History often seems closer in America than in Europe, and today, on the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, it certainly feels so.
Media is full of historical reflections; Ken Burns’ excellent TV series about the war has been replayed during the week; famous battles are re-enacted at the old battle fields throughout the South; and this week, Robert Redford’s movie, “The Conspirator,” about the assassination of President Lincoln, is opening.
The American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 was a war with many names, such the War Between the States, the War Against Northern Aggression, the Second American Revolution, the Lost Cause, The War of the Rebellion, the Brothers’ War. But regardless of name, it was a war about slavery, and it was bloody. During the four years of fighting, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox in Virginia, three million soldiers participated in the fighting and 620 000 were killed.
The free black population in the north was only one percent of its total population, but in the end of the war, 180,000 black soldiers fought for the Union – ten percent of all northern forces. Their victory was also the slaves’ victory, and America’s victory in the end, of course, even if the war eventually cost the life of Lincoln and if the blacks in the South had to wait and fight for another 100 years for their real emancipation.
When the northern commander Ulysses S. Grant met his counterpart on for the South, Robert E. Lee, at the surrender at Appomattox, Grant wrote the following memorable words:
“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”
…. one of the worst causes for which a people had ever fought…