Do We Still Care About the Civil War: Chris Kolakowski

The cover story of the newest issue of Civil War Times asks, “Do we still care about the Civil War?” ECW is pleased to partner with Civil War Times to extend the conversation here on the blog.

Does the Civil War still matter? If you accept the premise that the conflict is America’s defining event, then absolutely it does.

In 2012 I gave this response in an interview in which I repeated my response to a question on a staff ride about the Civil War’s relevance to today:

The Civil War is the defining event in this country’s history – to fully appreciate today’s United States, we must understand the events of 1861-65. The war (and its outgrowths in the form of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments) forever changed this country and shaped it to this day. I also made the point that 5,000 Hispanics served on both sides in the war (including Admiral D.G. Farragut and Lt. Col. Julius Garesche, killed at Stones River), and that the liberation of African-Americans in the Civil War ensured the freedoms for all races and sexes that exist today. Every person in the United States is affected by the Civil War, directly or indirectly, every day— something that should be remembered. 

As an extension of the above, I’d note that while the nation was founded in 1776, it was in many ways re-founded in 1865. The Civil War’s end and resulting 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments reshaped the nation and established a political and social course with effects that Americans are still grappling with today. Details of this re-founding and its elements are in this post of mine from 2015.  

Lastly, the identity, and in many places the physical geography, of much of the country, especially the Southeastern United States, is heavily influenced by the war, its activities, and the memory thereof.

Does the Civil War still matter? Absolutely—and it will as long as the United States of America exists.

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6 Responses to Do We Still Care About the Civil War: Chris Kolakowski

  1. Tim Russo says:

    interesting point….”Lastly, the identity, and in many places the physical geography, of much of the country, especially the Southeastern United States, is heavily influenced by the war, its activities, and the memory thereof.”

    This reminds me of the Nov. 7, 1861 article in Die Presse by Marx – “In reality, if North and South formed two autonomous countries, like, for example, England and Hanover, their separation would be no more difficult than was the separation of England and Hanover. “The South,” however, is neither a territory closely sealed off from the North geographically, nor a moral unity. It is not a country at all, but a battle slogan.”

    The Civil War was America vs. capital, not North vs. South. America won. When historians finally awake from their “both sides” fairy tale, a fantasy about the war irredeemably poisoned by the Lost Cause, I’m confident interest in the war will once again be enormous, and far more beneficial to the country.

  2. John Pryor says:

    “America vs capital?” I love individuals who are so avid in their desire to paint every contrary opinion with the Lost Cause spray gun that they dwell in their own elaborate fantasy. Its as silly as those who would posit the Union was just overrun with abolitionists and Emersonian philosophers, bouncing empty Transcendental aphorisms off each other. The South to a great extent had more attributes of an independent polity than many areas that rose in revolt throughout history, however much we loathe its social system. And four years of brutal fighting clearly made it more than a “battle slogan.”

  3. Tim Russo says:

    Mr. Pryor,

    The self-contradictions in your comment are evident and constant, but one stands out. “And four years of brutal fighting clearly made it more than a “battle slogan.”” – Four years of fighting to preserve oligarchic profit from unpaid involuntary labor needs a battle slogan.

    Further, the Union was not clean handed, far from it. In fact, cotton from unpaid involuntary labor built perhaps a majority of the industry of America, including Wall Street. Rhode Island was the largest importer of slaves. Every cotton mill in New England owed its existence to slave harvested cotton. A “North South” construction of the Civil War leads one necessarily to these false conclusions, in particular, that the “North” was blameless. A profit vs. America construction is not just the correct description of the Civil War, it happens to be the most patriotic.

  4. Douglas Pauly says:

    I think Chris gives us a great and accurate synopsis of what the war means to this country..

  5. Pingback: Week In Review: September 30-October 6, 2019 | Emerging Civil War

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