction fiasco of Johnson cannot be used to criticize Lincoln’s aims or achievements, or those of the millions who thrashed out and extirpated America’s greatest, most brutal, most horrific evil – slavery.
    People will quote Lincoln’s early speeches saying he was not supporting the abolition of salvery, but must understand the tightrope he walked as he gradually led his own conscience and that of the nation to reason and modernity.

    • Incarau

      But still Americans have the hidden desire to love war, but they don’t want to make it public. Still Americans Soldiers kill millions of innocents lives, women, children, and destruction of property, etc, etc. Claiming collateral damage. Today, 6 trillion dollars, the budget for the military and security, 50% of the total budget of the most powerful Nation on earth. Caused mainly for the praising of soldiers deployed all over the World , treated like Heroes. If anybody try to tell the truth about the killing abroad, is called anti-American, traitors, etc. Billions spent in The War, while Americans children suffer hunger and Seniors suffering poverty and sickness. What does it tell you these facts? Shamefully. Uncivilized, and Inhuman and Evil.

  • Sarahb

    I just heard David Goldfield state a fact about the cost of the war by both sides, versus the cost of buying the slaves, compensating the slave-owners, giving start-up money to the slaves, etc. Could you post these numbers on the On Point site? I found it to be very powerful and thought-provoking. Thank you.

  • Betsy

    I am looking forward to reading Professor Goldfield’s book. My great grandfather was a Confederate soldier from rural eastern North Carolina who was released from a Union prison to die when he had smallpox. He was a teenager, and this was near the end of the war. Amazingly, he survived living outdoors and bit by bit he mustered the strength to walk home I have often wondered about the details of his experience and the direct impact it had on my grandfather and my father. I think we tend to look at this war in a distilled and ideological way; I imagine much of what happened was an ongoing spiral of hatred and retribution for what happened to (a) loved one(s) in this horrible sad war. I wonder about who we lost on both sides and the contributions they could have made had they survived and/or not been so damaged/traumatized. I also wonder about how much hatred violence, and abuse has been passed down through the generations.

    I absolutely believe that slavery is and was morally wrong – I only wish we would have found another way to make the necessary change. I am also profoundly interested in the history about the influence of evangelical Christianity in propelling the hatred of the “other”. I think this may provide us some insight into what is going on today in our ongoing political environment — AND insight into what drives radial Islamic terrorist belief systems and behaviors…. Just a thought.
    I grew up in Virginia, played in old earthworks on my maternal grandparents’ farm in Manassas, VA…. like I said, I am looking forward to reading this book.

  • Rolwell

    The idea that slavery had reached its “natural limits” by 1860 and if left alone would have eventually died out – without a civil war – is eighty years old, and wrongheaded – slave plantations could obviously have thrived in California (if voted in by a southern dominated state legislature) but also in the gold and silver mines of Nevada and Colorado (slave mining was big business in Brazil). I think the civil war and emancipation came in very the nick of time, before slavery could expand across the west. Moreover, the “natural limits” argument makes saving the lives of 600,000 whites over that of 5 million blacks who would have remained enslaved for another century or so, while slavery “gradually” and peacefully died out.

  • SC dweller

    i am American of African descent. often during my life in the South, i have heard the refrains and declarations from white southerners defending the confederacy, the conferderate flag, the legitimacy of the civil war and how the defeat of the secession was and abomination to a way of life “condoned by God himself”. (a man actually said this to me)among them are: “my ancesters didn’t own slaves..”; “i’ve never owned slaves…”; “life wasn’t so bad for y’all…”; “it’s about heritage not hate”; “i ain’t gonna never forget”.

    i personally don’t view then Northerners on much higher moral ground. emancipation seemed more of a tool for victory than the righting of wrong to the whole of humanity. i’m sorry i’ve found your program late today but i’d like to know from some of the callers & commenters who seem to defend the “way of life” in the then South, if they believe that slavery was just? if not, when and how would they have ended slavery? if your heritage is truly as beloved as claimed, why not defend it vigorously from every front, including those who be-lie that honor to heritage and use it to intimidate and spread hate? that voice is seldom heard.

