Online Work

Online Etymology Dictionary
The Sciolist
Slavery in the North
Civil War Writing

Civil War Causes

It's often said that the American Civil War was entirely and only about slavery. Is there another view?

Yankee Canards
Was the ante-bellum South a primitive, backwards, illiterate, violent culture?

Numbers and significance of the Southern mulatto population

Northern Racism
De Tocqueville observed that "race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known"

Slavery as History
How can you make an honest inquiry into American slavery without understanding the mindset of slave-owners? How can you do that without being yourself a racist?

Rebel View
Early 19th century American politics and political culture as it was seen by many Southerners

Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest writer in American political history. Writers are great, in part, because of their ability to disguise what they really intend.

Lincoln and Race
"You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races."

Thaddeus Stevens
The life and times of Pennsylvania's fiery anti-Southern Congressman

Sidelights on Christiana
The Christiana Riot of 1851 is sometimes described at the first skirmish of the Civil War

1860 Election
Even if all the Democrats had united behind one candidate, the Northern regional ticket would have won

The wire-pulling over the Morrill tariff bill in 1860 showed the party of the abolitionists cynically using a legitimate government mechanism to gain power in a presidential election.

Legal Issues
Secession was legal under the Constitution, based on its ratification by the states in 1787 and 1788

Cornerstone Speech
Alexander Stephens "Cornerstone Speech" in context.

Upper South
"States rights" is dismissed as a red herring argument, yet the Upper South states seem to have left the Union for this reason.

What Cost Union?
Lincoln saved the union, but at a terrible cost to America's democracy and culture of freedom.


Up from History
The evolving historical view of the American Civil War.

Soldiers and War
Responding to the slander against Southern military effort.

Why the South Lost
Was Northern victory inevitable?

War Effort
The South put forth a tremendous effort for independence.

The Southern Press
Journalism and Southern civil liberties.

An examination of the myth of massive Southern desertion.

A Closer Look
Desertion by the numbers; case studies North and South.

Ella Lonn
The original study of desertion in the Civil War.

Southern conscription was the first attempt to create a modern military system.

Draft of 1862
An overlooked draft in the North that was underway almost simultaneously with the first rebel conscription.

Albert B. Moore
An important source for the "South against the South" thesis.

The Lincoln Administration's crackdown on Maryland.

Occupied Maryland
A sampling of federal documents dealing with martial law in Maryland.

Maryland Peace Party
A pamphlet from the anti-government forces in Maryland.

Habeas Corpus
The suspension of Habeas Corpus in the North by the Lincoln administration during the war.

A Northern newspaper editor fights the administration after it closes down his press in response to anti-government articles.

"Keystone Confederates"
Some Pennsylvanians fought for the South during the Civil War.


Southern Populists
"You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars you both."

Coatesville Lynching
Zach Walker was burned alive by a white mob in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

York Riots
A little-known but violent 1960s race riot in York, Pennsylvania.

New South
Slavery, racism, and segregation were national experiences.

New Lost Cause
A native-born Southern white woman worked with native-born Southerners, black and white, with a shared sense of decency, to accomplishing the work of desegregation in Mississippi.

Flag dispute
From 1879 to 1956, the Georgia state flag was essentially the "Stars and Bars." If you were going to link any state flag with slavery, that would be the one.

Jonathan Kozol
"So two-tenths of 1 percent marks the difference between legally enforced apartheid in the South 50 years ago, and socially and economically enforced apartheid in New York today"


sources consulted


In any war that goes on long enough -- which is probably "three months or more" -- camaraderie in the ranks becomes stronger than political consciousness or whatever else inspires men to go to war in the first place. With every battle and with every camp baseball game, these boys grow a cussed loyalty to the unit, the regiment, the company.

As they grow closer to each other, in the mad world of war, they grow more remote from everything else. The march of Xenophon's 10,000 is the ultimate army story. They stick together. They evolve their own morality, and they hold to it. A few get killed. But they know that if they don't work together they all get killed. It doesn't matter how they got into this war -- it's not their war, anyhow.

No one at home understands what they are going through. Robert Graves, a young Welsh officer shot up in the trenches in World War I and sent home to heal, wrote, "England looked strange to us returned soldiers. We could not understand the war madness that ran about everywhere, looking for a pseudo-military outlet. The civilians talked a foreign language, and it was newspaper language. I found serious conversation with my parents all but impossible." He could have stayed safe at home, but he begged the army to send him back to the front, not so he could kill Germans, but so he could be back with the men he felt needed him.

You could probably get warriors from centuries ago to sign on to the Vietnam soldiers' mantra: "We the unwilling, led by the unknowing; doing the impossible, for the ungrateful."

Walt Whitman, who got to watch the war from close range, was a strong partisan for the North's cause. He as much as any man helped elevate Lincoln to sainthood in the national memory. And, like anyone who stood close enough to the war to really see it, he knew that "The grand soldiers are not comprised in those of one side any more than the other."

"At the War Department a few days ago I witnessed a presentation of captured flags to the Secretary. Among others, a soldier named Gant, of the 104th Ohio Volunteers, presented a Rebel battle flag, which one of the officers stated to me was borne to the mouth of our cannon and planted there by a boy but seventeen years of age, who actually endeavored to stop the muzzle of the gun with fence rails. He was killed in the effort, and the flagstaff was severed by a shot from one of our men ...."

To the men who fought under it, or against it, the Confederate battle flag wasn't a symbol of some abstract idea -- slavery or racism (a word not even invented in the 19th century) or some fine point of constitutional law. That was not their flag. Their flag was a square of real cotton, stained in real colors, that stood for nothing more than what this group of young men meant to one another. It was a square of cloth perforated by the same bullets that had punched through the bodies of their friends. That's the soldier's flag. It doesn't belong to the senator or the race baiter or the armchair historian or the war profiteer.

I remember reading about a veteran's encounter, long after the war, with an old chap who had once commanded a brigade in the Union's 2nd Corps -- Hancock's Corps. The old general pulled out a red flannel trefoil, the kind the 2nd Corps soldiers had worn on their caps, and said, "When I feel homesick and downhearted, I take this out and look at it, and it cheers me up."

I suspect the Northern soldiers, if any were alive to tell us, would vehemently agree that honor should be shown to the rebel fighting men. And that the flag that the Southern soldiers, living, upheld in battle should not be surrendered to ignorant, hateful, selfish people.

I think Whitman would agree, too:

"I am very warmly disposed toward the South; I must admit that my instinct of friendship towards the South is almost more than I like to confess. I have very dear friends there -- sacred, precious memories; the people there should be considered, even deferred to, instead of browbeaten. I feel sore, I feel some pain, almost indignation, when I think that yesterday keeps the old brutal idea of subjugation on top.

"I would be the last to confuse moral values -- to imagine the South impeccable. I don't condone the South, where it has gone wrong -- its Negro slavery, I don't condone that -- far from it -- I hate it. I have always said so, South and North; but there is another spirit dormant there which it must be the purpose of our civilization to bring forth; it cannot, it must not, be killed."

If that was true back before Reconstruction, when Whitman wrote it, I suspect it is still true.

2002Douglas Harper "When misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood." -Lionel Trilling