On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the United States in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln and his anti-slavery politics. Other states followed to form the Confederate States of America, and, on April 12, 1861, the Civil War officially began when Confederate forces fired on a U.S. fort in Charleston Harbor. Thus began a struggle to preserve the Union. The war would last until April 1865 and cost the lives of over 600,000 soldiers.
The U.S. continues to feel the effects of this historical moment. In looking back, Americans are confronted with the racism and oppression in the nation’s past–but also in its present. Conflict still swirls over the true meaning of the war, about whether it can be defined as being about states’ rights or if such a definition ignores the uglier truth about slavey, about what it means to fly a Confederate flag, about how Americans see themselves in light of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his appeal to preserve one of the world’s great political experiments.
This week, Pages Unbound explores some of the literature dealing with this defining moment of American history. From Yankee spies to international politics to Lincoln at Gettysburg, we take a look at the ways in which Americans continue to interpret and reinterpret themselves through the past.
did you know?
- Though Robert E. Lee surrendered his army in April 1865, the last Confederate ship didn’t surrender until November of that year. The CSS Shenandoah was raiding whaling ships and didn’t hear of the various army surrenders until later in the year.
- The Confederacy counted Missouri and Kentucky as members, even though they never officially seceded.
- West Virginia formed as a state by breaking away from Virginia when that state seceded from the Union.
- The Civil War was one of the first wars to be photographed, changing the way those on the home front understood battle.
Eager to learn more about history? Join us this week! But before then, check out some of our past features below.
- Mercy Street Review (PBS’s Civil War nursing drama)
- Shiloh by Shelby Foote
- If You Like the American Civil War, Then Read…