  • Beardad

    I look forward to reading Professor Goldfield’s book. I heard excerpts of the OnPoint show this A.M. while driving, so perhaps I only heard part of his thesis. Still, I believe the Civil War was our second most necessarry war, second only to World War Two. Admittedly, the North initially fought as an attempt to preserve the Union. After Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, the purpose changed and it was clear that a Northern victory would also end slavery. Though many Southerners were fighting for “states’ rights”, the greatest difference between the states was the attempt of the South to preserve slavery. Lincoln even made clear early in the war that he wanted to limit slavery’s expansion, and was willing to leave it alone where it existed. Yet, the
    Southern states did not even see fit to have Lincoln on the Presidential ballot. It is clear that Lincoln’s thinking evolved as the slaughter continued. The average Southerner did not own slaves, but was willing to fight to perpetuate the system. As Shelby Foote said in Ken Burns’ magnificent series of a Southern soldier, “We are fighting because you Yanks are down here”. I wish it had been possible to avoid this war,but I don’t see it as possible. Without it, the end of slavery was many years in the future, and I don’t think the consensus to pass the “radical” 14th Amendment would have been possible.

  • MKB in Ojai CA

    I appreciate the author’s reflection on the possibilities of avoiding war to resolve the issues. I agree that the civil war is our greatest failure because it abandoned the democratic principles of working things out without war. I would like to see the same amount of resources spent on peace as is spent on maintaining war.

  • Pissedoff Westerner

    This is such ancient history. It’s downright shameful that some americans make it an ideological point to know more about “who” charged “what” hill with a musket 150 years ago than they do about which congressman was bribed by which industry to get a bailout last year.

    How many southerners can name 10 military leaders of the civil war? How many southerners can name 10 members of today’s congress?
    How many southerners know that more americans die every year from preventable heart disease than died in the entire civil war?

    Yet southerners still obsess over the civil war and deepfried candybars.

    Sorry southrons, the hard fact is that you have to mow your own lawn and can’t buy/sell your gardener anymore. Get over it. Stop being lazy and wishful for a past where you didn’t have to do the hard and boring work of daily life. And for godsakes throw out the deepfryer and buy some freakin fruits and veggies.

    • Guest

      a lil stereotypical don’t you think? Would we like to go into the North’s xenophobia? or the West’s treatment of the Chinese or Irish? Geez people are people regardless of the color of their skin or their faith. I wouldn’t throw stones if I were you.

      • Pissedoff Westerner

        The last time I checked, the Irish and Chinese paid money to come here and were in turn paid to do their dangerous labor. That is a far far cry from Slave Ships & Slavery.

        People may be people regardless of skin color (as you ironically pointed out), but some of us work all day in buildings and others fly planes into them. Some of us fight and die for the ideal of freedom and equality, and some of us long for the days when labor was free and some people could be traded like cattle.

  • Baldy

    In 2011 we fight the wrong battles! The NAACP fights over the battle flag, schools can’t play Dixie, etc. I had many ancesters in the Confederate army and I grew up in a very segreated society in South Carolina in the 40′s and 50′s. By the mid 60′s I understood that the segragated society was very wrong. I have many black friends now but I am deeply disturbed by the political correctness that says that my ancestors were terrorists. (The president of the NCAA said that) How can we apply 2011 values to the 1800′s? MY ancestors were not evil people, they grew up at a different time in a different society.

    • Angelique

      Then perhaps we should drop the politically correct excusing of the Confederacy by calling them what they were: traitors.

      • Spectacular

        Then we should call the Union what it is: The Mafia.

  • Joseph

    To those who wonder why such things as denigrating the role of slavery in the cause of the Civil War, questioning why display of the Confederate battle flag or celebration of the Confederacy as a noble cause and Confederate leaders and soldiers as heroes causes such outrage, especially among blacks consider this. If Germans, born after WWII, were to proudly fly the swastika and celebrate Nazi German leaders and soldiers and claim: “That they are just showing pride in the heritage. People should stop harping on the negative started WWII and Holocaust aspects.,” how much sympathy would they have from Jews, or even from Americans? Yes, people descended from Confederate participants want to feel pride in their background. But until such people are willing to suck it up and acknowledge that the Confederates were traitors fighting for an evil cause we will continue to still fight the Civil War.

