Sunday, May 27, 2012

Civil War Sunday - How the Civil War is Remembered

The Civil War* fought in the United States from April of 1861 to April of 1865 is remembered in different ways by the North and the South.  One way that it is remembered unites out country - the celebration of Memorial Day, which in our country is observed the last Monday of May.  I will post more about the history of Memorial Day tomorrow.

When I wrote my Memorial Day post (which will be a special Civil War Sunday Special Edition posting tomorrow) it struck me that there are two versions of how the holiday originated - one, the "official version", is the Northern version.  To those reading my blog who are not from the United States, the Northern States won the war.  And, as Winston Churchill famously said, "History is written by the victors."  But there is also a Southern version of how the holiday originated.

The holiday "Memorial Day" was once known as "Decoration Day".  That usage is in the distant past for many in our country now, as the holiday has evolved as a remembrance of all Americans killed in all wars. 
But a lot of the split between North and South still exists in the very language we use to describe the Civil War. 

Some of these include: (and keep in mind that this blog is being written by someone who grew up in the North, lives in the North, but did live in the South for about 6 years.)

1.  The name of the War. *The National Park Service and many histories refer to this war as the Civil War.  I refer to it as the Civil War because that is the way I was taught, and the fact that the term "civil war" is somewhat generic, defined in some dictionaries as "a war between political factions or regions within the same country."  But a good number of Americans living in the South will not call it the Civil War even today.  Some alternate names include:

The Second War of Independence
The War Between the States
The War Against Northern Aggression (yes, I will immediately bristle over that name but I do try to present both sides of this story.)
The War of the North and South

2.  Names of battles.  In July, I visited Manassas, Virginia to commemorate the 150th anniversary of...well, that depends.  The Confederates called it First Manassas.  The Federals called it First Bull Run. (Round two of this battle will be commemorated this August.).  Actually, a lot of battles have dual names, depending on if you are in the North or South.  Southerners tended to name battles after a nearby town, or landmark.  Northerners tended to name battles after geographical features such as rivers.

In the case of the above battle, Manassas was a nearby town.  Bull Run was a nearby creek.

This past March, I visited the Antietam battlefield in Maryland.  Antietam is the name of a creek and is how the battle is titled in the North.  The Confederates called the battle Sharpsburg, after the nearby town of Sharpsburg.

 3.  Causes of the war.  As a layman and not a historian, I will not touch this one with a 39 1/2 foot pole.  But ask an educated person of the North, and an educated person of the South, "What caused the Civil War?" and you are going to get some pretty different answers, and chances are those people will blame the other side.  Yes, even 150 years later, the war is still being fought in its own way.

How were you taught about the Civil War?  Are you from the North or South (or a different region) (or a different country)?  Did you have ancestors in the war?


  1. I am a Texan by birth, and educated by Texas public schools. Eventually I moved to Arizona and married a Yankee; my little brother had already accused me of 'talking like a Yankee' when I lost my Texas accent, although there are traces still there! LOL In 1980 my husband, his mom and my daughter traveled by car to New England (MA and VT in particular). I was hesitant to meet & greet the Yankee kin, but sitting around the table the first night, I realized they were just 'normal people.' I was relieved.

    Old learnings die hard.

    I did have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, and one is even in the history books. Albert Sydney Johnston was a cousin of my maternal greatgrandfather. I had other relatives who fought in the war, including my paternal great grandfather, who was so grateful to his commanding officer for not executing him for desertion when he went home to check on his family that he named his next son (his last) after this Colonel. I grew up seeing Uncle Gayno Scott at family reunions. He represented my grandfather's generation (along with his brother, Uncle Homer Scott). Sadly, all four of my grandparents died before I was born.

    1. Fantastic story. Both sides of my family emigrated to this country in the early 20th century so I have no relatives (that I am aware of) here during the Civil War. But when I tell people I occasionally blog about the War, I am told some fascinating stories. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Although I'm an American, I don't consider myself from the north or the south. I grew up in California and the north vs south mentality escapes me completely. I remember the first time I traveled to the Carolina's for work hearing my co-workers joking with others that someone was from the north or the south. They were cordial to each other but I realized the hatred towards the other side that has been passed down through the generations.


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