One hundred fifty years ago, the American Civil War ended. The four years of battle that raged between April 12, 1861 and June 2, 1865 was the culmination of social, economic, and philosophic differences that had been simmering amongst the citizens of our nation since its inception, some eighty years prior.
Most historians agree that the cornerstone of division was the issue of slavery, but to a large degree, the reasons for the war were far more complex than that. The belief that the Union (North) comprised the noble, non-bigoted, “good guys,” fighting to end slavery, while the Confederacy (South), were the “oppressive slave owners,” fighting to preserve an abhorrent institution, is an inaccurate, overly-simplistic view of the war and the events leading to it. Unfortunately however, most Americans’ knowledge of the Civil War begins and ends with just that level of understanding.
For many, the Civil War is simply ancient history, having little or no significance to life in America today—but that too would be inaccurate. So, this month, in a superb feature beginning on page twenty-two, our own Lexi Greenberg—a bona fide Civil War enthusiast—does her best to entice you to want to learn more about it.
As recent racial tensions attest, in many ways, the cauldron of discord in America that led up to the Civil War still simmers, and the wounds inflicted on our nation have not fully healed. We owe it to the thousands who lost their lives on both sides of the conflict, as well as to future generations, to gain a better, more accurate understanding of how and why the Civil War occurred, and how it still affects us, today.