  • Kirt Brown

    Correction. From what I have read. Slavery was not abolished at beginning of war. Even when it was abolished in some of the confederate states, as a military action by Lincoln it was still legal in the slave states that stayed in the Union. It was still being compromised on at the beginning of the war. Lincoln was looking for a way to end it peacefully. Kirt Brown

  • Pumpkinsnthings

    One of the biggest ironies of the civil war is that the Democratic Party which started the Klu Klux Klan is now considered the party of choice for minorities and the Republican Party which ultimately held responsibility for releasing slaves has become mostly a non-choice for minorities. I often wonder if black americans realize what the base of the Democratic Party was.
    Also, my grandfather’s grandfather road with Merrill’s Raiders fighting for the Union the gorilla war in Missouri and later guarded trains from Chattanooga to Atlanta. I have never been able to find a movie about these men.

    • Angelique

      Why is this ironic? The GOP of today doesn’t resemble the GOP of 20 years ago, after all.

      Evolution happens.

    • Joseph

      This reversal dates back to FDR. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (something he had helped push through) he stated: “We have lost the South for a generation.” By 1968 Nixon used the ‘Southern Strategy’ to get himself elected.

    • serendipity

      I believe that many people who are Democrats today would have been Republicans 150 years ago — and vice versa. Party ideology and each party’s key issues/causes were shifting during the first “gilded age.” The 20th Century brought many other dramatic events that explain why each party attracted different people that formerly would have been across the aisle — the New Deal as a response to the great depression was certainly significant, and of course the Civil Rights legisation and the GOPs subsequent “southern strategy” created major changes in party affiliation. If you look at elected officials today who have affiliations with the KKK, you will find an “R” next to most of their names. It isn’t really the past that matters in terms of party affiliation, it’s what each party espouses today.

  • guest

    Has anyone here even actually read the Emancipation Proclaimation? No where in it does it really free the slaves, it wasn’t until the 13th amendment that slavery was abolished. The proclaimation simply freed slaves in rebelling states (which wouldn’t recognize the united states’s legislation anyway) and didn’t free them in border states like Missouri or Kentucky. People simply believe what they are told from grade school on, but that is very normal- To the victor goes the story afterall. :)

    • Me

      It changed the purpose of the war.

  • Anonymous

    On a topic on which Tom himself remarks that there is such a diverse range of views, it is odd that the show (for which I have only the greatest of admiration) chose to have only one commentator, breaking from its usual format when the topic is a subject of interest and not a particular person him- or herself. Since the sesquicentennials of the War will of course be occurring for much of the upcoming four years, though, I assume there will be plenty of opportunity to add to the show’s treatment.

  • Tina

    Experimenting with this Comment Box

    • Tina

      Sorry. I just had to check something.

  • CK

    As a longtime listener, I was totally appalled by this episode. It reeked of Lost-Causerism, and I’m astonished that a program like On Point, which usually does its homework, permitted Prof. Goldfield to peddle this trash unchallenged. A reputable Civil War historian, such as James McPherson or David Blight, would have quickly put these theories to bed. A few points I wish I’d heard Tom Ashbrook make:

    1) The South was a slave society not just in economic terms, but in its social ideology. White supremacy was the defining characteristic of Southern social life, a belief that undergirded all elements of this highly stratified society. It is certainly naive to believe that Southern slaveholders would have accepted the economic consequences of black emancipation; but to believe that such a viciously racist society would have accepted black free labor, and the political and social implications of emancipation, passes all credence. Compromise only seems plausible in hindsight if you ignore the integral role of white supremacy in Souther society — a very dangerous game of denial.

