Stop Mindlessly Glorifying the Civil War

Tony Horwitz looks at the historians challenging our rose-colored recollections
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2013 11:24 AM CDT
Stop Mindlessly Glorifying the Civil War
Confederate troops fire the first shots as they charge against the Union Army during a three-day reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa.   (AP Photo/Paul Vathis)

We're coming up on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and odds are we'll hear a lot about heroism and that famed address, Tony Horwitz writes at the Atlantic—and almost nothing about the "unromantic slaughter" in places like Iverson's Pits, where soldiers described being "sprayed by the brains" of troops in front of them. "The Civil War today is generally seen as a necessary and ennobling sacrifice, redeemed by the liberation of four million slaves," Horwitz writes. But recent historians are daring to ask: "Should we consecrate a war that killed and maimed over a million Americans?"

These historians argue that we need to weigh the full horrors of the war—which killed more of our citizens than all other American wars combined. The South nearly won, or, at least, came close to getting the North to give up, raising "the very real possibility that many thousands of Americans might have died only to entrench secession and slavery." And there's a lesson to be learned, today, from Iraq and Afghanistan, which "remind us, yet again, that the aftermath of war matters as much as its initial outcome." Pan out to 1870, when the North abandoned Reconstruction, or to the Jim Crow South, and "the story of the Civil War isn't quite so uplifting. … In some respects, the struggle for racial justice, and for national cohesion, continues still." Click for his full piece. (More civil war stories.)

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