In the Civil War, there were two sides with many names: the North and the South; the Union and the Confederacy; the winners and the losers. These sides were formed over years of territorial disputes, power struggles, and conflicts over their differing economies. Both sides, as is the way with conflicts, knew they were in the right. As we read about this
In the Civil War, there were two sides with many names: the North and the South; the Union and the Confederacy; the winners and the losers. These sides were formed over years of territorial disputes, power struggles, and conflicts over their differing economies. Both sides, as is the way with conflicts, knew they were in the right.
In the past, I had decided based on basic knowledge that there was a good side and a bad side. The North was good because they were fighting to end all slavery and free the blacks out of the goodness of their hearts. Their leader, Lincoln, was a hero because he made emancipation possible. The evil southerners shot him in the head because they cruelly wanted to keep their slaves in terrible conditions so they could sit on their porches and drink whiskey without a care in the world. These are the ideas (albeit rather exaggerated) that I learned to accept based on information from films, books, and teachers.
However, as we went through this unit, I was constantly reminded of how this war, like nearly every war I’ve ever learned about, is not so simple that it can be separated into good versus bad. Yes, the North fought for emancipation and the South fought to keep slaves, and yes, slavery is terribly inhumane, but there are so many layers to each side. For example, the North supported and fought for emancipation, but that part of the conflict was almost an afterthought. The real reason for the war was to stop the South from seceding from the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves from states that had not yet been conquered by the Union, so it was really more of an attempt to weaken those states and gain soldiers for the Union army than it was an act of goodness to free the slaves. The South had more than one reason for keeping slaves, one being that their economy depended on slavery. The North failed to offer them an alternative to slave labor or compensation for the losses they would surely suffer due to emancipation, so it is no wonder the South would not free their slaves without a fight.
Both sides had many aspects to their positions, and the war was over much more than the question of the morality of slavery. We cannot assume that either side was wholly right or wrong because to do so would be to project current values and opinions on past events. It is dangerous to assume that one side is the hero and the other the villain due to the irrefutable complexity of conflict.
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