    2) The 14th Amendment, from which ALL progress in civil rights has flowed, was the result of political radicalization. There is simply no way, none whatsoever, that this amendment would have been made except in the aftermath of the war. Remember, the US Congress that passed the amendment in 1866 lacked basically any Southern representation. And the amendment only achieved ratification by 2/3 of the states because ratification was a condition for former Confederate states to rejoin the union.

    3) Does Prof. Goldfield have anything to say about the 3 MILLION enslaved Americans who were freed from slavery, or who freed themselves as the result of “American’s greatest failure?” Goldfield is preoccupied with the “650,000 young men, the misery of their families and friends left to mourn their loss, the destruction of homes and personal property, the uprooting of households, and the scenes of war haunting those who managed to live through it.” In other words: he mourns the white experience of the war, and the war’s consequences for white Americans. If these people would have preferred Goldfield’s putative “compromise,” I really wonder if the millions of enslaved Americans would have concurred.

    On Point should be ashamed to have published Goldfield’s radical views with so little probing. Shame on you.

    • r22r

      I find it ironic that the South’s first Paladin was a catholic… and later a worked, as a member of the Reform party to support civil rights (including the vote) for the temporarily freed blacks. PTC Beauregard, also commissioned and pushed for the Confederate flag (with it’s not too Xsy St. Andrew’s saltire).
      How much of the above appears in Goldfield’s poorly written book?

  • http://chainreading.com/profile/baiskeli Baiskeli

    As a long time listener and supporter of NPR, this was a totally appalling episode, and I would have expected more from NPR.
    This is the Lost Cause dressed up in the trappings of scholarship.

    The Civil War was about one thing and one thing only, Slavery. No Slavery, no Civil War. The Southern States were very clear on this, all you have to do is read their articles of Secession.

    A few excerpts

    South Carolina

    We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
    A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.


    Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

    I could go on and on.

    Given these primary documents, given the excellent scholarship that has totally disproven the States Rights argument and have proven time and time again that the only States Right the South was fighting for was the right to own other humans as chattel (i.e. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, the countless bloggers and journalists who’ve tackled this topic (i.e. Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic, Kevin Levine at http://cwmemory.com/, Andy Hall at http://deadconfederates.wordpress.com/), why did NPR make the decision to bring on a guest who is pushing a new angle on an often disgraced and discredited argument.

    I would have expected better of any news organization, and even more of NPR.

    Kudos, the Sons of Confederate Veterans could hardly have wished for more from this episode.

    • Fbouknight

      What is missing here is the American view of Africians at this time. Almost all Americans thought Africians inferior. North and South. The north cared little about salvery. The south cared a lot. Is was a political not a moral war. Which section would have the most power. Slaves were pawns. Very few cared what happened to them. Sad but trur.

  • roymerritt19@gmail.com

    I must confess I made my comment yesterday prior to its being available to be heard. Having listened to most of it I believe the professor gave a very cogent and thoughtful expression of what the civil war was and the various reasons it became reality beyond the underlying cause which was indeed slavery. In the end it was this fact that ultimately meant it was inevitable. Passions ran deep on either side and in the end the only truly reasonable man was Lincoln. A divided continental country this vast with family ties on either side of the border could not have avoided conflict. Then came the caller who evidently lived in Alabama and was abhorred by the seeming southern preoccupation with the war. It often distresses me to witness such things, but he must remember southern culture itself was born out of abject poverty. Country and western music celebrates the eternal struggle most southerners must endure throughout a life of back breaking work to survive. Is it any wonder most have no time for intellectual pursuit and will spend any leisure time they are afforded in pursuit of a little pleasure out of life. But these pursuits have been corrupted by a culture that only feeds this delusional hedonism. By the nature of it such a culture will for the most part produce irrational thought to the extreme. A culture that allows a forum for lunacy as if it is relevant to the argument is giving the keys to the inmates. You would be in error however to presume that all southerners are boorish loud mouth racists. I am a resident of North Carolina which has most times after awakening from its backwardness become one of the most progressive of the southern states. We have produced many progressive Democrats such as Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, Howard Lee.
    Unfortunately we have also produced such unethical types as Jesse Helms, and alas a man I had once had high hopes for John Edwards. I must remind the caller also that many of the most fanatical tea party
    politicians on the national scene hail way beyond the Mason Dixon line.
    Michele Bachman comes to mind. The drive to utterly destroy public sector unions was born in Madison, Wisconsin. Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin. It’s not the racism that still thrives in the minds of many southerners that is the problem. Racism is not a phenomenon known only to this part of the world, racism is universal. The real problem is with a capitalist system that dismisses humanity as simply a consumer and beyond that he is of little use and deserves nothing regardless that which he may encounter even if it should be injustice. It is also my belief that the southern nature is at heart ethnic in origin. I would wager most white male southerners as I am are descended from the Scots Irish that settled in Appalachia and these more coastal regions of the south. We are descended from highland Scots who embraced Protestantism and in service to the royal crown went to Ulster to oppress the Catholics. Many eventually with other Irish made their way to America. The Catholics settled in the north and the Protestants in the south. Both in their own way affected the nation either for good or bad. The combative nature of my descendants and my contemporaries, myself included has been realized more times than I care to remember. Many of us though, have military backgrounds which was not only a route of escape from the poverty of the south but also a way to channel this aggressive nature. This seeming determination is not really born from just a stubborn nature however, but is I believe one born out of a life of repression in an environment that at times produces a heat and a humidity that could lead one to think they entered into Hades at birth. Wrapping every one in the south in a collective ball of racism is ludicrous at best and at worst destructive.

    Roy Merritt
    Wilmington, NC

  • Paolo

    The Civil War was a victory for Indians !!!!

    Think about it, 650,000 US soldiers killed, and another 1 million or so maimed. And this, while the genocide of hundreds of thousands of native americans was still going on. Do you think the Cherokee should feel sorrow. Not at all. I might imagine, ALL Native Americans were cheering for BOTH SIDES AT ONCE. Go Blue… Go Grey !!!!

    And now, Native Americans are engaged in their final victory as Mexican and other Central American immigrants take over huge regions and cities in the USA. Ah yeah, they are Native Americans. They are winning again.

  • Paolo

    I can imagine that American Jews and others like Greeks are relieved that their largest immigration period came after the Civil War. I know we Italians wanted no part of that mess. I am quite happy to not have any civil war stories, nor killin Injun stories, to pass on to my grandchildren. I’ll leave that for real “merikans” to pass on to their kin folk.

    Emancipation could have been achieved with less violent methods.

    The numbers of Italians in the Civil War were in the hundreds, and I read about some Jewish officers in the Confederacy. Many merchants in the north were jewish and even some slave owners and the south.
    And how bout that San Patricio brigade… good for them.

    Even Italians in the Indian wars, out of the hundreds of soldiers under General Custer, there were 6 Italians… and they were all among the few survivors. Go figure.

  • Camus

    The brunt of the suffering in the Civil War was borne by people of common or less than common means, as it is in all wars. One of the best ways of honoring those sacrifices is by understanding and appreciating how ordinary people on both sides suffered and bled because of the country’s failure to live up to its values. I refer not only to the value of equality, but also to Enlightenment principles of rational governance and political discourse. Who among those 650,000 dead might have had a better solution had he lived?

    Prof. Goldfield’s book presents us with an understanding of how the country gave itself over to evangelical passions that could only be quenched through violence, soon but too late regretted. I thank him for writing it.

    I also recommend a novel titled Casualties by David Rothstein. It is a particularly vivid and moving account of the war as it was experienced on both sides by those who fought it and those at home who prayed for their safe return.

  • Camus

    The brunt of the suffering in the Civil War was borne by people of common or less than common means, as it is in all wars. One of the best ways of honoring those sacrifices is by understanding and appreciating how ordinary people on both sides suffered and bled because of the country’s failure to live up to its values. I refer not only to the value of equality, but also to Enlightenment principles of rational governance and political discourse. Who among those 650,000 dead might have had a better solution had he lived?

    Prof. Goldfield’s book presents us with an understanding of how the country gave itself over to evangelical passions that could only be quenched through violence, soon but too late regretted. I thank him for writing it.

    I also recommend a novel titled Casualties by David Rothstein. It is a particularly vivid and moving account of the war as it was experienced on both sides by those who fought it and those at home who prayed for their safe return.

  • Kline

    One thing that bothers me with books like this is that it is pondering the impossible. The War Between the States *was*; my grand-grandfather fought with Grant at Shiloh and was wounded. Both his life-long disability and the War were reality; no amount of counter-argumentation will change what happened. Among our duties to the millions who suffered is to make both present and future the best it can be made.

  • JY

    First, “On point” really failed to properly commemorate the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War by inviting only one guest with such misguided view. The anniversary at least deserves a panel. About the author, in order to advance his troubled argument, he completely avoided the discussion of the southerners’ culpabilities in causing the war, esp. their role in the failures of 1820 and 1850 compromises. He picked and chooses facts and took quotes out of contexts. If someone want to justify the cause, at least do it properly.

  • Jambacher

    I too am disheartened by the author’s conclusions. Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, southern leaders stated in no uncertain terms that the impending conflict was about preserving the institution of slavery at all costs. The war was indeed necessary for without it we would living in two countries–one slave the other free. I am proud to claim that my great grandfather fought to make us free.

  • Jon Erik Larson

    Charles B. Dew, a Southerner, and James McPherson (a graduate of my alma mater Gustavus Adolphus College), a Northerner, clearly have proved that there was one and only one cause of the Civil War, namely, the fear of the slave-owning states that, somehow, despite the Dred Scott Decision, the United States Government would prevent the extension of slavery.

    Boy oh boy, Tom, you, a Northerner from my own section of Illinois, choose to have someone who is so far out of the intellectual (as opposed to the popular) mainstream on your show on the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion (yes, the Southerners who fought against the Federal Government, who stacked the Supreme Court, who got the Dred Scott Decision, were honest to goodness traitors).

    So, why do you not ask someone who actually looks as the facts. David Goldfield is an apologist.

    I do not know about you, Tom, but I have at least two relatives buried in McLean County, Illinois.

    So, David Goldfield says that the soldiers did not have the depth of conviction? He clearly has not read anything ever written by James McPherson and, furthermore, he knows nothing at all about the members of my extended family, who evacuated the South in the 1850s to go to Iowa because they did not want to be in slave-owning states. And, all of those who left the South who could fight did fight.

    So, please do do another show on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, but please do not interview an idiot like this guy next time. Have a panel. If your research staff had done any work at all, they would have known that this guy was completely marginal.

    So, the racism of our grandparents (yours and mine, Tom, in McLean County, Illinois) justifies this idiot’s view? Why on earth is this intellectual lightweight on your show?

    He (a) does not know the facts and (b) is a complete apologist.

  • Pagie s.

    if today is june 22 2011 and you say 150 years have passed since apirl 12 1861, then what will the date be if 500 years passed instead of 150? What will the date be then? I need answers to the very inmportant questions so please help me. i must get the answers, i have been on over 20 diffrent websites and this is the only one with this type of information so please help me out with this.     ?   .   ?

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One outspoken fan’s reluctant manifesto against football, and the big push to reform the game.

Sep 1, 2014
This Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 photo shows a mural in in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago dedicated to the history of the Pullman railcar company and the significance for its place in revolutionizing the railroad industry and its contributions to the African-American labor movement. (AP)

On Labor Day, we’ll check in on the American labor force, with labor activist Van Jones, and more.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: August 29, 2014
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

On hypothetical questions, Beyoncé and the unending flow of social media.

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Drew Bledsoe Is Scoring Touchdowns (In The Vineyards)
Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

Football great — and vineyard owner — Drew Bledsoe talks wine, onions and the weird way they intersect sometimes in Walla Walla, Washington.

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Poutine Whoppers? Why Burger King Is Bailing Out For Canada
Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014

Why is Burger King buying a Canadian coffee and doughnut chain? (We’ll give you a hint: tax rates).

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